Much of the recent talk about “The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost’s famous poem of 1916, centers on whether the speaker’s choice of road really makes “all the difference.” The going view is not just that is doesn’t, but that it couldn’t. The poem’s diverging roads are worn “about the same,” after all; both “equally lay/ In leaves no step has trodden black.” Given this evidence, who’s to say which road was “less traveled by” (or whether either was)? The poem would appear, in fact, to be a sort of subtle joke on the reader. (Frost himself once owned that “The Road Not Taken” was a jibe at his frequent walking companion, the English poet Edward Thomas, for anguishing over real-life choices of road.)

The merits of this view notwithstanding, I don’t think the “all the difference” question has been definitively settled...

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