The “road not taken”

While the written word can be a source of inspiration and motivation, it can also be misconstrued and confused. I’m pondering this this morning, not in relation to anything I’ve written (though God knows people have misinterpreted me before!), but in contemplation of a poem I once took for granted. You see, I always understood the following to be an affirmation that choosing the different path could be a good thing:

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.

Familiar, right? It’s the ending of the classic Robert Frost poem that we’ve probably all been required to read. A poem that has made its way into the minds of many, in exactly the way I described above.

My problem is… there is a case made that Frost intends these final verses to be ironic. (Here’s an online example of the case, made at answers.com.) As if to say that when an old man, I’ll look back at my life and some particular moment in it and think that a decision, which wasn’t really all that weighty, was of particular significance… when, in reality, I simply followed others into a “new” path that was, by then, just about as worn as the other!

It’s an odd thought, isn’t it? I share it today hoping others might comment. (Kind of like discussion in honors English… man, some days I miss being in school!)

What do you think Frost intended with the poem? (You can find the whole thing easily, I’m sure.)
Or, a related question, does our interpretation supersede the author’s intent?

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2 responses to “The “road not taken”

  1. An intriguing characteristic of art (be it poetry, literature, painting, music, etc.) is its enduring relevance. Some works are relevant only for a short time and perhaps only to a limited audience, while others are timeless.

    By relevance, I mean that the particular work of art can evoke some type of emotional response from the person who reads, views or hears it — regardless of the experience, sophistication, education or age of the patron.

    Art is therefore, accessible to all, no matter where they are in their life journey.

    For this reason, I believe, the artist’s intention is not of lasting importance. Art takes on its own life and meaning in each person who is inspired, challenged or moved by it.

    The fact that we can revisit a particular piece at various stages in our own lives and come away with new perceptions speaks to (what I believe is) art’s purpose in the first place — to move the human spirit.

    [The fact that we can come away with new perceptions also speaks to the fact that we are shaped and changed by our life experiences – perhaps we can use the change in our perception as an indicator of personal/spiritual growth (or perhaps, deepening need).]

    Regardless of Frost’s original intention (whether it was a good-natured parody of his indecisive friend, or a call to inspire “pioneers” to blaze a new trail), the poem itself endures to amuse, inspire to create a reflective mood in the reader.

    Any of the three responses I listed – amusement, inspiration, reflection (of course there are other possible responses as well) – has its own good and purposeful qualities, and I imagine we “take away” from the poem what we need at the given moment.

  2. Well, Irina knocked my socks off. So I should just keep my mouth shut. But when have I ever done that?

    It’s difficult to get around the way I was taught, that Frost was glad he had taken the road less traveled. But I believe you could be right, Ron, that he was intentionally being ambiguous. Wouldn’t that be more like a good author/artist? Like Irina says, good art leaves a lot to the perceiver’s experience, reason, and place in life.

    Strangely, we had just discussed the looking back and thinking, what if I had done c instead of d back then? One of the group suggested that it is probably good that we can’t see what the outcome would have been if c had been the option. And I think that is true.

    Moving toward a religious view, I believe that whatever choices we make in life, God can use those choices to shape us for helping others. No matter what our lot in life is, we have opportunities to be of assistance to our fellow humans. And if I choose to not help someone today, but I help the person tomorrow, I’m still promoting God’s Kingdom, right here, right now.

    So, looking at Frost’s quote, I note the sigh. A sigh can be contented or it can be regretful. But if we get stuck in a loop of sighs, we are stopped in our path to wholeness. I would like to think that perhaps Frost was a bit whistful about the possibility of another chance he missed out on, but all in all he is accepting of where he is now and recognizing the opportunies and options he has for the future because he chose as he did.

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