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Wednesday, 14 July 2010

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Robert Frost in 1910 (

The Road Not Taken

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.

Although seemingly a simple poem this is often described as one of the most misunderstood poems of all time. Frost himself described it as "tricky, very tricky".
This is because is can be read in at least two very different ways. When the poet decides to take the path that was 'grassy and wanting wear', he imediately contradicts himself and then tells us that they had both worn 'about the same'!
It will usually be seen as a metaphor about life's choices and everlasting regret or nostalgia for what the other path might have led to.
The final stanza, when read carefully, is a supposition about the future, 'I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence'. The 'sigh' could be seen as either nostalgia or regret but it hasn't happened yet!
In fact Frost wrote with his indecisive friend Edward Thomas, his British walking companion, in mind. Apparently Thomas never recognised himself in the poem.
I have always presumed that M. Scott Peck's multi-million selling self-help book, 'The Road Less Traveled' took it's title from this verse.


bazza said...

I'm off to France for few days. I'll be back on Monday and will reply to any comments then. A bientôt!

Mr. Stupid said...

This was great. Love how the poem can be understood in two different ways. This is one tricky piece.
Have a great trip and enjoy yourself in France!:)

Kelly said...

The title of that particular book WAS LIKELY taken from Frost's poem. I do wonder if Thomas knew that he was being alluded to in the poem but didn't mind that reference to himself. Maybe he accepted that aspect of his personality or choices (or lack of choices) he took in his own life and perhaps allowed it to be used in the poem.

For instance, I, myself, know my flaws or past poor decisions I've made in my own life and have incorporated them into stories, poems and posts I've written in the past. Just a thought.

Seemu said...


Jakarta said...

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I hope you gain more success in the future.

joanne said...

another of my favorites, Robert Frost :)

i've always had the feeling in this poem that the point is that both paths are equal, that really it doesn't matter which one is chosen, each is just as fair, they're really about the same, regardless of how much wear one or the other might have. So, it isn't the paths themselves that hold the significance. I don't have the impression this poem is a comment on individuality or "beating your own drum" so to speak by taking a path less traveled by others (which is how I've heard it interpreted by others), but more about the torment we give ourselves over to in our own minds... that no matter which path we take (the path itself being fairly irrelevant), we will always wonder about the one we didn't take and all that it might have held for us. The grass is always greener after all. Every path will have its green parts and it's rocky parts.

The ending of the poem may be a projection into the future about an old man who at that point will look for comfort in his own mind and reassure himself that the road he took was the right one after all, perhaps by a bit of memory embellishment, or perhaps the lines do indicate a bit of melancholy mixed with regret.

Interestingly, the title of the poem is not "The Road Less Traveled"... The title is "The Road Not Taken". I think the title itself is very indicative of the heart of the poem.

I hope you have a wonderful time in France and that you'll have a summary post about your road taken this weekend :)

Bob said...

This ties in to some extent with some words by the composer of "Vincent"....that we mentioned in one of your recent posts.

If I remember correctly Don McLean sings:

"You know I've heard about people like me,
but never made the connection,
They walk one road to set them free,
then find they've gone the wrong direction.

but there's no need for turning back,
all roads lead to where I stand,
and I believe we'll walk them all,
no matter what we planned."

klahanie said...

Hi bazza,
A thought provoking poem, and your thoughts, and the thoughts of the articulate responders, has given me a better idea of just what the poem meant.
I have not read a great deal of Frost but I shall endeavour to check his works out more thoroughly.
I hope you had a wonderful time in France and that you behaved yourself. With respect, Gary.

Val said...

I love poems and your posts are interesting!

bazza said...

Mr Stupid: This is one of those poems from which we can all take want we want. There is no single correct interpretation. I am happy that you like it. (I had a great time in France, thanks).

Kelly: You expressed more than just a thought, Kelly. Excellent insight. Thanks for your valuable contribution.

Seemu: Hello there. Thanks for stopping by again; I'm pleased that you found this post interesting!

bazza said...

Joanne: I am humbled by your deep insight and obvious appreciation of this poem. Thank you for gracing my blog with your analysis.
....and the good wishes.

Bob: I am a very great admirer of the songs of Don McLean and especially of this one . It's called Crossroads and, do you know, I never realised until now the similarity to Frost's poem. I am grateful that you have pointed it out; sometimes I think blogging is the most wonderful thing! Truly speaking this is poetry as philosophy.

Gary: Thanks for your accurate assessment. Some of the commenters have given me further insight.
I did enjoy France but now I'm all BBQed out! Four solid days of eating and drinking was about all my body could take; it will take my friend a week to clean his house!

Val: Hello Coupon Lady! Glad to have helped, ma'am.

Sir Tom Eagerly said...

If I ever write a poem Bazza, my boy, it will be called The Whisky Less Drunk. Which would it be? - my 12 year old Cragganmore Single Malt (Speyside, you see) or will I go for the 18 year old Glendronach, aged in old Olorosa Sherry Casks.
Will I live to regret which ever one I don't drink?
Will I heck! I'll have 'em both!

bazza said...

Hello Sir Tom. Trust you to put your own individual slant on things! You can drink from both of your cherished bottles (or is it barrels?) but one can't take two different paths at the same time in real life.

corfubob said...

A pleasure to read, and read again a poem with scheme in its rhyme, and scanning, but so effortless.

Only Mr. Frost could know if the poem was misunderstood or not. Not all words have meaning of their own, and no poet is obliged to provide us with a 'correct' meaning to guess at. The 'sigh' is a word, like you say, that means what the poet wanted. 'Tricky' is nicely chosen as well! Thanks for dropping in Bazza. I really look forward to coming back. Bob

bazza said...

Corfubob: Hi, thanks for stopping by. You are most welcome.
I agree so much that poets are not obliged to provide us with meanings or explanations. They create the work and send it out in the world to fend for itself; many would be horrified at the idea of giving an explanation.

THE SNEE said...

Thank you so much for this post on Robert Frost's poem. Living in Vermont, we spend many school field trips in Frost's Woods. Your understanding of poetry broadened my horizons. Next time I walk in Frost's footsteps, I will enjoy the experience all the more.

bazza said...

I really like New England but never quite got to Vermont,. Someday I will. I first came across this poem while at school here in the UK and I still love it. Thanks for commenting.

Brand New Day said...

Hi Bazza, I read the poem as being very positive and written very much from the viewpoint of a true adventurer - encouragement to take the less scouted path and find out where it leads, to "have a bash" at the unknown. I agree with what Joanne says about both paths being equal (as we can never know which is a "right" or "wrong" decision because we cannot with single awareness experience the outcomes of two decisions at once) , but I believe his only regret on looking back as an old man is not that he didn't take the other road, but rather that the adventurer wasn't able to take both roads to see the outcome of each - so one adventure was lost to him. Thank you for reminding me of this beautiful and complex poem, Bazza, I like your choices, and have enjoyed reading everyone's interpretations of it. ;)

bazza said...

Brand New Day: Thanks for that comment. It has occurred to me that if Picasso and Braque were trying to show multiple views of an object or person, via Cubism, at the same time as this poem was published (1916) then it may have been very topical to philosophise about duality. Or maybe I'm talking nonsense!