Two roads diverged in a yellow wood . . . One hundred years after its first publication in August 1915, Robert Frost s poem The Road Not Taken is so ubiquitous that it s easy to forget that it is, in fact, a poem. Read more...
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood . . . One hundred years after its first publication in August 1915, Robert Frost s poem The Road Not Taken is so ubiquitous that it s easy to forget that it is, in fact, a poem. Yet poetry it is, and Frost s immortal lines remain unbelievably popular. And yet in spite of this devotion, almost everyone gets the poem hopelessly wrong.
David Orr s The Road Not Taken dives directly into the controversy, illuminating the poem s enduring greatness while revealing its mystifying contradictions. Widely admired as the poetry columnist for The New York Times Book Review, Orr is the perfect guide for lay readers and experts alike. Orr offers a lively look at the poem s cultural influence, its artistic complexity, and its historical journey from the margins of the First World War all the way to its canonical place today as a true masterpiece of American literature.
The Road Not Taken seems straightforward: a nameless traveler is faced with a choice: two paths forward, with only one to walk. And everyone remembers the traveler taking the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference. But for a century readers and critics have fought bitterly over what the poem really says. Is it a paean to triumphant self-assertion, where an individual boldly chooses to live outside conformity? Or a biting commentary on human self-deception, where a person chooses between identical roads and yet later romanticizes the decision as life altering?
What Orr artfully reveals is that the poem speaks to both of these impulses, and all the possibilities that lie between them. The poem gives us a portrait of choice without making a decision itself. And in this, The Road Not Taken is distinctively American, for the United States is the country of choice in all its ambiguous splendor.
Published for the poem s centennial along with a new Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of Frost s poems, edited and introduced by Orr himself The Road Not Taken is a treasure for all readers, a triumph of artistic exploration and cultural investigation that sings with its own unforgettably poetic voice.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-04-20
- Reviewer: Staff
New York Times poetry critic Orr, in his engaging follow-up to Beautiful and Pointless: A Guide to American Poetry, narrows his scope to focus on one of America’s most beloved and most misunderstood poems. Even with poetry‘s diminished hold on the popular consciousness, many Americans can still recite the final lines of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” from memory (though most would probably misidentify it as “The Road Less Traveled”). Orr looks at how one poem could become so well-known among a generally poetry-allergic populace that it’s been used to launch a self-help revolution, provide titles for episodes of TV shows, and, further afield, sell cars in New Zealand. The book is divided into four sections, beginning with “The Poet,” a biographical sketch of Robert Frost the man and “Robert Frost” the myth. “The Poem” offers a close reading that disputes both popular readings of the poem as “a paean to triumphant self-assertion” and more critically accepted interpretations of it as a “joke (or trick).” “The Choice” probes American conceptions of choice from the days of the Founding Fathers to contemporary neuroscience. Finally, “The Chooser” synthesizes previously presented ideas into a nuanced discussion of modern selfhood. Orr blends theory, biography, psychology, science, and a healthy dose of pop culture into a frothy mix so fun, readers may forget they’re learning something. Betsy Lerner, Dunlow, Carlson & Lerner. (Aug.)