Just Another Road
“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost is a poem that is often quoted to represent how we need not take the path that everyone else has, but forge our own, and that by taking this different route it will make our lives better. “I took the one less traveled by,/ And that has made all the difference.”(Frost 242) These are the words that inspire people to try and create a new way in the world. However, the problem with only looking at a few lines instead of the whole poem is that it would be easy to misinterpret the actual meaning the author was trying to convey. Frost is known for his wit and sense of irony in his poetry, and “The Road Not Taken” is no different. Within the poem he points out that the line that is so famously quoted is really a joke.
The second stanza is where it begins to be obvious that Frost never intends for this poem to have some deep philosophical interpretation. When he decides which path to take he says, “Then took the other, as just as fair… the passing there/ Had worn them really about the same”(Frost 242). It’s clear that the two paths are of equal difficulty, and while there is undergrowth mentioned in the previous stanza it is merely the description of the woods the path are running through, and really not anything to make travelling in any way tricky. After all, you can only look down any path so far before it’ll disappear behind something, be it the horizon or foliage. This supports the idea “that choosing one rather than the other was a matter of impulse, impossible to speak about any more clearly than to say that the road taken had ‘perhaps the better claim.’”(Pritchard 127) This line of reasoning is continued while reading the third stanza, “And both that morning equally lay/ In leaves no step had trodden black.”(Frost 242) Both paths are shown to be just the same, having been travelled roughly an equal amount before the traveler had ever reached them.
More so, the final stanza admits that this is all in good humor. “I shall be telling this with a sigh/ Somewhere ages and ages hence”(Frost 242) is the equivalent of “[w]hen I am old, like all old men, I shall make a myth of my life. I shall pretend, as we all do, that I took the less traveled road. But I shall be lying.”(Parini 945) Frost admits that the poem is more of an accurate occurrence in life, simply walking down a path, and how in retelling it can become exaggerated. Yet, in his mischievous way of weaving words he’s fooled people into believing that there is some grand meaning, when really it’s just a simple walk in the woods where one path was taken and the other left behind. This can also be recognized within the fact that the title of the poem is “The Road Not Taken” rather than “The Road Less Traveled”, because this poem ultimately is about just having to choose between two paths that could be just as good or bad as the other and simply having to hope you picked the right one.
After all, Frost did say this poem was about a walk he and his friend, Edward Thomas, had taken, and Edward was upset that they had taken one path rather than another. When Frost sent Edward the poem he was upset that Edward didn’t recognize the humor within it, to which Edward responded, “I doubt if you can get anybody to see the fun of the thing without showing them and advising them which kind of laugh they are to turn on.”(Pritchard) The problem with poetry like this is that it is open to interpretation, but Frost does leave his clues to be found in the wonderful lines if a reader is willing to look. Yet, I believe the worst part of this poem having been misinterpreted is that it helped create this idea that taking the more difficult route will make your life better, which if you think about it honestly makes no sense at all. Instead “The Road Not Taken” actually has a much more realistic and meaningful look at the life any person will live. The fact is we all make decisions in life that will take us one way or another, and after pursuing that decision it can’t be undone. Like when anyone has to choose between one college and another, ultimately you’d end up with the same degree regardless and neither are necessarily a more difficult route, but they will lead to different experiences and moments that will forever shape a person. Even if half way through a degree a person quits to go to a different college, those experiences will still be a part of who that person becomes, because you can’t back track and undo the life that’s already been lived.
This is just an example of how things can easily be taken out of context when a reader only focuses on part of any piece of writing. While the line, “I took the one less traveled by,/ And that has made all the differences”(Frost 242) is a great one that shouldn’t be forgotten, it also shouldn’t be all that is taken from this poem. One should always remember how great Robert Frost was with turning a phrase, and using his cleverness to get people thinking and questioning the true meaning of the poem, even if it ends up not having some profound revelation. The fact is Frost never tries to advise or tell the reader what they should do, he just wants to show that we have an option and we don’t know where that will go or if it’ll even be meaningful in the end, but that a path must be chosen eventually for a life to ever go forward. After all “choices—even when they are undertaken so lightly as to seem unworthy of the name “choice”—are always more momentous, and very often more providential, than we suppose.” (Richardson 182)
Frost, Robert. “The Road Not Taken.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature Vol. D 8th edition. Eds. Nana Baym, et al. New York: Norton, 2012. Pg 241-242. Print.
Parini, Jay. “Robert Frost.” Columbia Literary History of the United States. Ed. Emory Elliot, Marjorie Perloff. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988. 937-946. Print.
Pritchard, William. Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984. Print.
Richardson, Mark. The Ordeal of Robert Frost. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1997. Print.