View Full Version : Frost - "The Road Not Taken" - "The Most Misread Poem in America"

11-26-2015, 04:38 AM
From David Orr in the Paris Review (http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2015/09/11/the-most-misread-poem-in-america/)

On a word-for-word basis, it may be the most popular piece of literature ever written by an American.

*And almost everyone gets it wrong.

An interesting read. Not just because of the claim, but because of the reach and presence of the piece.

11-26-2015, 04:57 AM
Thank you sharing that, Williebee. Very interesting article.

Often a poem can support nuances of interpretation -- a line or an image might be subject to different readings. But yeah, often people just get hold of the wrong end of them.

It happens with songs, too -- they get hold of one line and give it their own meaning, ignoring the others. e.g., "Born in the USA" is not a "rah, rah, the USA is totally awesome!" song.

11-26-2015, 05:07 AM
The essay gets very smug near the end. The road taken is equally described as both more grassy and wanting wear, and traveled about the same. Either reading is perfectly well supported.

AW Admin
11-26-2015, 05:14 AM
I love this poem, and so what I'm about to say is not meant as disparaging.


One reason the poem is so popular is that it is very familiar.
It is familiar because it is approachable, and, perhaps more importantly, it's in the public domain.

That means that it has been anthologized for free in school textbooks for years.

It's pretty hard to get through high school in the U.S. without having it had it as a text; it's more common in curricula than Hamlet, or Macbeth or, well, any Shakespeare play.

And I profoundly disagree with Orr's reading; first, it's simplistic, second, he seems to be of the "one poem, one reading" school, a school I detest, and thirdly, he would do well to contemplate what the poet himself has said about multiplicity of readings.

11-26-2015, 05:35 AM
I think the author's reading is better supported.

The narrator makes a couple of references to the similarity of the paths -- "just as fair" "equally lay" and he puzzles for a while as to which he should take.

The reference to the path being less travelled is more equivical -- it had "perhaps" the better claim -- and he takes it back in the next line -- "Though as for that the passing there/Had worn them really about the same." it feels more like he's trying to think that they're different so he can feel that he's making a choice that isn't random.

In the last stanza, I find it significant that the narrator, rather than saying he'll always ask himself whether he should have taken that other path, instead says that he knows he will someday tell others "with a sigh" that he took the path less traveled and it made a big difference. To me, that reeks of the romanticizing and rewriting many of us do with our pasts.

Also, he can't know whether taking that other path made all the difference. He didn't take it. It might not have made much difference at all, and to the extent it did, he can't know how or how much. Yet we pretty much all do this to some extent -- we all attribute tremendous significance to choices we've made, and validate or invalidate those choices in retrospect. In fact, we don't know how things would have turned out had we chosen differently. But we like to feel we made conscious choices for good reasons, and that our successes are due to those choices.

AW Admin
11-26-2015, 06:00 AM
I question Orr's assertion that "Most readers consider “The Road Not Taken” to be a paean to triumphant self-assertion (“I took the one less traveled by”), but the literal meaning of the poem’s own lines seems completely at odds with this interpretation."

I don't think Orr has actually surveyed readers, or read the criticism; even the critics don't agree on a single monolithic reading.

I think he needs to read more than he has; for God's sake, even the undergraduate cheat notes (Monarch, Spark, etc.) are less simplistic.

Good poetry—and this is good poetry—is slippery. Don't underestimate Frost; this is a poet who thought unreliable narrators were a plus.

11-26-2015, 06:11 AM
I actually have no idea how most people interpret the poem. I do think some read it as a simple "yeah, go me, I'm an individual, unafraid to go my own road." And given how the narrator dithers, i don't care for that interpretation. But how many view it that way, I've no idea.

11-28-2015, 08:37 PM
I think it's the individualism expressed by the poem that resonates with Americans, along with other Western peoples. The same with a song like Frank Sinatra's I Did It My Way.

It's easy to over-analyze a poem, even an easily approachable poem like this one, but people are free to interpret a poem in any way they want.

Norman D Gutter
11-29-2015, 02:35 AM
Recently I've come to the conclusion that an important part of interpreting the poem is the title itself: The road NOT taken. Everybody seems to interpret "and that has made all the difference" in a positive way, as if that line read "and that has made a good difference in my life." But if that were the case why does the title say the poem is about the road NOT taken?

I've always looked at titles as deliberately chosen by the poet to be an extension of the poem itself, or as a means of interpreting the poem. Here the narrator says he took the road less traveled by after, as several have pointed out, saying the two roads were equally worn and traveled. If that's the case, then perhaps the poem is about regret, as if to end, "And I, I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. What a stupid mistake I made." Or perhaps, not a stupid mistake but: "And I, I took the road less traveled by; I wonder what life would have been if I'd taken that other road." So regret, or perhaps lingering curiosity.

Any way, that's my interpretation right now. It might change in a month or two.