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What is the Road Not Taken?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2016
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“The Road Not Taken” is one of the most celebrated poems by American poet Robert Frost (1874-1963). The poem was initially published in 1916 as the first poem in Frost’s collection, Mountain Interval and it has since been the topic of many critics. Also, the title of “The Road Not Taken” is often used to express paths we do not choose in life, and the fact that the speaker in the poem uses a different road that is “less traveled” is often viewed as an assertion of celebration of freedom or of individual expression.

Frost’s poem is open to interpretation, but the two traditional interpretations of the poem are whether “The Road Not Taken” is about celebrating individual choice, or about whether the fact that taking the road less traveled, which has made “all the difference” is really regretful and ironically stated. There’s also some indication in the poem that choices limit other choices, and that traveling one road means giving up another, even if both roads look equally “fair” and inviting.

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In the interpretation of “The Road not Taken” which views the poem as a comment on freedom and individuality, the idea that the speaker takes the road less traveled, and that this has made a difference in life suggests that he’s happy with this difference. If you’re interpreting the speaker as Robert Frost, it makes sense to view the poem from this perspective. However, many critics argue that especially if the speaker is Robert Frost (which it isn’t necessarily) you should realize that Frost was won't to speak in ironic fashion at times. So whether there was truly a difference from taking the road less traveled would be up for debate. The line of the poem claiming a difference might be sarcastically meant.

However you read or interpret “The Road Not Taken,” the poem has a resonance, which has stayed with many lovers of poetry. How you read the poem may depend upon your own circumstances. You might regret a choice in life or simply wonder what would have happened if you’d chosen to make a different choice at one point. There is something of a sadness or tinge of regret in not knowing what happens on the road not taken. On the other hand, you may view a single choice you made as having enriched your life tremendously, and that a path you did take has “made all the difference” in a positive way.

We all can understand though the wonderings of the speaker in the poem, when choices seem equally fair. We can never know “what would have happened” even when our choices are neutral. Perhaps this is why Frost’s poem continues to stir new readers. It has also inspired other artists. One beautiful rendering of the poem is a choir arrangement in Randall Thompson’s Frostiana: Seven Country Songs, which was first performed in 1959.

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