Media Literacy - "The Road Not Taken" (1 Viewer)

guidomerkinsrules

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was having a conversation today and reminded me of this class topic...
What is the meaning of this poem?

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.
 

JLaneSaints

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If you are sincerely asking, the poem is meant to say that by taking the tougher road he is better for having done so. The journey may be tougher but it awards more.
 

RetroMcBananaFace

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I always thought it was about making a choice and following through, but yet you always wonder what things could have been like had you made the different choice.

Regret? Maybe not, seems like too strong a word.

I think we humans, as a race/species/intelligent beings are defined by possibility, and it's a source of frustration for some of us that our means of exploring those possibilities are often limited to one path.

I tell my wife all the time, I wonder if we should've bought the other house. At the time we were down to 2 choices. One was older with "character" and needed work but was in a great neighborhood. The other had a new roof, new appliances, fresh paint, but didn't have as much "character" and was in a good but not great neighborhood.

If we had gone with option B, we would be better off financially, but what would our lives be like otherwise? I wouldn't have fallen down the stairs that one time and broken my arm. But our 5-year-old wouldn't be living next to his best friend. How has that friendship defined him, how will it continue to do so in the future? Our friends would be different. Our ties to the community would be different, etc.

But I don't think everybody sits around dreaming like that. People like my wife, they make a choice, they stick to it, they don't think about ever again. I envy that, wish I could be that way.

I know, tl;dr

If you are sincerely asking, the poem is meant to say that by taking the tougher road he is better for having done so. The journey may be tougher but it awards more.
That's his rationale, that's what he tells people. But he doesn't know for sure, exactly. That's why he says it with a sigh.
 

superchuck500

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I have never really analyzed it. I, too, was under the impression that it was a celebration of individual choice to earn the rewards of taking the road less traveled - not following the flock.

And almost everyone gets it wrong. This is the most remarkable thing about “The Road Not Taken”—not its immense popularity (which is remarkable enough), but the fact that it is popular for what seem to be the wrong reasons. It’s worth pausing here to underscore a truth so obvious that it is often taken for granted: Most widely celebrated artistic projects are known for being essentially what they purport to be. When we play “White Christmas” in December, we correctly assume that it’s a song about memory and longing centered around the image of snow falling at Christmas. When we read Joyce’s Ulysses, we correctly assume that it’s a complex story about a journey around Dublin as filtered through many voices and styles. A cultural offering may be simple or complex, cooked or raw, but its audience nearly always knows what kind of dish is being served.

Frost’s poem turns this expectation on its head. Most readers consider “The Road Not Taken” to be a paean to triumphant self-assertion (“I took the one less traveled by”), but the literal meaning of the poem’s own lines seems completely at odds with this interpretation. The poem’s speaker tells us he “shall be telling,” at some point in the future, of how he took the road less traveled by, yet he has already admitted that the two paths “equally lay / In leaves” and “the passing there / Had worn them really about the same.” So the road he will later call less traveled is actually the road equally traveled. The two roads are interchangeable.

According to this reading, then, the speaker will be claiming “ages and ages hence” that his decision made “all the difference” only because this is the kind of claim we make when we want to comfort or blame ourselves by assuming that our current position is the product of our own choices (as opposed to what was chosen for us or allotted to us by chance). The poem isn’t a salute to can-do individualism; it’s a commentary on the self-deception we practice when constructing the story of our own lives. “The Road Not Taken” may be, as the critic Frank Lentricchia memorably put it, “the best example in all of American poetry of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” But we could go further: It may be the best example in all of American culture of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2015/09/11/the-most-misread-poem-in-america/
 
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guidomerkinsrules

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If you are sincerely asking, the poem is meant to say that by taking the tougher road he is better for having done so. The journey may be tougher but it awards more.
the is the common takeaway - now can you cite evidence from the poem that that is the core message?
(and yes I'me being very serious - this is one of the best, most misunderstood American poems out there)
 
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guidomerkinsrules

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k, so Chuck via google gets to the point

"and both that morning equally lay"
so now the narrator not only does not take the road less traveled, he (probably) takes the one MORE traveled once he walks on it

so no, it is not the iconoclast's story - it's the story of someone - possibly in mid-life - who is trying to romanticize his story and perhaps intuiting that his nostalgic re-tellings will be built on untruths

and in terms of the "meta" it's a very good example of how we like to jump at the pleasing message and ignore the contradictions
 

superchuck500

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k, so Chuck via google gets to the point

"and both that morning equally lay"
so now the narrator not only does not take the road less traveled, he (probably) takes the one MORE traveled once he walks on it

so no, it is not the iconoclast's story - it's the story of someone - possibly in mid-life - who is trying to romanticize his story and perhaps intuiting that his nostalgic re-tellings will be built on untruths

and in terms of the "meta" it's a very good example of how we like to jump at the pleasing message and ignore the contradictions
Sorry for cheating - but I think the misconception is the real discussion here, and it's terribly interesting. Thanks for bringing it up.

It's also remarkable how common the poem is.

But this isn’t just any poem. It’s “The Road Not Taken,” and it plays a unique role not simply in American literature, but in American culture —and in world culture as well. Its signature phrases have become so ubiquitous, so much a part of everything from coffee mugs to refrigerator magnets to graduation speeches, that it’s almost possible to forget the poem is actually a poem. In addition to the Ford commercial, “The Road Not Taken” has been used in advertisements for Mentos, Nicorette, the multibillion-dollar insurance company AIG, and the job-search Web site Monster.com, which deployed the poem during Super Bowl XXXIV to great success. Its lines have been borrowed by musical performers including (among many others) Bruce Hornsby, Melissa Etheridge, George Strait, and Talib Kweli, and it’s provided episode titles for more than a dozen television series, including Taxi, The Twilight Zone, and Battlestar Galactica, as well as lending its name to at least one video game, Spry Fox’s Road Not Taken (“a rogue-like puzzle game about surviving life’s surprises”). As one might expect, the influence of “The Road Not Taken” is even greater on journalists and authors. Over the past thirty-five years alone, language from Frost’s poem has appeared in nearly two thousand news stories worldwide, which yields a rate of more than once a week. In addition, “The Road Not Taken” appears as a title, subtitle, or chapter heading in more than four hundred books by authors other than Robert Frost, on subjects ranging from political theory to the impending zombie apocalypse. At least one of these was a massive international best seller: M. Scott Peck’s self-help book The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth, which was originally published in 1978 and has sold more than seven million copies in the United States and Canada.

Given the pervasiveness of Frost’s lines, it should come as no surprise that the popularity of “The Road Not Taken” appears to exceed that of every other major twentieth-century American poem, including those often considered more central to the modern (and modernist) era. Admittedly, the popularity of poetry is difficult to judge. Poems that are attractive to educators may not be popular with readers, so the appearance of a given poem in anthologies and on syllabi doesn’t necessarily reveal much. And book sales indicate more about the popularity of a particular poet than of any individual poem. But there are at least two reasons to think that “The Road Not Taken” is the most widely read and recalled American poem of the past century (and perhaps the adjective “American” could be discarded). The first is the Favorite Poem Project, which was devised by former poet laureate Robert Pinsky. Pinsky used his public role to ask Americans to submit their favorite poem in various forms; the clear favorite among more than eighteen thousand entries was “The Road Not Taken.”

The second, more persuasive reason comes from Google. Until it was discontinued in late 2012, a tool called Google Insights for Search allowed anyone to see how frequently certain expressions were being searched by users worldwide over time and to compare expressions to one another. Google normalized the data to account for regional differences in population, converted it to a scale of one to one hundred, and displayed the results so that the relative differences in search volume would be obvious.

According to Google, then, “The Road Not Taken” was, as of mid-2012, at least four times as searched as the central text of the modernist era—The Waste Land—and at least twenty-four times as searched as the most anthologized poem by Ezra Pound. By comparison, this is even greater than the margin by which the term “college football ” beats “archery” and “water polo.” Given Frost’s typically prickly relationships with almost all of his peers (he once described Ezra Pound as trying to become original by “imitating somebody that hasn’t been imitated recently”), one can only imagine the pleasure this news would have brought him.

same link as above
 

RetroMcBananaFace

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Sorry for cheating
I also feel kind of bad for cheating - I majored in English.

This is one of those poems that professors bring out to make a point to their students. Everybody thinks they know what it's about, but the entire body of the poem vastly betrays the last two lines that everybody knows so well.
 

gpupil

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I teach middle school ELA and I've taught this poem many times. Almost every time the students come to the same conclusion: that he took the less traveled road (not following the crowd) and his life is better.

But I've always felt that he's not making a value judgement of his decision. Like mentioned above, he starts out by saying the roads are equal. So look at the last stanza. He says he'll tell the story with a "sigh" and that taking the less traveled road has "made all the difference". I find it interesting that people read this as automatically positive. A sigh can mean many different things. It's not necessarily a sigh of relief; it could easily be a sigh of regret. And "difference" is just as ambiguous a term. He doesn't say it necessarily made a positive difference.

To me it's about choices in life. Be careful when you make a choice. Look down the road as far as you can, because even if you think you can change your mind (I kept the first for another day), you often won't be able to (knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back). The choices you make in life define you and make all the difference.
 
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guidomerkinsrules

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I also feel kind of bad for cheating - I majored in English.

This is one of those poems that professors bring out to make a point to their students. Everybody thinks they know what it's about, but the entire body of the poem vastly betrays the last two lines that everybody knows so well.
yup
ans I often used to couple this discussion with Magritte - especially The Lovers


the exercise was to distinguish what you see (describe the image in detail) from what you think (what do you think it means)
then once we recognized those as distinct, we could have conversations about propaganda and art and marketing, et al
 

buzd

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But isn't it all kind of irrelevant? You have a Shrodinger's cat situation here. Since the other path was never taken, you don't really know if it was better or worse.

I think the author is celebrating a kind of "no regrets" mindset, but as to the empiric value of the (metaphoric) road itself, who can really say?
 
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guidomerkinsrules

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I teach middle school ELA and I've taught this poem many times. Almost every time the students come to the same conclusion: that he took the less traveled road (not following the crowd) and his life is better.

But I've always felt that he's not making a value judgement of his decision. Like mentioned above, he starts out by saying the roads are equal. So look at the last stanza. He says he'll tell the story with a "sigh" and that taking the less traveled road has "made all the difference". I find it interesting that people read this as automatically positive.
i would argue that it's because they're not discussing the poem at this point - they're following the narrators lead and romanticizing their own life and choices

As a performing artist in my 20s, i was chock full of this romanticizing - 'I'm so cool, i'm making the hard but 'better' choices and all the sheeple are selling out to whatever - eventually i got over myself (mostly) and realized that everyone just made their choice (consciously or not) and no one's choice was qualitatively better than anyone else's
except Chuck of course
 
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guidomerkinsrules

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But isn't it all kind of irrelevant? You have a Shrodinger's cat situation here. Since the other path was never taken, you don't really know if it was better or worse.

I think the author is celebrating a kind of "no regrets" mindset, but as to the empiric value of the (metaphoric) road itself, who can really say?
maybe 'unqualifiable' instead of irrelevant
unlike the cat, the result of the path choice is not binary - most of us (77%) will take one path and view it as the best choice regardless (and the other 23% will view it as a bad choice regardless)
the point is that it's not the choice but the self-narration
 

RetroMcBananaFace

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Since the other path was never taken, you don't really know if it was better or worse.
But that's the point, we want to know! Good or bad, we still want to know. Either to justify the good decision we did make, or to be able to find blame/fault in the choice that led us the wrong way.

But until we invent time travel or the Ghost of Christmas Past rolls through, though, we're stuck in our linearity.

The self-deception/rationalization bit is just another layer of that, IMO. That's just what we do to fill in the blanks.
 

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