The Road Not Taken


The Road Not Taken

"The Road Not Taken" is a poem by Robert Frost, published in 1916 in his collection "Mountain Interval". It is the first poem in the volume, and the first poem Frost had printed in italics. The title is often misremembered as "The Road Less Traveled", from the penultimate line: "I took the one less traveled by".

Interpretation

The poem admits two common interpretations, which turn on how one interprets the last lines – either literally or ironically.

It is popularly interpreted literally, as inspirational and individualist, but critics universally interpret it as ironiccite web
url=http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/a_f/frost/road.htm
title=On "The Road Not Taken"
author=William H. Pritchard
publisher=University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Department of English
] – "'The Road Not Taken,' perhaps the most famous example of Frost's own claims to conscious irony and 'the best example in all of American poetry of a wolf in sheep's clothing.'" [cite book
first=Katherine
last=Kearns
title=Robert Frost and a Poetics of Appetite
year=1994
publisher=Cambridge University Press
] – and Frost himself warned "You have to be careful of that one; it's a tricky poem – very tricky." [cite book
title=Selected Letters of Robert Frost
location=New York
publisher=Hold, Rinehart and Winston
editor=Lawrance Thompson
page=xv
]

"Frost intended the poem as a gentle jab at his great friend and fellow poet who was also best friends with Edward Thomas, and seemed amused at this certain interpretation of the poem as inspirational." [cite book
title=Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered
first=William
last=Pritchard.
year=1984
]

Literal interpretation

The literal interpretation of this poem believes it is about individualism and being your own person.

In the beginning it tells us that a young man (the narrator) has a choice. He wishes that he could take both and know the outcome. Then he says he takes the path that seemed 'grassy and wanted wear'. But in the poem he says 'Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same, And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black' he is telling us the paths are the same. As he chooses this path in life, or in other words makes the choice, he thinks he can always go back. but deep inside he knows he won't. When he says "I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference." he is not saying it made him different. He is saying he regrets the choice that he made.

Ironic interpretation

The ironic interpretation, widely held by critics, [cite journal
last=Sullivan
first=John Jeremiah
title=The death of the hired poem: Robert Frost, Monster.com, and the anxiety of affluence
journal=Harper's Magazine
year=2000
month=August
url=http://harpers.org/archive/2000/08/0066909
accessdate=2008-06-23
] is that the poem is instead about regret and personal myth-making, rationalizing our decisions.

In this interpretation, the final two lines::I took the one less traveled by,:And that has made all the difference.are ironic – the choice made little or no difference at all, the speaker's protestations to the contrary. The narrator admits in the second and third stanzas that both paths may be equally worn and equally leaf-covered, and it is only in his future recollection that he "will call" one road "less traveled by".

The sigh, widely interpreted as a sigh of regret, might also be interpreted ironically: in a 1925 letter to Crystine Yates of Dickson, Tennessee, asking about the sigh, Frost replied: "It was my rather private jest at the expense of those who might "think" I would yet live to be sorry for the way I had taken in life." [cite journal
title=Frost's "The Road Not Taken": A 1925 Letter Come to Light
last=Finger
first=Larry L.
journal=American Literature
volume=50
number=3
month=November
year=1978
pages=478–479
url=http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0002-9831(197811)50%3A3%3C478%3AF%22RNTA%3E2.0.CO%3B2-U
doi=10.2307/2925142
]

Adaptations

Randall Thompson set several of Frost's poems, including "The Road Not Taken", into choral arrangements. Together they are known as "Frostiana".

Poem

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,I'm sorry I could not travel bothAnd be one traveler, long I stoodAnd looked down one as far as I couldTo where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,And having perhaps the better claim,Because it was grassy and wanted wear;Though as for that the passing thereHad worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally layIn leaves no step had trodden black.Oh, I kept the first for another day!Yet knowing how way leads on to way,I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sighSomewhere ages and ages hence:Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by,And that has made all the difference.

References


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