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Analysis of Poem "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost

Updated on February 17, 2017
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Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Robert Frost
Robert Frost | Source

Robert Frost and The Road Not Taken

The Road Not Taken is an ambiguous poem that allows the reader to think about choices in life, whether to go with the mainstream or go it alone. If life is a journey, this poem highlights those times in life when a decision has to be made. Which way to go?

The ambiguity springs from the question of free will versus determinism, whether the speaker in the poem consciously decides to take the road that is off the beaten track or only does so because he doesn't fancy the road with the bend in it. External factors therefore make up his mind for him.

Robert Frost wrote this poem to highlight a trait of, and poke fun at, his friend Edward Thomas, an English-Welsh poet, who, when out walking with Frost in England would often regret not having taken a different path. Thomas would sigh over what they might have seen and done and Frost thought this quaintly romantic.

In other words, Frost's friend regretted not taking the road that might have offered the best opportunities, despite it being an unknown.

Frost liked to tease and goad. He told Thomas : 'No matter which road you take, you'll always sigh and wish you'd taken another.' So it's ironic that Frost meant the poem to be light-hearted but it turned out to be anything but. People take it very seriously.

It is the hallmark of the true poet to take such everyday realities, in this case the sighs of a friend on a country walk, and transform them into something so much more.

The Road Not Taken is all about what did not happen - this person, faced with an important conscious decision, chose the least popular, the path of most resistance. He was destined to go down one, regretted not being able to take both, so he sacrificed one for the other.

Ultimately, the reader is left to make up their own minds about the emotional state of the speaker at the end. Was the choice of the road less travelled a positive one? It certainly made all the difference but Frost does not make it clear just what this difference is.

The Road Not Taken


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.

Analysis


Four stanzas, each of five lines in length (a quintrain), with a mix of iambic and anapaestic tetrameter, producing a steady rhythmical four beat first person narrative. Most common speech is a combination of iambs and anapaests, so Frost chose his lines to reflect this:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

This simple looking poem, mostly monosyllabic, has a traditional rhyme scheme of abaab which helps keep the lines tight together, whilst the use of enjambment (where one line runs into the next with no punctuation) keeps the sense flowing.

The whole poem is an extended metaphor; the road is life, and it diverges, that is, splits apart, forks. There is a decision to be made and a life will be changed. Perhaps forever.

Tone/Atmosphere

Whilst this is a reflective, thoughtful poem, it's as if the speaker is caught in two minds. He's encountered a turning point. The situation is clear enough - take one path or the other, black or white - go ahead, do it. But life is rarely that simple. We're human, and our thinking processes are always on the go, trying to work things out. You take the high road, I'll take the low road. Which is best?

So the tone is meditative. As this person stands looking at the two options, he is weighing up the pros and cons in a quiet, studied manner. The situation demands a serious approach, for who knows what the outcome will be?

All the speaker knows is that he prefers the road less travelled, perhaps because he enjoys solitude and believes that to be important. Or he's an individualist and prefers to set his own agenda. Whatever the reason, once committed, he'll more than likely never look back?

On reflection however, taking the road because it was grassy and wanted wear has made all the difference, all the difference in the worldi

Further Analysis

The Road Not Taken suddenly presents the speaker and the reader with a dilemma. There are two roads in an autumnal wood separating off, presumably the result of the one road splitting, and there's nothing else for it but to choose one of the roads and continue life's journey.

  • The metaphor is activated. Life offers two choices, both are valid but the outcomes could be vastly different, existentially speaking. Which road to take? The speaker is in two minds. He wants to travel both, and is sorry he cannot, but this is physically impossible so he ponders his options, looking down one of the roads as far as he can, noting a bend, which seems to bring about an immediate reaction.

The speaker opts for the other road and, once already on it, declares himself happy because it has more grass and not many folk have been down it. And anyway, he could always return one day and try the 'original' road again. Would that be possible? Perhaps not, life has a way of one thing leading to another and before anyone knows it, change has occurred, and returning is just no longer an option.

But who knows what the future holds down the road? The speaker implies that, when he's older he might look back at this turning point in his life, the morning he took the road less travelled, because taking that particular route completely altered his way of being.

The Road Not Taken has entered the modern consciousness and one or two of its lines are now embedded in the collective memory. Just think about 'the road less travelled' and the title itself - both are often used in a confused way, which would have pleased Robert Frost.

© 2017 Andrew Spacey

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