Two Roads Diverged in a Wood

and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Many of you may recognize these as the words from Robert Frost’s famous poem (and perhaps America’s most popular poem), “The Road Not Taken“. The poem was first published in The Atlantic in 1915. Here is the full text:

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 marked 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.

I had always thought of the poem as encouraging us to not follow the crowd, to be the classic American – independent and individualistic.

Well apparently that’s not quite right.

In the current issue of The Atlantic, author Jackie Lay notes that critic David Orr, writing in The Paris Review deemed Frost’s work “the most misread poem in America.”

“This is the kind of claim we make when we want to comfort or blame ourselves by assuming that our current position is the product of our own choices… The poem isn’t a salute to can-do individualism. It’s a commentary on the self-deception we practice when constructing the story of our own lives.”

Lay notes that in the final stanza, we can’t know whether the speaker is sighing with contentedness or regret as he justifies the choices he’s made and shapes the narrative of his life.

Even Frost liked to warn his listeners, “You have to be careful of that one; it’s a tricky poem—very tricky.” In actuality, the two roads diverging in a yellow wood are “really about the same,” according to Frost, and are equally traveled and quite interchangeable.

I could go into more detail dissecting the poem, but you would soon realize I have no idea what I am talking about. If the above was enough to kindle your interest in what the poem may mean, then the links above go into more detail (and it seems as if the writers know what they are talking about.)

So add one more item to the list of things I thought I knew, but I was wrong…

2 thoughts on “Two Roads Diverged in a Wood

    1. Thanks, Patrick. Can you still recite it from memory? As I noted, I had misinterpreted it as well, but I still kind of like my simple, thought misguided, take on what it means.


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