The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong
I once got into an argument about "The Road Not Taken". (As Frost himself observed, "You have to be careful of that one; it's a tricky poem--very tricky.") Is the poem, as it seems on the surface, an ode to rugged individuality? Or is it, as the oh-so-sophisticated would have it, ironically subverting that idea, by suggesting that the choices we make ultimately don't much matter?
As I recall, I made myself irritating to all sides by insisting that the correct answer was: it's both. Poetry is supposed to be interpreted. Why bother with poetry if you want to clearly and unambiguously communicate one single meaning? That's what prose is for.
I am happy to report that David Orr, perspicacious man that he is, agrees with me. "The Road Not Taken" is about the act of choosing, not the choice, and it gives the reader the freedom to choose either road--either interpretation. For us, as for the speaker in the poem, the choice lies in the eye of the beholder: the two roads are "really about the same", but one of them seems less taken.
That's one of the things (in Orr's interpretation, anyway) that make it a peculiarly American poem. We make something of a fetish of choice. To deprive a person of free choice seems somehow un-American; witness many recent political debates. Whether the choices are consequential, or whether having them is a good thing, is different question.