The Road Not Taken” plays a unique role — not simply in American literature, but in American culture — and in world culture as well.
Its signature phrases have become so ubiquitous, so much a part of everything from coffee mugs to refrigerator magnets to graduation speeches, that it’s almost possible to forget the poem is actually a poem. In addition to the Ford commercial, “The Road Not Taken” has been used in advertisements for Mentos, Nicorette, the multibillion-dollar insurance company AIG, and the job-search Web site Monster.com, which deployed the poem during Super Bowl XXXIV to great success. Its lines have been borrowed by musical performers including (among many others) Bruce Hornsby, Melissa Etheridge, George Strait, and Talib Kweli, and it’s provided episode titles for more than a dozen television series, including Taxi, The Twilight Zone, and Battlestar Galactica, as well as lending its name to at least one video game, Spry Fox’s Road Not Taken (“a rogue-like puzzle game about surviving life’s surprises”).
As one might expect, the influence of “The Road Not Taken” is even greater on journalists and authors. Over the past thirty-five years alone, language from Frost’s poem has appeared in nearly two thousand news stories worldwide, which yields a rate of more than once a week. In addition, “The Road Not Taken” appears as a title, subtitle, or chapter heading in more than four hundred books by authors other than Robert Frost, on subjects ranging from political theory to the impending zombie apocalypse. At least one of these was a massive international best seller: M. Scott Peck’s self-help book The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth, which was originally published in 1978 and has sold more than seven million copies in the United States and Canada.
Given the pervasiveness of Frost’s lines, it should come as no surprise that the popularity of “The Road Not Taken” appears to exceed that of every other major twentieth-century American poem, including those often considered more central to the modern (and modernist) era.
excerpted from The Most Misread Poem in America
The Paris Review
September 11, 2015 | by David Orr