Monday, November 8, 2010

The Road Not Taken

My students this semester are singing "Frostiana;" Randall Thompson's setting of Robert Frost poems. To get us started in a discussion of the meaning of the poems, I decided to write my own feelings about it. Let me know what you think!

1. The Road Not Taken

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.

The story behind this poem is that Robert Frost and a friend would go for walks together and Frost’s friend would agonize over which path they should take, and Frost wrote this poem in response to him. You can actually see the indecision in the poem’s description of the two roads. “Then took the other, as just as fair,/ And having perhaps the better claim…Though as for that the passing there/ Had worn them really about the same” In one moment he sees one as better, but then second guesses himself, saying they really do look the same.

Robert Frost claimed that he wrote the poem as a sort of jab at his friend, suggesting that it really didn’t matter which road one takes. I think that, by the end of the poem, Frost discovers some very important truths about making choices. “Yet knowing how way leads on to way,/ I doubted if I should ever come back.”

We go through our lives constantly making decisions. While some do not matter, many do, and every decision yields consequences that either open wider opportunities to us and yield greater benefit to our lives, or they limit our opportunities and subsequently reduce our potential for satisfaction. More importantly, however, is the fact that we can never go back to undo any decision. We can change our decision at any moment, but the consequences of that first decision will always be a part of our history.

It is so tempting to select the easier of two choices simply because it is the most common, or the least work. Inevitably these decisions; decisions to play instead of work, to blow off responsibility, or to be small minded towards your fellow man; lead to unhappy consequences and limited opportunities. It is often the difficult choices; the decision to work hard, to hold to your commitments, and to the best of those around you; that yield the greatest results. Often, these choices are lonely ones, but the benefit of such difficult decisions are much greater than the payoff of popularity. Randall Thompson portrays the benefit of these moments so expertly in the music. Throughout all four verses, the anxiety of choosing a path, and the difficulty of choosing the “road less traveled” is portrayed expertly by the brooding chords in the piano accompaniment, while the loneliness of these roads is found in the choir’s a capella singing. However, as our character presses forward in the decision he (or she) knows to be right, Thompson portrays the benefit of such a decision in a sudden, positive change in the piano accompaniment.

So, take Robert Frost’s poem as a challenge to live the higher life! Give up on choosing small-minded options and make those decisions that are difficult but lead to long-lasting benefits! This can be something as simple as working hard (both in classes and at work) and holding true on every promise you have made, or choosing to do something great instead of something simply mediocre. Recognize that any moment of choice only comes once, and challenge yourself to choose the best of whatever is offered to you.


  1. More than a conductor, my friend. But a philospher. And a life coach.

  2. I'm with Kerri. Thank you for the inspiration.

  3. wow! your students are pretty lucky to have you.