Interpretation: Literal vs. Literary

When people ask me about my writing at some point in my reply I use the word “maturity” as in “I didn’t write for a long time because I lacked the maturity to do so.”  The word becomes a catch all term for such things as confidence, lack of life experience an the proper attitude.  It also packs cleverness and humility in a single word.

But it’s not all B.S. as I recently learned while searching for the poem below on Wikipedia:

A Road Not Taken

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.

According to the entry, the poem has two interpretations:

The poem has two recognized interpretations; one is a more literal interpretation, while the other is more ironic.

Readers often see the poem literally, as an expression of individualism. Critics typically view the poem as ironic.[1] – “‘The Road Not Taken,’ perhaps the most famous example of Frost’s own claims to conscious irony and ‘the best example in all of American poetry of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.'”[2] – and Frost himself warned “You have to be careful of that one; it’s a tricky poem – very tricky.”[3] Frost intended the poem as a gentle jab at his great friend and fellow poet Edward Thomas whom he used to take walks through the forest with (Thomas always complained at the end that they should have taken a different path) and seemed amused at this certain interpretation of the poem as inspirational.[4]

I have to admit that when I was younger, I was one of those readers that interpreted the poem literally.  A younger self read the passage full of longing and melancholy for choices not made, consequences not faced and dreams unrealized.  But as time passed and I experience the effects of my choices, I can see the irony in the poem, about the illusions we form around our lives and how we imagined lies down those roads not taken. Because at the end, it is you who is walking down the road, not the road walking on you. It’s your life, your experiences. The road is merely that which connects point A to B.

Regardless of the path itself or the destination, it is, as the old adage reminds us, the journey that matters.

Very mature, no? 😉

12 comments on “Interpretation: Literal vs. Literary

  1. I waited many years for the maturity that is supposed to come with age, before I considered writing.

    Since I am now almost 60, and it never arrived, I decided to carry on anyway. Tom.


  2. If you wait for it, it never comes. I just stumbled into it and kept going. 😉


  3. So I take it that you no longer find farts funny?


  4. Many women writers would agree with you about the ‘overdone’ bit. I suppose what I am trying to say is that it took me about 30 years before I realised that the simple notion of not being ‘mature’ enough to write meaningfully, was a possible sign of maturity itself. Shame that it went unrecognised for that long.

    So, I suffered for my art, now it’s your turn…


  5. I love the catch-all for confidence, experience & attitude – it’s so true. I’ve been trying to articulate that for years!


  6. A good writer hasn’t even warmed up until they hit their 50’s. 😀


  7. Nice post. I’ve always liked that poem, and have heard the different interpretations of it. Regardless of its real meaning, I’ve always figured I should choose the road that’s right for me, and do the best I can on that path.


    • I had a feeling you would like the poem. I don’t know about “real meaning”. I mean one can go beyond what the author intended it to mean, but at the same time the poem does lend itself to more than one interpretation, and I think he knew that, which makes it that much more ironic.


  8. I read an article about persistence – even if you’re no good at writing to begin with if you persist there is a possibility of improvement.


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