Robert Frost is a true American poetic legend.
His style, his mind-portraits with his words are all masterpieces that are celebrated for generations. But there may be one of his most-famous poems that have been turned into an unfortunate cliché
We have all gotten various greeting cards or “motivational” or “inspirational” notes that refer to the “road less traveled.” That phrase comes from Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” but a reading of the poem in its full context reveals that the phrase is misused constantly.
The basis of “The Road Not Taken” isn’t about being a trailblazer or doing something in an unorthodox way. If one actually reads the poem, the theme isn’t on the road that is truly less traveled – which in the poem doesn’t actually exist – but it is instead about the “fork in the road” that is a metaphor for any of life’s choices and decisions we make almost every day.
The truth of the matter is that the title gets misrepresented. We can read that clearly there is no road that is actually less traveled between the two that the narrator is considering. They are both virtually untraveled. The poem is not about blazing trails, it’s about the road our choice takes us down. It is untraveled because that “fork” is the decision that we have yet to make, and so no one else can go down either road because this is a decision that only we have individually.
You see, when we come to a decision, even if 100 other people faced the exact same decision, their “forks” are in a different context of their individual lives. Even if we have the same options, the course of our life will be different than those other 100 people. The untraveled road signifies where we will be going based on our decision. It’s essentially free will combining with what the “plan” will be for us. And our “plan” will be different than those 100 other people who may have had the same decision because all of our lives are individual and we all come to that decision, that “fork,” from different places.
With what is revealed about this poem is that it’s about future potential regret for the road not taken, and about the future and how we might see our lives based on the decision that we are yet to take. On the one hand, there is an expectation of one of two things – either we will remember our past inaccurately, or we will undergo some “revisionism” or hypocrisy about the decision.
On the other hand, the poem is about wondering “what if.” If we take one road, we will wonder at some point down that path whether we should have taken the other road – is the road not taken better than the one we chose? And as we make this choice only once, we are never able to go back and re-visit the fork again, which is also a lamentation in the poem.
Robert Frost is accomplished at painting a picture of nature that explores our psyche and makes us contemplate the beauty and the starkness of the decisions we make and possible consequences. Reading Frost is a fascinating psychological journey.