Sunday, September 8, 2013

Poetry Sunday: The Road Not Taken

In one of the episodes of Orange Is the New Black, Netflix's popular series set in a women's prison, one of the inmates makes a passing reference to “the road less traveled.”

This prompts a spirited lecture from her college-educated fellow inmate, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling). “You know,” Piper says, “that doesn’t mean what everyone thinks it means.” 

“Ah shit, we’re about to get educated and shit,” the other inmate replies. 

“No, no. I’m just saying,” Piper continues, undaunted:
everyone thinks the poem means to break away from the crowd and do your own thing, but if you read it, Frost is very clear that the two roads are exactly the same. He just chooses one at random. And then it’s only later at a dinner party when he’s talking about it that he tells everyone he chose the road less traveled by, but he’s lying. So the point of the poem is that everyone wants to look back and think that their choices matter. But in reality, shit just happens the way that it happens, and it doesn’t matter.
After seeing that scene, my curiosity was piqued and I did some reading about the meaning of that famous Robert Frost poem and it seems that Piper had it just about right. The narrator comes to a fork in the road and must choose which route to take. Both of the choices look equally fair and would probably get him to where he is going, but since he must choose, he takes one at random but acknowledges to himself that someday when he talks about this choice, he will make it seem more consequential by saying that he took the road less traveled and that that made a difference in his life. But he will say it with a sigh because he knows that probably isn't true.

I never suspected all those years ago when I first read this poem that Frost was capable of irony.

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. 

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