The Road Not Taken (Robert Frost) and the Importance of Authorial Intent

@Interested_In_Book_Studies With the New Year approaching, I thought I would reflect on the choices I have made in life via Robert Frost’s classic poem The Road Not Taken. I had not read it for years and I had always assumed it was about the importance of taking the “narrow path” in Bible terminology. And while many people have misinterpreted this poem in the same way, including the person for whom it was originally written, I was shocked to discover its true meaning. (didn’t want to spoil it before you read it - so I’ve left the ‘actual meaning’ bit below the poem)

I think this is a great example of how important authorial intent is when reading literature. This lesson applies to our reading of Scripture as well. Would be curious:

  1. How have you always understood this poem?
  2. What is your response to Frost’s actual reason for writing?
  3. What lessons can we learn?

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.

Authorial Intent

It turns out Frost wrote this poem to make fun of his friend’s indecisiveness. His friend, Edward Thomas, also misread it during WWI (it was written in 1915) to mean that decisive action was needed. Countless others have misread it as well.

Robert Frost wrote “The Road Not Taken” as a joke for a friend, the poet Edward Thomas. When they went walking together, Thomas was chronically indecisive about which road they ought to take and—in retrospect—often lamented that they should, in fact, have taken the other one.