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July 10, 2011 / blogaboutpoetry

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To 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 there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In 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 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.

On the face of it, this poem can be held as a celebration of individualism and non-conformism. It seems like the narrator has chosen a path in life that is unconventional (“the one less traveled by”) and it is that choice that has shaped him (“made all the difference”). I think this is the view I took on the first few readings, but on further inspection you might see it differently. Consider that the narrator says the two paths are worn “about the same” and that “both that morning equally lay/ In leaves”. The final stanza now takes on a whole new meaning where in retrospect he can claim that he chose “the one less traveled by” but at the time they were indistinguishable. In this reading the poem is an ironic attempt and justifying our actions.

I suspect the latter is what Frost intended but the individualistic interpretation is perhaps too wonderful to disconsider.
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