But most people don't realize the great American poet was being ironic when he famously wrote that taking the road less traveled "made all the difference."
The confusion comes up in his poem "The Road Not Taken," in which a traveler describes choosing between two paths through the woods.
In the first three stanzas the traveler describes how the paths as basically the same. They "equally lay" and were "just as fair" as each other and were even "worn ... really about the same."
But in the last stanza the traveler comments sarcastically on how he will someday look back and claim "with a sigh" that choosing the "one less traveled ... made all the difference."
People wrongfully interpret this as evidence of the payoff for freethinking and not following the crowd, when it actually comments about people finding meaning in arbitrary decisions.
Here's the stanza in question:
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.
That so many people misinterpret this line has become famous in itself.
Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black" points out the massive distortion when Piper Chapman, the show's WASPy antihero, tries to explain the true meaning of the poem to her fellow inmates.
As she eloquently puts it, "So the point of the poem is that everyone wants to look back and think that their choices matter. But in reality, s--t just happens the way that it happens, and it doesn't matter."
And the joke's on us, apparently.
David Haglund, a senior editor for Slate, has speculated that Frost may have deliberately misled his readers. Various quotes from Frost's correspondences suggest that he knew people would misunderstand the meaning — and their confusion even amused him.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Robert Frost. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2003.
Burnshaw, Stanley. Robert Frost Himself. New York: George Braziller, 1986.
Faggen, Robert. Robert Frost and the Challenge of Darwin. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997.
Galbraith, Astrid. New England as Poetic Landscape: Henry David Thoreau and Robert Frost. New York: Peter Lang, 2003.
Gerber, Philip L. Robert Frost. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1982.
Lathem, Edward Connery. Robert Frost: A Biography. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1981.
Meyers, Jeffrey. Robert Frost: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996.
Poirier, Richard. Robert Frost: The Work of Knowing. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.
Potter, James L. The Robert Frost Handbook. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1980.
Pritchard, William H. Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.
Thompson, Lawrance Roger, and R. H. Winnick. Robert Frost: A Biography. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1982.