Three Interpretations of ‘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.

Robert Frost

‘The Road Not Taken’ is nothing if not ambiguous. Being naturally drawn to artistic expression, I love this poem in all its mystery. I pride myself on exploring other’s points of view while also coming up with my unique spin on things. Here are the Three Interpretations of ‘The Road Not Taken.’

The Typical Interpretation

This poem has long been a rallying cry for individualists and non-conformists. Most of the time the last two lines of the poem are emphasized in this interpretation. “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” In any endeavor or decision in life, it is always challenging and risky to take a more daring path in hopes of finding a more genuine version of success. In times when a decision must be made or affirmed it is always comforting to hear words of encouragement from one who has been in your shoes. This is the viewpoint of those with this interpretation of the poem. One sees the protagonist as someone who has chosen to take a divergent course in life and whom upon reflection is pleased with doing so. While it is true that taking a non-traditional or contrarian path can lead to greater rewards and triumphs, it is interesting to note that Frost portrays two roads that are largely indistinguishable. The “other” road is called “just as fair” and it is said that “the passing there had worn them really about the same.” Let’s look at what some claim is the real Frost interpretation.

The Satirical or The “Real” Interpretation

Among literary authorities, it is commonly held that Frost’s true meaning in this poem was to engage in satire with a friend, Edward Thomas. As the story goes, Thomas was one who often toiled over his decisions, big and small. Frost had often remarked, “Edward, no matter which road you take, you’ll always sigh and wish you’d taken another.” The reason I am not using full conviction is that while many respected figures have made this claim, the poem surfaced in 1916 before documentation of conversational dialogue was as prevalent as it is today. That being said- this interpretation centers around light-hearted jousting rather than a foundation for approaching life’s choices. This is dichotomized against the first and more common interpretation. Lastly, I want to share my personal view with you.

My Interpretation

We all have to make hard decisions in life- in relationships, in vocation, in living arrangments, in lifestyle variables. I believe Frost is pointing out that no matter what choices we make there will be others that have come before us and done what we are choosing to do. Yes, there are less people who choose to work creatively and deliberately defend their individuality, but you would be far from the first to choose this path in your life’s course. That being said- the interesting thing about us as humans, on a biological level, is that we are all completely unique and one of a kind. No one can ever be exactly like you but luckily you can emulate and learn from others at the same time. We all make decisions that impact us beyond comprehension and when it comes down to it the validity or merit of those decisions comes down to our perspective of them and how we frame them.

Below is an IGTV video I saw this week from Gary Vee where he discusses the uncertainty in making correct decisions and the importance of reflecting.

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