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Thread: "I took the one less travelled by"

  1. #1

    Red face "I took the one less travelled by"

    Hi everyone!
    I need help. There is something that has been echoing in my head for the longest time. It's a verse of a poem, but I don't know the title or the author of the poem: "Two roads lay before me...and I, I took the one less travelled by." Can anyone help me place this? I thought it was Frost but a friend said it was Yeats. TIA

    Chronicuriosity

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    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    Hi Chronicuriosity!

    I think this is the poem you are refering to:


    Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
    And sorry I could not travel both
    And be one traveler, long I stood
    And looked down one as far as I could
    To where it bent in the undergrowth;

    Then took the other, as just as fair,
    And having perhaps the better claim,
    Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
    Though as for that the passing there
    Had worn them really about the same,

    And both that morning equally lay
    In leaves no step had trodden black.
    Oh, I kept the first for another day!
    Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
    I doubted if I should ever come back.

    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.


    It is 'The Road Not Taken' by Robert Frost. I am not sure if Yeats has a similar poem.

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  3. #3

    "Road Not Taken"

    Thanks!! I though it sounded like Frost. And thanks for the warm welcome!

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    In Aristotle's time a "lost in the yellow wood" traveller could choose from at least three paths. He suggested that the middle one, the path most previous travellers had taken, was the wisest choice.
    It really is telling that nowdays there are only two paths to choose from and the "less walked upon" is normally suggested by poets and shrinks alike.

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    Misinterpretation

    Yanni, I don't think that this is a poem about advising people to take the road "less walked upon". I agree that that would be silly advice (especially coming from Frost, who once wrote about the virtues of being "content with the old-fashioned ways to be new"). Remember, the title of the poem is "The Road Not Taken", not "The Road Less Traveled".

    In the poem Frost tells us that "the passing there / Had worn them really about the same." And that "both that morning equally lay / In leaves no step had trodden black." The point is that both paths are equally worn. There is no road less traveled. The speaker only says as much at the end of the poem, later on "ages and ages hence". He says so with a sigh and a pause: "and I-- / I took the one less traveled by". While looking back he is trying to convince himself that he took the one less traveled by. I believe that this poem is more about regrets, hopes, justification, and memory than an exhortation to take the road less traveled -- which I agree with you, would most often be silly advice. Part of the confusion comes from people constantly changing the title from "The Road Not Taken" to "The Road Less Traveled". Indeed that mistake "has made all the difference."

    I do know that most people disagree with me as I continually hear this poem cited as a call to "be your own man" or "be different". Whatever the validity of that advice, I don't think that it was the point of this poem.

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    To "take the road less travelled" is the current shrink advice, in fact there was a book written some ten years ago by similar title that made a hit.
    Frost, regrets and all, says he made the dificult choice.
    Anyway my point was not just Frost and his poem.

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    My shrink has never advised me to take the road less travelled. You're talking about a self help book, a road that's a little too easy to take for my liking anyway. Having a shrink can make all the difference.

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    To your pocket it can.

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    The comments and analysis of MikeK are interesting. What I see in this poem though is not so much an expression of regret but simply that each one of us is faced with choices in life that are uniquely ours. That is why Frost states that "both that morning equally lay / In leaves no step had trodden black." These paths are ours and no-one else's and that is why they are untrodden. I dont think he is expressing regret at not taking what he perceives as the easier road. I believe that whilst acknowledging the value of both roads, the author is expressing his satisfaction that the road he chose has offered him experiences and has shaped his views of his own life that perhaps the first road may not have provided him with...simply because he perceived it to be more familiar and easy. In other words, there may not be great differences in these roads/choices, but the fact that the author believes there might be, actually alters his perception of how he experienced things thereafter.

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    James, I agree with everything you said about the poem. I hope my inclusion of the word regret at the beginning of my list of interpretations didn't leave the impression that I thought regret was this poem's major theme - superceding all others. This is certainly not to be read simply as a sad, melancholic poem, as my post might have suggested. That misunderstanding would be regretful on my part.

    An interesting note to this poem (which accords wonderfully with everything you said, James) is how Frost got the idea to write it. I read this in a commentary by Louis Untermeyer, Frost's friend, and I'm paraphrasing the story:
    When Frost was living in England, a friend of his there used to take him for walks in the woods. This friend would want to take Frost many places and show him many sights, but of course could only choose one path each time. Invariably, the friend would wonder aloud near the end of the journey if Frost wouldn't have preferred a different path to view the sights. Frost found this constant apprehension of his friend humorous.

    It's certainly not necessary when interpreting poetry to know the biographical nature of a poem's origins, but I do think in this particular case that knowing that story sheds some light on this wonderful poem.

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    MikeK.

    Thanks for this insight. I agree. I think that the origins add to the experience of the poem.

    JD

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    Who, ME? trismegistus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MikeK
    I do know that most people disagree with me as I continually hear this poem cited as a call to "be your own man" or "be different".
    Most people also don't read carefully enough and (sadly) some teachers I know treat the theme as "be yourself" while glossing over the four lines to which you refer. Not only do those lines quite clearly state that one road is NOT less travelled, one need only look at the structure of the poem to see their significance with regard to meaning. They form the middle of the poem for pity's sake; literally, they are the core of the poem.

    I also think you shouldn't be so quick to reduce the notion of regret. When spoken, the line break and full hyphen at "and I" clearly indicate the speaker reaching for something. I'd be interested in what others say, but it screams "justification" to me especially when coupled with "telling this with a sigh."

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    tri., now I'll apologize to you. I didn't mean to reduce the idea of regret and justification to meaninglessness in my last post. I agree, the speaker is surely trying to justify his decision, and why the need to justify if you don't regret? You're right, the poem does scream "justification".

    But in this talk of justification and regret, let's remember; it is the speaker, not Frost, who regrets. I've always found this poem a bit humorous, as if Frost is saying to the reader (while pointing at the speaker and laughing), "Look at this silly man, how sad he is over his past, how he regrets his decisions and is trying desperately to justify himself. Don't you, dear reader, do that to yourself. You must make choices, and once you do, and they can't be undone, move on - no regrets." Reading the poem in that ironic vein (whereby the poet wishes the reader to see something that his speaker can't), the poem entirely changes meaning. It is no longer sad, melancholic, regretful, and a "justification" poem, but conversely a humorous one that says "no regrets". While reading it purely from the speaker's perspective, however, he is sad and regretful. Ahh, the beauty of irony.

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    Guys this poem is taking on significance and meanings that I hadn't considered, all due to these conversations. Maybe I'll see it differently each time I read it depending on what mood I'm in at the time. Thanks for opening up different windows, its refreshing to look at things from different angles. Mike, never apologise for your views. I'm sure the poet would have been enthused to know that individuals will experience their work in different ways.

    Tri, sighs can reflect numerous emotions, and Mike's notion of humour and irony are possibly what that sigh that the author/speaker will be "..telling this with.." is generated from or by.

    JD

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    James, believe me, your premonition is correct. You will read this poem differently from now on; maybe even a different interpretation every time, like you suggested. Once I read this poem closely and actually thought about it, after years of reading it (and all poetry) superficially and quickly, what you've suggested has happened. My interpretaion changed - often with my mood.

    I'm continually amazed at how reading any poetry or prose can change my outlook on works that I thought I had a firm grasp on - even if that other reading is on a completely different topic. You'll pick up a glimmer of a thought, idea, or feeling that will stay with you, imperceptibly, and than affect your outlook on things later on - without you knowing it. You might only realize it later on.

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