“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” These are Robert Frost’s opening words to his poem, The Road Not Taken, one of his most famous works. This piece has had a profound impact on me, not because of a personal relation to the poem, but instead because of the way others choose to relate to it. People use this poem to relate to their own stories, but what they interpret does not match the words.
The Road Not Taken tells the story of a walker coming to a fork forcing him to choose between the divergent directions. There is a time in everyone’s life where we face a fork in their path, whether figuratively or literally, and we must decide. “We can relate to stories due to their general message, even when we haven’t had the same exact experience” (Ciotti). It is this shared experience of decision making that makes the poem universally liked. Now that there is a relation to the story within the poem, readers can interpret it’s meaning. “These stories provide for us the interpretive cues that help us navigate and make sense of our own experiences” (Rolf). It is in applying it to their own lives that many mistake the meaning of this poem. Most hear the poem as there being two different paths and Frost chooses the path that few before him have. However, Frost describes two nearly identical paths in the poem. He makes his choice, but upon reflecting on the choice, he states his was the road less traveled. “Because we are in bondage to sin and are finite creatures, as authors who write our own stories about ourselves, we will lie. We will twist the truth to make ourselves look better” (Rolf). Frost lies at the end of the poem, as do many people when reflecting back on their lives, because as the author and main character in our own stories we are always the hero and always make the heroic choice into the unknown.
Readers love the idea of a suspenseful choice between a dangerous unkempt path and one that is lovely and safe. “Suspense in stories really allows you to create an addictive narrative, as long as the suspense appears early enough to capture interest, and doesn’t keep people hanging on forever” (Ciotti). But it is in the hooking suspense that Frost loses his readers to the hero’s tale. “Stories trump data when it comes to persuasion because stories are easier to understand and relate to” (Ciotti). The reader is lost in the story and unable to see the facts. At the end of the poem, Frost enacts a theory of Annette Simmons, “Change the story and you change the meaning of the facts” (Rolf). Frost says he took the road less travelled, changing the clearly written fact of identical paths. Once I understood that everyone believes themselves the hero of their own story my perspective changed. I heard people’s stories differently, found it easier to place myself in their shoes, and even felt a little humbled. I will always believe my decisions to be unique from those around me. We follow our own stories as avid readers, relating to the main character in every way, but sometimes this prevents us from seeing outside the story. There are facts buried in the story that we miss if we get too wrapped up.
Rolf says it perfectly, “Simply put: We are our stories…We are both author and character of our stories. But we are neither good enough, wise enough, or true enough to write stories that are both true and good” (Rolf). We will always write ourselves as the true and honest hero, which is why it’s important to take a step back and root out the facts in our own stories. Your path may not be the road less travelled, but it certainly makes all the difference.
References made to:
- “The Psychology of Storytelling”
- Kimberly Bracken Long (2009), “Beyond Merely Adequate: Poetic Sensibility in Liturgical Language,” in Liturgy, 25:2, 3-11.
- Rolf A. Jacobson (2014), “We are our stories: narrative dimension of human identity and its implications for Christian faith formation,” in Word & World, 34, no. 2: 123-130.