EnH-609: Commonwealth and American Literature

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Unit I Poetry
8. Robert Frost: The Mending Wall; The Road Not Taken

Mending Wall
BY ROBERT FROST
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’
Are borders necessary or regressive? Are humans naturally driven toward greater connection and cooperation, or does some old, mistrustful instinct always hold us back? These are among the questions that haunt the edges of “Mending Wall” like shade in a springtime pasture. This early Robert Frost masterpiece first appeared in the book North of Boston (1914), and its tale of a wall dividing neighbors’ properties has been read both literally and figuratively ever since. With understated wit and a knack for crafty symbolism, Frost casts a cold eye on the real and figurative walls that divide us.
The poem’s narrative is simple—or seems so. The speaker and his neighbor meet in spring to repair the stone wall between their properties. Reviewing the damage that weather and hunters have caused, the speaker begins with a reflection:
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
He doubts whether this particular wall is even necessary, dryly reminding his neighbor that their lands don’t need partitioning: “My apple trees will never get across / And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.” The neighbor counters with a proverb: “Good fences make good neighbors.” Half-amused, half-provoked, the speaker “wonder[s] / If I could put a notion in his head” and force him to question his unthinking maintenance of the wall. But the speaker says nothing further, and the neighbor, pleased with his comeback, repeats it.
Because the neighbor gets the last word, it’s possible to read “Good fences make good neighbors” as the poem’s straightforward message. A more complex reading, alert to Frost’s ironic style, would side firmly with the speaker. In this view, the speaker nurses a healthy suspicion of barriers that serve no clear purpose; he is open to communication and new ideas, wary of anything that arbitrarily divides people: “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out, / And to whom I was like to give offense.” By contrast, the neighbor is a creature ruled by habit and cliché. The ending provides a good deal of evidence for this reading:
… I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
“He moves in darkness” implies the darkness of ignorance, and the passage as a whole casts the neighbor as stubborn, incurious, trite in speech, and crude in manner. He repeats his comeback out of self-satisfaction, and he keeps repairing the wall—estranging his fellow human beings—out of rigid traditionalism. So unflattering is this portrait that it’s tempting to stop our reading there. It would be easy, in that case, to frame the poem as a tidy allegory of tolerance versus intolerance, openness versus repression, rationality versus irrationality, and so on.
But Frost is a poet who weaves ironies within ironies, and his poem beckons us toward even more-nuanced readings. Poet-critic Lawrence Raab finds shades of gray within the speaker’s attitude:
The poem doesn’t begin with “I hate walls” or even “Something dislikes a wall.” Its first gesture is one of elaborate and playful concealment, a calculated withholding of meaning. Notice also that it is the speaker himself who repairs the wall after the hunters have broken it. And it is the speaker each year who notifies his neighbor when the time has come to meet and mend the wall. Then can we safely claim that the speaker views the wall simply as a barrier between human contact and understanding?
True: the speaker acknowledges having “made repair” before even mentioning the neighbor, and when new gaps appear in the wall, he “let[s his] neighbor know beyond the hill.” He may not love the wall, but he actively collaborates in its preservation. Here we should note that Frost may not be voicing the poem as himself. He may be judging both speaker and neighbor, dramatizing their perspectives without fully embracing either.
Can we identify his own stance? As Raab points out, the “Something” that undermines walls in winter is frost; perhaps the poet Frost was punningly aligning himself with anti-wall forces. And everything in the poem indicates that, practically speaking, this wall is useless:
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
But what about the breezy comparison of wall-mending to “another kind of out-door game, / One on a side”? Two outdoor players with a barrier between them—this sounds a little like tennis, and Frost was a casual tennis player who used the sport in a famous metaphor about verse. The poet Rachel Hadas offers the following:
As an occasion for craft, besides being a guarantee of privacy, the wall is also crucial. Frost often compared free verse to playing tennis without the net—a remark which no one has ever interpreted as an attack on nets.
The wall in “Mending Wall” imposes an arbitrary limit. But like the rules of a game or poetic form, such limits can spark creativity and connection—as Hadas puts it, “the joint maintenance of form for its own sake … so that wall-making also becomes ‘a time to talk.’” Hadas agrees with critic Richard Poirier: “[I]f fences do not ‘make good neighbors,’ the ‘making’ of fences can.”
Beneath all these layers of criticism there is Frost’s own commentary. In an author’s note in North of Boston, Frost wrote that the poem “takes up the theme where A Tuft of Flowers [sic] in A Boy’s Will laid it down.” He is referring to “The Tuft of Flowers” from his previous (1913) volume, especially to that poem’s closing lines:
‘Men work together,’ I told him from the heart,
‘Whether they work together or apart.’
The “him” is a fellow farmer who has mowed a field where the speaker now “turn[s] the grass.” Though the neighbor never appears in this poem, there’s a real sense in which the speaker is “work[ing] together” with him—in a shared field, on a shared project. Upon discovering a beautiful tuft of flowers his neighbor’s “scythe had spared,” the speaker feels an even deeper sense of communion with him, a shared delight in the “work” of appreciating the world. Although the speaker utters the final lines in solitude, they come “from the heart.”
If “Mending Wall” takes up the same theme without variation, then wall-mending must be a form of bonding, the joint renewal of something worthwhile. (As Raab reminds us, “the phrase ‘mending fences’ means to restore communication and neighborliness.”) But the tart, even sardonic tone of “Mending Wall” makes us feel the theme has shifted. Here the neighbors’ isolation seems greater and their bond weaker, even though they’re communicating face to face. More seems to be at stake than the rewards of work or the fun of an “outdoor game.”
Frost made a few other remarks about “Mending Wall” over the years. In his old age, he said it had been “spoiled” by being “applied.” This claim suggests a wistful desire to wall off the poem from real-world influence. Are we bound to respect that divide, or can we poke holes in it?
From the outset, the poem has been hard to separate from politics. Frost published it in England during the first year of World War I, a time of fierce European border disputes. Though we can’t reduce it to a political allegory, its ambivalence about boundaries does make a particular kind of sense in that context. For one thing, the poem’s apparent stakes are so low that we feel it must be hinting at something else. (Few readers care about rural stone walls, but many care deeply about lines on the map.) For another thing, the poem’s physical details—a wall dividing land, two landowners who cultivate different trees—make for easy geopolitical analogies. (Picture neighboring countries with different industries.) Even the poem’s season is balanced, like uncertain diplomatic relations, between a freeze and a thaw.
Frost doesn’t rail against artificial boundaries, but he does urge us to think before imposing them, to ask “What [we are] walling in or walling out.” If his true subject is global affairs—say, isolationism versus internationalism—his commentary is more memorable for being sly.
This restrained approach drew little controversy before the world wars, when Frost was a largely unknown writer. But by the height of the Cold War in the 1960s, Frost was an institution, and “Mending Wall” faced pressure to declare its allegiances. In particular, the 1961 construction of the Berlin Wall—part of the “Iron Curtain” dividing capitalist Western from communist Eastern Europe—brought the poem fresh attention from both sides. For the Soviet Union, according to Raab, the “detachable statement” about good fences served as a rationale for rigid defenses. For Americans, according to Grzegorz Kosc in The Transatlantic Sixties (2013), the idealistic interpretation was self-flattering:
Though Frost warned against easy readings of the poem and explained that it locked together a nationalist and a “one-worlder” in an irresolvable tension, “Mending Wall” spoke to Americans as an unequivocally “wall-tearing” poem, expressing the universalist ideology of brotherhood of mankind that the West arrogated to itself…
Despite his warnings, Frost himself tried to serve the cause of tension reduction. President Kennedy, for whom he’d read a poem at the 1961 inauguration, sent him on a 1962 goodwill visit to the USSR that included a meeting with the Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev. (Kosc calls this the “Frost-Khrushchev summit.”) Although the poet did his earnest best—charming the premier despite ill health, reading “Mending Wall” in Moscow—he could not allay the tensions that soon fueled the Cuban Missile Crisis.
This wasn’t his first foray into poetic diplomacy. A 1961 State Department trip had taken Frost to the divided city of Jerusalem, where, as biographer Henry Hart recounts, the poet offered the first line of “Mending Wall” to a group of kids who asked him to write something for them. Hart claims that “He could just as easily have written, ‘Good fences make good neighbors,’ since he also believed in the necessity of walls”—but he didn’t, in fact, choose that line. Moreover, according to Kosc, Frost exclaimed about Israel-Palestine divisions: “Stones and stones, and walls and walls, and barbed wire, wire, wire. The shame of it! That barbed wire was invented in America!” The poet died in 1963 without seeing any of these conflicts resolved.
The Berlin Wall lasted until 1989, when its fall amid a groundswell of protest and a broader Cold War thaw seemed to herald a victory for internationalism. In a landmark speech two years earlier, President Reagan had urged his Soviet counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev, to “tear down this wall.” History swings unpredictably; in 2016, a different Republican captured the White House with the slogan, “Build that wall!” The new president, an extreme nationalist determined to block migration from Central America, pledged to impose a coast-to-coast barrier between the United States and Mexico. Though construction of the physical wall soon stalled, border patrols turned back southern refugees en masse or confined them in dire conditions. Predictably, as Alexander Nazaryan reported during the 2016 campaign, “both supporters and detractors” of this new nationalism “have used Frost’s poem to their ends.”
And so, a poem from 1914 now holds a pocket mirror to international relations since 1960. But then, it has always glanced back at the history of human borders, barriers, and fortifications from Jericho onward. It seems doomed to perpetual relevance; the Washington Post recently quoted it in an article with the plaintive title “Walls are the foundation of civilization. But do they work?” At the same time, it seems designed to frustrate message seekers. Nazaryan calls it “a gorgeous act of equivocation”:
“Mending Wall” ends on the conviction about good fences making good neighbors. … You know that the narrator doesn’t believe this, so why does he let it stand? Because some do not love walls, but others do, and always have. Hence the wall in Berlin, but also Hadrian’s Wall and the Great Wall of China.
This echoes one of Frost’s own late-life comments:
I could’ve done better for them probably, for the generality, by saying

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
Something there is that does.

Why didn’t I say that? I didn’t mean that. I meant to leave that until later in the poem. I left it there.
The aging Frost also reflected, “Maybe I was both fellows in the poem.” Frost’s qualifiers—“probably,” “maybe”—make mischief all over again. So ambiguous is “Mending Wall” that it seems to play games with us, volleying us first toward one interpretation, then another.
Still, words are never fully ambiguous, however poets might wish otherwise. “Something there is” in the poem’s rhetoric, some quiet subsurface pressure, that profoundly undermines the act of wall-making. Consider that “Good fences make good neighbors” really was a dusty proverb: it had appeared in the Dwights American Magazine, and Family Newspaper as early as 1846. This puts it at a quadruple remove from Frost’s own sentiments: it’s filtered through the speaker, the neighbor, the neighbor’s father, and whatever source the father got it from. Notice, too, that it ends on an unstressed syllable, making it less emphatic than “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” or the even stronger
‘… Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’

Those last two iambs, propelled by the line break, ring with authority.
Of course, the speaker chooses not to speak these lines aloud. Yet even that context might argue for their deeper truth. They seem to well up from the speaker’s intuition, carrying a “notion” he espouses but can’t or won’t express. If the tension between these men is unresolved, perhaps it’s not because their points are equally valid but because one knows more than he’s willing to say.
Regardless, the “notion” is expressed to us instead. The speaker puts it in our heads. Here is a powerful implicit retort to the closing line: as far as genuine connection is concerned, this wall has not “ma[d]e good neighbors” of the two men. Repairing it may be a bonding ritual, but even as the speaker participates, he says little, dislikes his neighbor’s mindset, and saves his real thoughts for another audience.
In confiding to us, he does not denounce walls; he doubts them. Doubt is what makes “Mending Wall” a poem and not an editorial—not the kind of writing with obvious applications. But it’s also what makes “Mending Wall” a subversive classic rather than a scrap of yesterday’s news.

The Road Not Taken 

BY ROBERT FROST

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.

Robert Frost wrote “The Road Not Taken” as a joke for a friend, the poet Edward Thomas. When they went walking together, Thomas was chronically indecisive about which road they ought to take and—in retrospect—often lamented that they should, in fact, have taken the other one. Soon after writing the poem in 1915, Frost griped to Thomas that he had read the poem to an audience of college students and that it had been “taken pretty seriously … despite doing my best to make it obvious by my manner that I was fooling. … Mea culpa.” However, Frost liked to quip, “I’m never more serious than when joking.” As his joke unfolds, Frost creates a multiplicity of meanings, never quite allowing one to supplant the other—even as “The Road Not Taken” describes how choice is inevitable.

“The Road Not Taken” begins with a dilemma, as many fairytales do. Out walking, the speaker comes to a fork in the road and has to decide which path to follow:

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 …

In his description of the trees, Frost uses one detail—the yellow leaves—and makes it emblematic of the entire forest. Defining the wood with one feature prefigures one of the essential ideas of the poem: the insistence that a single decision can transform a life. The yellow leaves suggest that the poem is set in autumn, perhaps in a section of woods filled mostly with alder or birch trees. The leaves of both turn bright yellow in fall, distinguishing them from maple leaves, which flare red and orange. Both birches and alders are “pioneer species,” the first trees to come back after the land has been stripped bare by logging or forest fires. An inveterate New England farmer and woodsman, Robert Frost would have known these woods were “new”—full of trees that had grown after older ones had been decimated. One forest has replaced another, just as—in the poem—one choice will supplant another. The yellow leaves also evoke a sense of transience; one season will soon give way to another.

The speaker briefly imagines staving off choice, wishing he could “travel both / And be one traveler.” (A fastidious editor might flag the repetition of travel/traveler here, but it underscores the fantasy of unity—traveling two paths at once without dividing or changing the self.) The syntax of the first stanza also mirrors this desire for simultaneity: three of the five lines begin with the word and.

After peering down one road as far as he can see, the speaker chooses to take the other one, which he describes 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.

Later in the poem, the speaker calls the road he chose “less traveled,” and it does initially strike him as slightly grassier, slightly less trafficked. As soon as he makes this claim, however, he doubles back, erasing the distinction even as he makes it: “Though as for that the passing there / Had worn them really about the same.”

Frost then reiterates that the two roads are comparable, observing—this time—that the roads are equally untraveled, carpeted in newly fallen yellow leaves:

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.

The poem masquerades as a meditation about choice, but the critic William Pritchard suggests that the speaker is admitting that “choosing one rather than the other was a matter of impulse, impossible to speak about any more clearly than to say that the road taken had ‘perhaps the better claim.’” In many ways, the poem becomes about how—through retroactive narrative—the poet turns something as irrational as an “impulse” into a triumphant, intentional decision. Decisions are nobler than whims, and this reframing is comforting, too, for the way it suggests that a life unfolds through conscious design. However, as the poem reveals, that design arises out of constructed narratives, not dramatic actions.

Having made his choice, the speaker declares, “Oh, I kept the first for another day!” The diction up until now has been matter-of-fact, focusing on straightforward descriptions and avoiding figurative language. This line initiates a change: as the speaker shifts from depiction to contemplation, the language becomes more stilted, dramatic, and old-fashioned. This tonal shift subtly illustrates the idea that the concept of choice is, itself, a kind of artifice.

Thus far, the entire poem has been one sentence. The meandering syntax of this long sentence—which sprawls across stanzas, doubling back on itself, revising its meaning, and delaying the finality of decisiveness—mirrors the speaker’s thought process as he deliberates. The neatness of how the sentence structure suddenly converges with the line structure (this sentence is exactly one line) echoes the sudden, clean division that choice creates.

As the tone becomes increasingly dramatic, it also turns playful and whimsical. “Oh, I kept the first for another day!” sounds like something sighed in a parlor drama, comic partly because it is more dramatic than the occasion merits: after all, the choice at hand is not terribly important. Whichever road he chooses, the speaker, will, presumably, enjoy a walk filled with pleasant fall foliage.

The poem’s tone also turns increasingly eerie, elusive, and difficult to grasp. As he does throughout the poem, the speaker makes a confident statement (“I saved the first for another day!”) only to turn back and revise it:

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

Already, the speaker doubts he’ll ever return. Writing, as he was, for his friend Edward Thomas, Frost was perhaps thinking of one of Thomas’s most famous poems, “Roads.” Thomas, who was Welsh, lived in a country where roads built by the Romans two millennia previously were (and are) still in use. Some, now paved over, are used as highways, remnants of a culture that has long since vanished and been supplanted by another. In “Roads,” Thomas writes,

Roads go on
While we forget, and are
Forgotten like a star
That shoots and is gone.

Later he imagines roads when people are absent:

They are lonely
While we sleep, lonelier
For lack of the traveller
Who is now a dream only.

“The Road Not Taken” appears as a preface to Frost’s Mountain Interval, which was published in 1916 when Europe was engulfed in World War I; the United States would enter the war a year later. Thomas’s “Roads” evokes the legions of men who will return to the roads they left only as imagined ghosts:

Now all roads lead to France
And heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead
Returning lightly dance.

Frost wrote this poem at a time when many men doubted they would ever go back to what they had left. Indeed, shortly after receiving this poem in a letter, Edward Thomas’s Army regiment was sent to Arras, France, where he was killed two months later.

When Frost sent the poem to Thomas, Thomas initially failed to realize that the poem was (mockingly) about him. Instead, he believed it was a serious reflection on the need for decisive action. (He would not be alone in that assessment.)

Frost was disappointed that the joke fell flat and wrote back, insisting that the sigh at the end of the poem was “a mock sigh, hypo-critical for the fun of the thing.” The joke rankled; Thomas was hurt by this characterization of what he saw as a personal weakness—his indecisiveness, which partly sprang from his paralyzing depression. Thomas presciently warned Frost that most readers would not understand the poem’s playfulness and wrote, “I doubt if you can get anybody to see the fun of the thing without showing them & advising them which kind of laugh they are to turn on.” Edward Thomas was right, and the critic David Orr has hailed “The Road Not Taken” as a poem that “at least in its first few decades … came close to being reader-proof.”

The last stanza—stripped of the poem’s earlier insistence that the roads are “really about the same”—has been hailed as a clarion call to venture off the beaten path and blaze a new trail. Frost’s lines have often been read as a celebration of individualism, an illustration of Emerson’s claim that “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.” In the film Dead Poets Society, the iconoclastic teacher Mr. Keating, played by Robin Williams, takes his students into a courtyard, instructs them to stroll around, and then observes how their individual gaits quickly subside into conformity. He passionately tells them, “Robert Frost said, ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—/ I took the one less traveled by / And that has made all the difference.’”

Far from being an ode to the glories of individualism, however, the last stanza is a riddling, ironic meditation on how we turn bewilderment and impulsiveness into a narrative:

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.

Again, the language is stylized, archaic, and reminiscent of fairytales. Frost claims he will be telling the story “somewhere ages and ages hence,” a reversal of the fairytale beginning, “Long, long ago in a faraway land.” Through its progression, the poem suggests that our power to shape events comes not from choices made in the material world—in an autumn stand of birches—but from the mind’s ability to mold the past into a particular story. The roads were about the same, and the speaker’s decision was based on a vague impulse. The act of assigning meanings—more than the inherent significance of events themselves—defines our experience of the past.

The fairytale-like language also accentuates the way the poem slowly launches into a conjuring trick. Frost liked to warn listeners (and readers) that “you have to be careful of that one; it’s a tricky poem—very tricky.” Part of its trick is that it enacts what it has previously claimed is impossible: the traveling of two roads at once.

The poem’s ending refuses to convey a particular emotional meaning; it playfully evades categorizations even as it describes divisions created by choices. Its triumph is that it does travel two emotional trajectories while cohering as a single statement. We cannot tell, ultimately, whether the speaker is pleased with his choice; a sigh can be either contented or regretful. The speaker claims that his decision has made “all the difference,” but the word difference itself conveys no sense of whether this choice made the speaker’s life better or worse—he could, perhaps, be envisioning an alternate version of life, one full of the imagined pleasures the other road would have offered.

Indeed, when Frost and Thomas went walking together, Thomas would often choose one fork in the road because he was convinced it would lead them to something, perhaps a patch of rare wild flowers or a particular bird’s nest. When the road failed to yield the hoped-for rarities, Thomas would rue his choice, convinced the other road would have doubtless led to something better. In a letter, Frost goaded Thomas, saying, “No matter which road you take, you’ll always sigh, and wish you’d taken another.”

And, indeed, the title of the poem hovers over it like a ghost: “The Road Not Taken.” According to the title, this poem is about absence. It is about what the poem never mentions: the choice the speaker did not make, which still haunts him. Again, however, Frost refuses to allow the title to have a single meaning: “The Road Not Taken” also evokes “the road less traveled,” the road most people did not take.

The poem moves from a fantasy of staving off choice to a statement of division. The reader cannot discern whether the “difference” evoked in the last line is glorious or disappointing—or neither. What is clear is that the act of choosing creates division and thwarts dreams of simultaneity.  All the “difference” that has arisen—the loss of unity—has come from the simple fact that choice is always and inescapably inevitable. The repetition of I—as well as heightening the rhetorical drama—mirrors this idea of division. The self has been split. At the same time, the repetition of I recalls the idea of traveling two roads as one traveler: one I stands on each side of the line break—on each side of the verse’s turn—just as earlier when the speaker imagined being a single traveler walking down both roads at once.

The poem also wryly undercuts the idea that division is inevitable: the language of the last stanza evokes two simultaneous emotional stances. The poem suggests that—through language and artifice—we can “trick” our way out of abiding by the law that all decisions create differences. We can be one linguistic traveler traveling two roads at once, experiencing two meanings. In a letter, Frost claimed, “My poems … are all set to trip the reader head foremost into the boundless.” The meaning of this poem has certainly tripped up many readers—from Edward Thomas to the iconic English teacher in Dead Poets Society. But the poem does not trip readers simply to tease them—instead it aims to launch them into the boundless, to launch them past spurious distinctions and into a vision of unbounded simultaneity.

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