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Description Of The Two Roads In The Poem The Road Not Taken Essay

Happy 140th birthday, Robert Frost — you're totally misunderstood.

But most people don't realize the great American poet was being ironic when he famously wrote that taking the road less traveled "made all the difference."

The confusion comes up in his poem "The Road Not Taken," in which a traveler describes choosing between two paths through the woods.

In the first three stanzas the traveler describes how the paths as basically the same. They "equally lay" and were "just as fair" as each other and were even "worn ... really about the same."

But in the last stanza the traveler comments sarcastically on how he will someday look back and claim "with a sigh" that choosing the "one less traveled ... made all the difference."

People wrongfully interpret this as evidence of the payoff for freethinking and not following the crowd, when it actually comments about people finding meaning in arbitrary decisions.

Here's the stanza in question:

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.

That so many people misinterpret this line has become famous in itself.

Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black" points out the massive distortion when Piper Chapman, the show's WASPy antihero, tries to explain the true meaning of the poem to her fellow inmates.

As she eloquently puts it, "So the point of the poem is that everyone wants to look back and think that their choices matter. But in reality, s--t just happens the way that it happens, and it doesn't matter."

And the joke's on us, apparently.

David Haglund, a senior editor for Slate, has speculated that Frost may have deliberately misled his readers. Various quotes from Frost's correspondences suggest that he knew people would misunderstand the meaning — and their confusion even amused him.

Line 1

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

  • Our speaker is describing a fork in the road. This poem was first published in 1916, when cars were only just beginning to become prominent, so these roads in the wood are probably more like paths, not roads like we'd think of them today.
  • The woods are yellow, which means that it's probably fall and the leaves are turning colors.
  • "Diverged" is just another word for split. There's a fork in the road.

Lines 2-3

And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood

  • The speaker wants to go down both roads at once, but since it's impossible to walk down two roads at once, he has to choose one road.
  • The speaker is "sorry" he can't travel both roads, suggesting regret.
  • Because of the impossibility of traveling both roads, the speaker stands there trying to choose which path he's going to take. Because he's standing, we know that he's on foot, and not in a carriage or a car.

Lines 4-5

And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

  • The speaker really wants to go down both paths – he's thinking hard about his choice. He's staring down one road, trying to see where it goes. But he can only see up to the first bend, where the undergrowth, the small plants and greenery of the woods, blocks his view.
  • This is where we start to think about the metaphorical meanings of this poem. If our speaker is, as we suspect, at a fork in the road of his life, and not at an actual road, he could be trying to peer into his future as far as he can. But, since he can't really predict the future, he can only see part of the path. Who knows what surprises it could hold?

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