The Road Not Taken

Most Popular Poem?

[T]here are at least two reasons to think that “The Road Not Taken” is the most widely read and recalled American poem of the past century (and perhaps the adjective “American” could be discarded). The first is the Favorite Poem Project, which was devised by former poet laureate Robert Pinsky. Pinsky used his public role to ask Americans to submit their favorite poem in various forms; the clear favorite among more than eighteen thousand entries was “The Road Not Taken.”

The second, more persuasive reason comes from Google. Until it was discontinued in late 2012, a tool called Google Insights for Search allowed anyone to see how frequently certain expressions were being searched by users worldwide over time and to compare expressions to one another. Google normalized the data to account for regional differences in population, converted it to a scale of one to one hundred, and displayed the results so that the relative differences in search volume would be obvious. Here is the result that Google provided when “The Road Not Taken” and “Frost” were compared with several of the best-known modern poems and their authors, all of which are often taught alongside Frost’s work in college courses on American poetry of the first half of the twentieth century:

SEARCH TERMS   |   SCALED WORLDWIDE SEARCH VOLUME

“Road Not Taken” + “Frost” 48
“Waste Land” + “Eliot” 12
“Prufrock ” + “Eliot” 12
“This Is Just to Say” + “Carlos Williams” 4
“Station of the Metro” + “Pound” 2

According to Google, then, “The Road Not Taken” was, as of mid-2012, at least four times as searched as the central text of the modernist era—The Waste Land—and at least twenty-four times as searched as the most anthologized poem by Ezra Pound. By comparison, this is even greater than the margin by which the term “college football ” beats “archery” and “water polo.” Given Frost’s typically prickly relationships with almost all of his peers (he once described Ezra Pound as trying to become original by “imitating somebody that hasn’t been imitated recently”), one can only imagine the pleasure this news would have brought him.

But as everyone knows, poetry itself isn’t especially widely read, so perhaps being the most popular poem is like being the most widely requested salad at a steak house. How did “The Road Not Taken” fare against slightly tougher competition? Better than you might think:

SEARCH TERMS   |   SCALED WORLDWIDE SEARCH VOLUME

“Road Not Taken” + “Frost” 47
“Like a Rolling Stone” + “Dylan” 19
“Great Gatsby ” + “Fitzgerald” 17
“Death of a Salesman” + “Miller” 14
“Psycho” + “Hitchcock” 14

The results here are even more impressive when you consider that “The Road Not Taken” is routinely misidentified as “The Road Less Traveled,” thereby reducing the search volume under the poem’s actual title. (For instance, a search for “Frost’s poem the road less traveled” produces more than two hundred thousand results, none of which would have been counted above.) Frost once claimed his goal as a poet was “to lodge a few poems where they will be hard to get rid of ”; with “The Road Not Taken,” he appears to have lodged his lines in granite. On a word-for-word basis, it may be the most popular piece of literature ever written by an American.

from

The Most Misread Poem in America

By

September 11, 2015

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s