PLEASE Stop Misinterpreting “The Road Not Taken”!

PLEASE Stop Misinterpreting “The Road Not Taken”!

Okay, that’s it. I’ve had it. Those of you who are using the last lines of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” as your anthem of independence, uniqueness, and taking rare roads that others don’t take? You need to stop it. Because you’re getting it wrong. What you think the poem means isn’t what it means at all. In fact, it’s kind of the opposite. And this poem, when read in its entirety, is far, far more complex and interesting, which is why it has been my favorite poem (and the only poem I ever memorized), since I was twelve.

So let’s break it down and I’ll show you what this poem really means, because I actually think you’re going to find it far more intriguing and fascinating when you understand it.

The Original Poem

Comic by ZenPencils

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.

The Breakdown

Stanza 1: I encounter two roads

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;

What It Means:

So here I am, a lone traveler, standing at a crossroads. There are two roads. I can take either one. I look as far as I can down one of the roads, but I can’t see past a certain point, so I really don’t know what lies ahead.

Stanza 2: I take one of the roads

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,

What It Means:

“Took the other, as just as fair” means that this road that I took is just as nice as the other one. And this one is “grassy and wanted wear,” so at first the reader thinks it’s maybe been traveled less than the other one, right? But no. “Though as for that the passing there, Had worn them really about the same,” tells the reader that the two roads are really just about the same. They’ve both been traveled equally.

Stanza 3:

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.

What It Means:

See? They both “equally lay” with very few leaves that had been “trodden black.” That means that neither road was very well-traveled, really. And “Oh, I kept the first for another day,” means that I, the traveler, decided to leave the other path to take another day- but it’s a little sarcastic, that line, because “I doubted if I should ever come back.” So even though I’ll probably never be back this way, I’ll pretend to myself that I’ll take that other path another day. It’s complex, this thought, because I want to pretend and kind of lie to myself (in the way that we do) that I’m not really giving up an opportunity, but rather just saving it for another time, even though I really know that time may never come.

Stanza 4:

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.

What It Means:

This is the most telling stanza of the poem. It talks about how we rewrite our own histories. We tell stories and revise our memories as if decisions were made differently than they really were. “I shall be telling this with a sigh, Somewhere ages and ages hence” means someday, down the road, when I’m old and telling stories about my past, I’ll sigh and say that I took the road less traveled by and that’s what “made all the difference” in how my life turned out.

But we, the readers, know that it wasn’t taking that road that made the difference. In fact, that road that I took, it wasn’t any less traveled by than the first. We know that from the first and second stanzas. The roads were the same.

What The Poem Actually Means

Look, poetry is subjective, to some degree. But appropriating portions of someone’s work while ascribing your own meaning to it is wrong, especially when a) that someone is a brilliant, complex poet like Robert Frost, and b) the meaning you ascribe is totally wrong.

This poem is so much more complex than just “Hey, I took a road that most people don’t take, and that has made my life better and that’s why I got all the amazing results I got in my life.” The message is far more like, “I took a road. It could’ve been another road. But this is the one I took. One day, I’ll say that it was this choice, in this moment, to take this particular road that made my life better, but in fact, both roads weren’t very different from one another, so my life might’ve been different if I’d taken the other road, but probably would’ve yielded other cool stuff.”

It’s always fascinating to look back on your life and wonder what other roads you might’ve taken (need or want some help taking stock and figuring out the road ahead? Hire me to coach you!) Haven’t we all had those moments where the “road diverged” and both roads ahead are equally fascinating and equally cool? But you take one or the other and your life happens after that.

Maybe you look back and think, “I wonder what if I’d taken that other road…” but usually, we look back, forget the challenge of that decision and how appealing that other choice was, and sigh and say, “I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

By | 2017-11-22T14:37:04+00:00 February 1st, 2013|Personal Growth, Writing|139 Comments

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About the Author:

Susan Baroncini-Moe is an executive coach for high-performing individuals. As a "deep dive," strategic intervention coach, Susan has worked with clients on four continents in a wide range of industries. She is a sought-after strategist, and she and her businesses have been featured on ABC and in Redbook magazine, USA Today, MSN Living, Yahoo Finance, Investors Business Daily, Social Media Examiner, American Express Open Forum, Chicago Tribune, Indianapolis Star, and more.

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