Sunday, August 23, 2015

Poetry Sunday: The Road Not Taken

It has been called the "Great American Poem" and "America's Most Popular Poem," even though those two appellations may be contradictory. David Orr of The New York Times Book Review has now written a new book about it in which he argues that it may also be one of the most misunderstood of American poems. Orr's book, like the poem, is called The Road Not Taken

Many, probably most, readers take Robert Frost's most famous poem at face value. A traveler comes to a fork in the road and ponders which one he should take. Even though they both seem equally fair, he decides to take the road less traveled and that in the end made all the difference to his life.

A closer and more in-depth reading of the poem offers another meaning. It can be read as a joke on the rugged individualist myth, as I pointed out when I featured this poem once before on Poetry Sunday. The traveler chooses at random between two equal roads, but later in his life, when he tells the story of his choice, he will imbue it with greater importance and significance.

Orr's book argues that the poem actually embodies both meanings. As the Times review of the book states, "It doesn’t accept or reject its myth of choice but sets us up to feel the tensions involved in having to choose, as if each reader were the traveler. His ­decision might have been arbitrary, it might have been meaningful. It might have changed him deeply, it might not have." All meanings are possible and exist together.

Or as Yogi Berra put it much more succinctly, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it!"


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.

2 comments:

  1. I like it, but I think what he meant was that he was breaking new ground just by taking the road that most people would refuse. There is a song about that from a Spanish artist, it more or less says, "Walker there is no road, you make the road by walking..." Does that make sense?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Makes perfect sense to me. I think the poem can mean whatever the individual reader thinks it means. We bring our own history and experiences to interpreting it. That's the wonderful thing about poetry.

      Delete