The Dark Truth Behind Frost's "The Road Not Taken"

Jeevan Sivasubramaniam Posted by Jeevan Sivasubramaniam, Managing Director, Editorial, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.



The Dark Truth Behind Frost's "The Road Not Taken"

The Frost poem most cited and quoted by countless dreamers and other smug prats has a meaning very different from the one people assume. The most common interpretation of this poem is that it espouses the need for individuals to be their own trailblazers and plan their own course forward without simply following in the "safe" paths of others before them. Yes, it's very uplifting in that whole self-satisfying way that assures people that they are brave, not stupid.

But the truth is that this poem is about accepting reality and actually says the opposite of what most people think. The Paris Review called it the "most misread poem in America" and excerpted a section from David Orr's book about it. The point is this: if you read the work carefully, you'll notice that the poet states that both paths are really about the same in terms of how worn they are. However, in the last stanza, the poet comments (with some sarcasm) how he will look back on this and comment as to how he actually took the path less traveled--even though he didn't. He took one path but could have just as likely taken the other. The big message here? We like to think that we made careful choices to arrive where we are, but in reality, those choices make no difference. We could have just as well taken one path as much as another, but we like to think we actually chose the one we took based on great philosophical deliberation. And finally, it's just an illusion to think one path made a difference over another.

Susan Baroncini-Moe has written a very clear stanza-by-stanza explanation of it all here

Yes, now you're a bit depressed, but at least you're smarter.