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Even if you haven't yet read "The Road Not Taken," it will probably have a familiar ring when you do – it's one of the most popular poems by one of the most famous American writers of the twentieth century, Robert Frost. Along with Frost's poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," it's probably one of the most taught poems in American schools. First published in Frost's collection Mountain Interval in 1916, almost a century later "The Road Not Taken" is still quoted left and right by inspirational speakers, writers, commercials, and everyday people.
We could go on and on about how famous this poem is, but, since it is famous, you probably already know that.
What you might not know is that this poem may not be as simple and uplifting as it seems. While "The Road Not Taken" is often read as a resounding nonconformist's credo, the poem isn't so sure about its message. In fact, sometimes it flat out contradicts itself.
But the possibility that the poem has multiple meanings doesn't mean that it's not worthy of its popularity. Actually, the poem's ambiguity improves it. Read closely, this poem is more than popular culture has made it out to be. It's more than a call to go your own way; it's a reflection on life's hard choices and unknowns.
Most people have been faced with a fork in an actual road or path, and not been sure which path to go down. Of course, today, we can whip out a GPS or cell phone and figure out which is the correct path. But if we're beyond the reach of satellites, we just make a choice, unaided by technology. We might pick the road that gets us where we want to go, or one that takes us somewhere new, but either way, the road we choose takes us to where we are.
Just like trying to pick a path when we're driving or walking, we've all had to choose from different paths in life: which job to take, which college to go to, which girl or boy to ask to homecoming – the list of life's choices is endless. And for every metaphorical road we take in life, there is a road not taken – the club we didn't join, the class we didn't take, the words we didn't say.
One of the big questions we face is whether or not to take the well-beaten, typical path. Is that the best choice, or should we be non-conformists and take the less-traveled route? Years into the future, after making our decision, how will we feel about the path we've chosen?
Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" is about these quandaries, present in every person's life. A lot of people think this poem is encouraging us to take the road that's less traveled. And while it's easy to fall into that well-beaten path of analysis, it's not exactly accurate. So make sure that when you read this poem, you take your own road, whether it's the road less traveled or not.
Robert Frost on Poets.org
A brief biography of Frost, and some of his poetry.
"A New American Poet"
An article from The Atlantic Monthly about Frost from 1915 – the year before "The Road Not Taken" was published.
Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken"
Ithaca College Professor Kevin Murphy's lecture on "The Road Not Taken."
The Road Not Taken (Yoda Voice)
Just for fun, "The Road Not Taken" read like Yoda would read it.
Read by the Poet
Listen to Frost read "The Road Not Taken" on Poets.org
Robert Frost Reads Aloud
Links to the audio of Frost reading many of his poems, including "The Road Not Taken."
Frost in the 1920s
A picture from the New York Times of Frost in the years after the publishing of "The Road Not Taken."
Book Reviews Galore
Reviews of Frost's books in the New York Times
Read the book that "The Road Not Taken" appeared in.
Voices & Visions: Robert Frost
IMDB site of a TV documentary about Frost.
Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel with the World
IMDB site for a documentary about Frost completed just before his death.