Dear John Green,
First, big fan! I've been watching Vlogbrothers and Crash Course for several years now, Vlogbrothers for longer obviously. I love the things you and Hank do, but more than anything I love this video.
Let me explain...
I like Robert Frost. His poetry is wonderful, deep, and full of interesting discussions. My favorite is Out, Out. But I have to tell you, it really frustrates me when people misinterpret and misread The Road Not Taken. This happens most often in church and in the English classes I teach at school.
So, thank you for doing your part in correcting this rampant problem.
Now, lets get this poem on the screen and dig in.
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
(5) 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
(10) 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,
(15) 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,
(20) And that has made all the difference.
I understand and totally subscribe to the idea that people can read poetry and glean any message that is meaningful to them, but let me explain to you how I interpret this poem.
Many people misinterpret this poem by saying that (much like John Green in the video was saying) that by taking the "road less traveled" your life will be better or meaningful. It happens in church all the time. People like to interpret this poem saying that if you follow the straight and narrow you will eventually reach heaven because you took the "road less traveled by." That is a nice message and all, but unfortunately that is not what Frost was getting at.
So we have the speaker, he is walking through the woods, he comes to a fork in the road, he looks down both paths. One path is well worn, and the other is "grassy and wanted wear." But then look at lines 9 & 10: "Though as for that the passing there / Had worn them really about the same," Frost contradicts himself. One road isn't better than the other. One isn't less worn, they are pretty much the same. So does it really matter if you choose one path over the other? Let's keep reading.
In line 11, Frost uses the word "equally" to once again discuss how these two paths are the same. Then he says that "[he] kept the first for another day!" He'll just come back and travel the other road some other time. Sounds good. But, oh, wait, "Yet knowing how way leads on to way, / I doubted if I should ever come back." So you're not going to come back? Well then why did you say you would. You contradicted yourself again. NOT COOL ROBERT FROST!
- the paths were "worn [...] about the same." and
- he never took the other path, "I doubted if I should ever come back," so how can he know that the path he took made all the difference.
This is how I interpret this poem. If we read closely we find contradictions. I love to use this poem to teach Deconstruction when we study Critical Lenses in AP Literature and Composition.
Close reading is the best!