A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Poem of the Day: Robert Frost

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

Everyone knows this poem. Or everyone thinks they do. Frost cultivated a reputation for simple folksy New England wisdom while writing poetry that slyly undercuts its own simplicity. Many of Frost's poems lend themselves to simplistic, greeting-card interpretations. Is his most famous poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," pure Currier-and-Ives nostalgia or is it a dark meditation on emptiness and futility? (Or is it, as us grad-school cynics used to claim, about stopping by woods to take a leak?) 

Anyway, the reason many people misread "The Road Not Taken" is that they take the last stanza at face value, instead of reading it in context. For in context, that "road less traveled by" is nothing of the sort. It's "just as fair" as the other road; the diverging roads are "about the same" and "equally" covered with leaves. It's not a poem about choices, it's about excuses.