On The Road Not Taken
It is not uncommon for a work to be misinterpreted or misunderstood from the author's true intentions. One of the best examples is Robert Frost's poem, The Road Not Taken. For as long as it has been read, The Road Not Taken has been interpreted as a important defense of individualism and as a justification of the idea of 'nonconformity.' The most commonly held interpretation of The Road Not Taken is a story of a man traveling in the woods. He comes across a fork in the path and after seeing that one of the paths is well worn by other travelers, decides to take the path less traveled. The last two lines, I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference (lines 19-20), are seen as proof that he is well rewarded for his individualism. The reality, however, is upon closer examination, Robert Frost's true intentions could not be further from the commonly held interpretation. In writing this poem, Frost aims to provide a commentary on human nature, and show that people typically waste time thinking about what are ultimately unimportant decisions.
Firstly, the name of the poem,The Road Not Taken, places the main emphasis on the road that the narrator does not travel on, and the structure is as follows: four five-line stanzas with the rhyme structure, ABAAB. The setting of the poem is a yellow wood(1) and there is mention of leaves on the ground in third stanza, so it is the season of autumn and metaphorically speaking, close to the end of the man's life. In the first stanza, three of the five lines begin with the word and, and words such as doubt sigh, and sorry are commonplace throughout, so it is assumed that the narrator is nervous and indecisive by nature.
Throughout the poem, Frost uses the fork in the road as a metaphor for decision making. For example, the narrator says, long I stood, and looked down one as far as I could/To where it bent in the undergrowth; (4-5). From these two lines the reader can infer that it is impossible to see how the decision will affect the narrator in the long run. This idea pertains all too well to real decision-making. The fear of not knowing the outcome often causes people not to simply decide. This inability to fully see the future ultimately also causes the narrator great strife, and leads him to dwell on the decision throughout the entire poem. The actual lines show that for the most part, the two paths are nearly identical. The first line of the second stanza, Then took the other, as just as fair (line 6), bluntly states that the two paths are both equally appealing. Frost also uses 'fair' as a pun, with the double meaning that both paths are also in fair and balanced. The most important segment goes as follows:
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black. (10-12)
The two paths both have the same amount of wear, and there was not one that was more often taken by other travelers. Lines ten and eleven indicate that there is a blanket of leaves on both paths, and that since there were no black footsteps, no one had traveled either path that day. So, in the end, the narrator spends a great length of time comparing two paths that have the same amount of wear and are seemingly identical. Frost makes a statement on how it is human nature to dwell and waste time on simple decisions and what people miss out on when taking one path or the other. In this poem, it is never directly stated that the narrator even chooses a path. The line, Oh, I kept the first for another day! (13), says the narrator will pick the other path the next time, and then two lines later states that he will not come back. Clearly, there is a contradiction.
Furthermore, three of the four stanzas are in the past and the poem abruptly changes to the future for the last stanza. The lines, I shall be telling this with a sigh / Somewhere ages and ages hence:(16-17) are notably strange. To illustrate, the setting,as previously mentioned, is fall, meaning that the narrator is older and soon approaching death. It seems illogical that he should be speaking of his decisionages and ages from now since he doesn't have much time left. Even more interesting is the first line of the last stanza where the narrator says that he will be telling his story with a sigh, meaning that he is lying or is having doubts. The following lines go:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. (18-20)
The narrator says I twice together, implying that he is nervous. Even stranger is the fact that he says he took the path less traveled, when clearly the two paths are nearly identical. Seeing as how the preceding lines are false, the last line is untrue as well. The most significant part is the repetition of the first line, Two roads diverges...(1). This line takes the reader back to the first section to find the narrator at the split in the road again where the narrator still contemplates his decision. He imagines himself in his head deciding on a path and that his decision is somehow actually important. This imaginary decision explains the strange change in tense. The narrator spends a great length of time weighing his options, considering consequences, and even envisioning himself deciding on a path when the reality is that the fork has rendered him incapable of making a decision. Even though both options are fundamentally the same and the outcome makes no difference, the narrator remains stuck at the fork.
Frost's intention in writing this poem was not to champion individualism. His intent is to comment on the way in which people spend too much time dwelling on what may or may not happen as a result of a decision, especially when the two options are nearly identical. It is only in the person's mind that one option is decorated as good or bad. The poem also addresses how people will always see the world as they wish to, which is why the narrator sees his decision as highly important, and the path he chooses as distinct, when the reality is that his choice was neither important nor distinct. Ultimately, Frost shows that at times, everyone is similar to the narrator, incapable of making a decision and at times, even having delusions of grandeur about a decision, when,in the end, it is of no real consequence.
Frost, Robert. "The Road Not Taken." Bartleby.com: Great Books Online .
Bartleby. Web. 13 Sept. 2011. .
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not trwas grassy and wanted wear;