The road less travelled—or is it?

Published July 8, 2021, 1:42 PM

by Joe Priela

This might just be one of the most misinterpreted poems ever

Something that started as a joke, in 1915 Robert Frost sent an envelope to Edward Thomas that contained only one item, a draft of “Two Roads,” the poem that was later titled “The Road Not Taken.” Frost made the piece as a funny nudge to his friend, Lawrence Thompson, because of his habit of regretting whatever path they took. Frost addressed it as “crying over what might have been.”

Renowned poet, Robert Frost (Photop from Bachrach)

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

These are the last three lines of Robert Frost’s well-known poem, “The Road Not Taken.” And, more often than not, these are the same lines we always remember and give voice to—especially on social media.

Here’s a personal take, one that might just calm the muddled ripples of the surface.

As a reader, the title, on its own, is confusing already. Which is which? Which road is the one not taken? The road that the speaker chose or the one that was chosen by others?

Upon reflection, what we got wrong might just be the very act of reading. Yes, poems are, generally, subjective—something that leans on the perspective of the reader. Although, we can’t put a filter on the narrative itself.

The narrator was just confronted with two paths, two choices. He had to choose one or he will be stuck on the same spot until who knows when. A few lines away from the beginning, he chooses a path and started to walk on it, with Frost stating

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…

(Manila Bulletin/Unsplash)

Through the lines “Oh, I kept the first for another day! / Yet knowing how way leads on to way, / I doubted if I should ever come back.” One, two steps away from where he has been standing, he realized that it was just the same as what he saw from the other road—worn out. But, he thought that it would be a waste of time to return. So, he went on.

I think the three famous ending lines were written to negate the arbitrariness of everything and, in effect, romanticizing his choice.

Most of us see this poem as about becoming a non-conformist, not following the common. But, perhaps it really is just about choosing a path and being committed to wander on that path, and being brave enough to traverse it without looking back and thinking about what could have been.