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I actually have two questions regarding this poem:

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.

I'm not a native speaker so I have trouble understanding a particular verse from this poem:

In leaves no step had trodden black.

The second question is broader. In the show Orange is the New Black, the protagonist says that the idea of the poem as a whole is that both roads are the same. I fail to see that: is the last verse supposed to be ironic?

And that has made all the difference.

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This is a great question - but it might easily be mistaken, on first impression, for an off-topic question, so don't be discouraged if it garners a few downvotes. You might want to re-write it to sound less like it's about interpreting literature; It's not, but the title and beginning of the question make it sound like it might be, and interpreting literature is off-topic here. Questions about interpreting unusual turns of phrase, however, are on-topic, and so so is this question; The poem is just useful context for that. –  user867 Jul 18 at 8:13
    
Thank you, I would gladly do that, but as you can see, my English is very limit. I wouldn´t know how to rephrase that. Any suggestions?! I´ve changed the tittle, does that work? –  user3347814 Jul 18 at 8:15
    
Ah - That change to the question title is probably sufficient. –  user867 Jul 18 at 8:17

3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

In leaves no step had trodden black.

This line refers to leaves that have been stepped on to the point where they are black instead of the color they were when they fell off the tree.

The word "tread" means (one of its meanings) "to step on." So you can tread on the leaves as you walk along. If you have stepped on the leaf, we can say you have trodden on it.

So the speaker is saying (at this point) that that road has not been walked on. The leaves have not been stepped on so they have not turned black from being crushed or ground into the dirt or anything.

And that has made all the difference.

In this case, the narrator, reflects that, of the two paths he could have taken in life, he chose to follow "the one less traveled by," and he believes "that has made all the difference." Basically, the narrator reached a point in his life when he was faced with decision to either conform to society and live a "normal" life, or to live his life in way that embraces individuality or an less conventional existence than the first path.

The road that fewer people had taken ("was more grassy and wanted wear") was more inviting to the narrator, so he made the choice to follow the path that fewer people had taken. The narrator believes that chosing to follow the norm would have been the wrong decision.

Source

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This seems like a suitable occasion in which to note that the leaves of many species of tree can also be frost-blackened -- doubly so, in this case. –  Erik Kowal Jul 18 at 9:34

To expand on Kiran's answer, the reason many people give that interpretation of the poem is these lines:

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.

That is, he picked the one which was 'least chosen', but the difference between them was actually small or illusory. Both had been worn 'about the same' and were 'equally' covered in leaves so regardless of which path the speaker chose, the last stanza would still apply:

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.

The routes are different, but the decision was arbitrary. Both would, presumably, have resulted in interesting and unique life experiences - one wasn't more valid than the other, and in both cases, the speaker would experience regret at missing out on the experiences of the other path.

This feeling is pretty universal, which I think is one reason the poem continues to be so popular.

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I've heard that Frost wrote this poem to tease a friend who was very indecisive, and so it's meant to be taken literally, except for the last line which is sarcastic. –  Bradd Szonye Jul 18 at 19:12
    
I think a major attraction of the poem is it's ambiguity and potential for multiple interpretations (though with only subtle differences). It's straight-forward enough to get a point across, yet not so rigidly worded as to be bombastic. –  Hot Licks Jul 18 at 21:17

One popular approach to interpreting creative works is that there is not necessarily a right or proper answer. When a piece of creative fiction is written, that piece becomes removed from the intent of its creator, and readers will do what they want with it. Poetry is a rather monstrous undertaking in this regard because the meaning of a well-written poem hinges rather pointedly on the construction of the poem, including diction, rhythm, and form. A hundred different people might interpret the same poem in a hundred different ways, all of which might be unique yet still well in line with the actual form of the poem.

Frost's work continues to appeal because it skillfully invokes ambiguous feelings. When you read "The Road Not Taken", you probably get the distinct impression that it has to do with the impact a single small decision has on events which follow that decision. This notion implicitly imparts a sense of importance to even the smallest moment in time.

More specific interpretations of this poem, however, vary remarkably. this line seems to leave the most powerful impact on many people:

I took the one less traveled by,

Here's where an interesting set of problems of interpreting poetry rears its ugly head. Authors of poetry are imperfect, speakers in poems are unreliable, and language is an imperfect vessel. This previous sentence, for example, might seem at first glance to suggest that the speaker really did take the path less traveled by. But if you take it in the context of these previous lines, it becomes less clear that that is the only possible interpretation:

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.

Considering these lines, a different interpretation might suggest that the speaker in the poem is embellishing when he later claims that he took the road less traveled by--and this becomes ironic when you consider that the most obvious message someone might drag out of this poem is that small decisions are important.

If you take the speaker to be embellishing here, you might assume the speaker is embellishing everywhere in the poem. This might get you thinking that the speaker feels a deeply situated regret for having chosen the "path" that he did and that his telling of this story in this way is more a lie to himself than is meant to be a lie to the reader. Alternately, you might take a less complicated approach to interpreting this conflict and determine that this collision of language is an honest mistake on the part of the author (unlikely), or that the speaker is simply failing to say what he means in a quite correct way (very possible).

One thing people often forget when reading poetry is that the speaker in a poem is almost always imperfect, especially if the speaker is a human being. Speakers in poems can and do lie, misremember, and misspeak, and in some pieces of fiction the narrator or speaker might tell a story in such a straightforward way that it is almost but not quite perfect--just like a well-told lie in life. The beauty in those poems is in following that very tiny mistake all the way down to a profound complication in the speaker's character.

Even with this one poem, you could probably write a very long article analyzing all the possible interpretations thereof or justifying a very particular interpretation you might favor. I won't go into trying to present all the possible interpretations of this piece. The point of this answer is to remind you of two things you might be forgetting: that people write poems and that speakers in poems are people. If you always trust explicitly what's written on the page, you will have a terrible time interpreting more challenging poems you're likely to encounter in academics.

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