person walking through a forest

The Road Not Taken

by Robert Frost

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If you were the speaker in "The Road Not Taken," which road would you have taken and why?

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No matter which road is chosen it "will make all the difference" just as every decision we make "makes a difference" to alarge or small degree.  The difference can be positive or negative, but all of our choices affect us in some way.  Large decisions like where to go to college or what job to take may affect where we live, who we meet and how we live.  Small decisions like what we eat may affect how we feel later that day.  In the end, all of our choices have consequences.

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It wouldn't matter.  The roads were both the same.

This poem isn't really about individualism.  It is about how we people fool ourselves into thinking that various decisions matter when they really don't.  The poet says that both roads really were the same and that it is only later in life, when he looks back, that he will say that one of the roads was less traveled by.

So I would like to think that I would choose randomly because I would like to think that I am insightful enough to know that some decisions don't really matter.  I like to think that I would not fool myself into thinking I was making some life-changing decision when I really wasn't.

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As did the speaker in The Road Not Taken, I would have taken "the one less traveled by." I am a hard core individualist and am very comfortable taking less traveled roads, marching to a different drummer, and any other cliches you may wish to use.

The speaker in the poem recognizes the potential validity of the more traveled road. The two roads are both undisturbed by travelers at that point and there appears to be no obvious advantage to one over the other:

Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same

The decisive factor for the speaker is that one road "wanted wear"; it was not as commonly used and so would provide perhaps more challenge, certainly a different type of adventure than the norm for most travelers. The speaker notes that the more traveled road might be visited "another day" but recognizes that life's paths seldom circle back around to make such a return visit possible.

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Robert Frost was a poet. He wanted to devote his life to creative writing. But he realized that this is an extremely impractical career. According to Somerset Maugham:

To write prose and verse, to hammer out little tunes on the piano, and to draw and paint, are instinctive with a great many young persons. It is a form of play, due merely to the exuberance of their years, and is no more significant than a child’s building of a castle on the sands....The point I want to make is that this facility is, if not universal, so common that one can draw no conclusions from it. Youth is the inspiration. One of the tragedies of the arts is the spectacle of the vast number of persons who have been misled by this passing fertility to devote their lives to the effort of creation. Their invention deserts them as they grow older, and they are faced with the long years before them in which, unfitted by now for a more humdrum calling, they harass their wearied brain to beat out material it is incapable of giving them. They are lucky when, with what bitterness we know, they can make a living in ways, like journalism or teaching, that are allied to the arts.

I cannot help believing that Frost was referring to a career choice he made when he was young. And he himself acknowledged that to an audience on at least one occasion. The two "roads" represent dedication to one's art, on the one hand, and the choice of a secure livelihood, on the other. Frost chose an austere, simple, Thoreauvian type of life in which he could devote his full attention to his creativity. For him it was probably the right choice because he achieved recognition and success. But it is a dangerous choice.

There is not only a vast number of persons attracted to creative writing, but vast numbers are attracted to music, acting, painting, and other creative fields. The odds against them are enormous. Many give up the struggle and compromise by getting "day jobs.". Others become self-destructive. We only hear about the ones who were successful. 

In "The Road Not Taken," Frost says that he could not see where either of the roads would take him. If a person only knew he could survive as a creative writer, he would have no problem in choosing that road. But there is no way to find out without going down that road.

If I were forced to make the choice you ask in your question, I would take the more conservative path. I would try to find a secure and comfortable niche and relinquish my dreams of glory.

The desire for glory clings even to the best men longer than any other passion.
Caius Cornelius Tacitus
(A.D. c. 55 - c. 117

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In "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost, the fork in the road and the two paths are as much symbolic as real. In fact, the notion of the two diverging paths, one smooth and well trodden and one rough and untended, alludes to an ancient oration by the sophist Prodicus, called "The Choice of Herakles," in which the hero must choose been the smooth and easy road of vice and the rough and difficult one leading to virtue. As the oration is recounted by Xenophon and mentioned in Plato and other major ancient authors, Frost, who studied at Harvard for two years and taught English later, would have been familiar with it.

On a metaphorical level, the poem asks us to choose between conventional paths in our lives and roads less traveled, meaning choices that may be less common or conventional. Which one you should choose depends on your own skills, interests, and talents. While some people may be happier being artists or entrepreneurs with uncertain futures, others may wish to settle down and have a reliable income and start families. No one choice is essentially better than another, although if one does have children, one has a responsibility to support them.

On an actual hiking trip, my choice would depend on circumstances. If I was feeling energetic, it was early in the day, and I was carrying a map, compass, and GPS, I might choose a less explored path, but later in the day, especially in bad weather, taking a well-trodden path would be more sensible. 

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