‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost is quite a popular poem; unfortunately, however, its popularity comes mainly from the simple act of misreading. With this poem, Frost has given the world a piece of writing that every individual can relate to, especially when it comes to the concept of choices and opportunities in life. A majority of the time, this poem is quoted and used with an interpretation that is not exactly “correct”. The popular belief is that Frost meant for this poem to be about hope, success, and defying the odds by choosing a path well, “less travelled by”. On the other hand, if the poem is reviewed, it is quite obvious that it has fairly the opposite connotation.
‘The Road Not Taken’ is Robert Frost’s first poem in his book ‘Mountain Interval’. A popular pleasantly misconstrued poem since its release, its simplicity, and way with words demonstrate the skill of Frost’s pen.
Explore 'The Road Not Taken'
What is The Road Not Taken About?
The individual arrives at a critical juncture in his life, arriving at crossroads at last (yellow woods). As per him, the paths are equally well-traversed and yield anonymous outcomes. The individual comforts with a thought about returning, be if his path is unsuitable for him, yet in hindsight, he’s aware of the futility of such thought. Since his current path will bring upon separate paths in itself, disallowing any consequent reversal. The individual concludes on a melancholic note of how different circumstances and outcomes would have been, had it been the ‘other’ path.
You can read the full poem here.
Robert Frost has used a free-verse style in ‘The Road Not Taken’. He works within the form, but at times, works the form within his prose. Using variation and his brand of words, his poems followed a unique composition. At times, he created forms to suit his poetry. He has a general tendency to work within and without boundaries, carving memorable, identifiable, and idiosyncratic poetry. He perfected the art of ‘sound of sense’ in his early years, bringing raw sensory perception to a human mind. The sound of words forms imagery due to the form of words and sound of sense.
Robert’s Frost poem, ‘The Road Not Taken’ comprises five verses encapsulated in four stanzas. The rhyming convention employed is ABAAB with the last line being an exception to the rule. Each line consists of four strained syllables.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Stanza 1 Summary
In this first stanza, it is easy to notice that Frost is using an ABAAB rhyme scheme for this poem. A Road Not Taken opens with strong imagery, because of the diction used to depict two physical roads separating from each other in a “yellow wood” (which is observably a forest that is showcasing the colors of autumn). Line two is hasty to display the theme of regret, by revealing that the individual is “sorry” before he even decides which road to take. We basically find ourselves observing a very important moment, where he has to make a decision that is evidently difficult for him. Lines three through five, express that the individual is trying to see as far as he can down each road, to help him decide which one he should choose to take.
Stanza 1 Analysis
This stanza introduces the dilemma that every human face, not once, but multiple times in his or her life; the dilemma of choice. We as people go through many circumstances and experiences in our lives, and one of them is choosing between two (or more) paths. We experience this literally: in the roads we take and the routes we walk on a daily basis, and figuratively: when we come to points in our lives where we must make decisions for our next steps, based on the opportunities presented to us. And like the character in ‘The Road Not Taken’, oftentimes, we are disappointed that we cannot hold on to, and experience the consequences of every opportunity that is presented to us. In order to gain some things in life, we must let others go. By having the character in the poem examine the roads ahead of him, Frost is emphasizing that we all try our best to guess what lays ahead for us in every opportunity that we are presented in an attempt to find some control and later comfort over our final decisions. We like to take our time in order to make informed decisions so we can justify our choices when the regret of missing out on the other “roads” starts to haunt us.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
Had worn them really about the same,
Stanza 2 Summary
In this second stanza, lines six through eight: the individual in ‘The Road Not Taken finally makes a decision and chooses a road that he thinks he believes is better, because it looked like not many people had walked on it before. However, in lines nine and ten, he is quick to add that the other road looked equally used in comparison to the one he chose, so it really wasn’t as less traveled as he was telling himself.
Stanza 2 Analysis
This stanza is important because it clarifies the common misunderstanding that one road was less traveled than the other since the character clearly states that both roads were “really about the same”. The diction in this stanza portrays the uncertainty of the character as he tries to justify to himself that his decision is the right one for him; and much like anyone else, he is clearly trying to realistically weigh the outcomes of both roads. The important idea to note in this stanza is that the character claimed the road he chose was better because it “wanted wear” meaning, that it was tempting him. He felt that the road he chose “wanted” to be walked on by him. This underlines the nature of people in general, that we will always choose the path which seems attractive and is of interest to us, even if both paths have the equal potential of getting us to wherever it is we are headed. No matter where we end up, and how informed, tempting, and satisfying our choices were, we will always wonder the what if-s and the could have been-s of the other opportunities that we left behind.
And both that morning equally lay
I doubted if I should ever come back.
Stanza 3 Summary
In this third stanza, Robert Frost mentions in lines eleven and twelve that at the moment that this individual was making his decision, both paths were nearly identical. No one had stepped through to disturb the leaves on both roads. Line thirteen is an important point in ‘The Road Not Taken’ as this is when the individual finalizes his decision of leaving the other road, for perhaps another time. Lines fourteen and fifteen give us a glimpse of his doubts as he honestly confesses to himself that it’s highly unlikely he will come back to travel this other road because he knows as he moves forward he will continue to find other paths taking him further and further away from this point, where he is standing at the moment.
Stanza 3 Analysis
This stanza shows us that this character is truly being honest with himself, as he makes the crucial decision of which road to take. His honesty is a reality check as well as a means of making a final decision. He notices that both choices lay equally in front of him and none of these choices have been “trodden black”. Sometimes in life, when we reach a fork, we are able to make quick decisions based on what we learned from other people’s experiences. These experiences then leave marks in the choices that we have, these marks then form our bias towards or against that path. When we encounter choices in our lives where find that the leaves are not “trodden black” by what we learned from the people around us, it becomes harder to make a decision between them, just like the situation of the character in ‘The Road Not Taken’. After making his decision, he exclaims that he will leave the first choice for another day, and then he honestly tells himself that if he lets this road go now, there is no coming back. There are many defining decisions in a person’s life that shape their futures and sometimes when we select an option in these moments, they change the course of our life and there’s no turning back. That is where the regret of not exploring our other options disturbs us.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
And that has made all the difference.
Stanza 4 Summary
In this last stanza, lines sixteen and seventeen, the individual predicts that one day far into the future, he knows will tell the story of this decision that he is now making. Lines eighteen and nineteen expose that he intends to lie, and claim he took the road that was less traveled (in reality both were equally traveled). Finally, the last line expresses that the individual is also planning to claim that his choice to take this less traveled road made all the difference, in where he will be standing at the time.
Stanza 4 Analysis
This last stanza really highlights the nature of our regrets. When it comes to tough decisions in our lives, we always know that no matter what we finally choose, eventually, we will regret not being able to try the possibility that was left uncharted by us. In this stanza, the character is already imagining the regret he will feel and decides that he will not be honest when he retells the story of his decision, as it will not validate his selection of the road if he showcases his regret by stating that an equal opportunity could have landed him elsewhere in life. Hence, he decides he will tell people he chose the road that was “less travelled by” to come across as a person who took a chance and succeeded in life. In reality, the character is trying to convince himself that when he does share his life experiences and distorts the truth that it will seem at that point that taking this road “made all the difference”. This teaches us that you never know where life will take you, so preplanning what the end of the road looks like for yourself, and building regret is silly especially if you haven’t even started the journey in the first place. Life is about the paths you do choose to walk through, not about the road not taken.
Robert Frost has penned the poem in the first-person style. It depicts the poet/ individual looking in retrospect and contemplating upon past decisions. As per a biographical account by Lawrence Thompson, ‘Robert Frost: The Years of Triumph’, the poem was based on his Welsh pal named Edward Thomas. According to him, his friend was always regretful of his decision, irrespective of the road taken.
Considering himself as a regional poet, New England has been used as a recurring location in Robert Frost’s poems. He moved to New Hampshire in his early teens. As a result, the rich culture, vivid imagery, history, and landscape are reflected in his published work. Elements such as orchards, forests, fields, and small towns are observed commonly. His narrators are often close to nature, wandering in woods, in snowstorms, and picking apples.
The infamous poem is rich with simplistic literal symbolism. The poet sets up a fictional stage for an individual upon which he sets the direction of his life with irreparable consequences. It’s a metaphor for people juggling with lifelong decisions. Seemingly an obvious poem, ‘The Road Not Taken’ has been subjective, catering to multiple interpretations. According to Robert Frost himself, the poem ‘is tricky, quite tricky’.
Robert Frost’s poetic masterpiece is arguably the most infamously misunderstood poem as of yet. Marrying elements of form and content, arresting artistic phraseology and metaphors, the poem is mostly read without being understood. The archetypal conundrum is the primary attraction of the poem, readers instantly relate to their personal experiences. Forks and woods are used as metaphorical devices relating to decisions and crises. Similar forks are representative of everlasting struggle against fate and freewill. Since humans are free to select as per their will, their fate is unknown to them. ‘The Road Not Taken’ actually steers clear of advising on selecting a definitive path. Frost’s take on this is slightly complicated. The grassy roads and yellow woods represent the present as the individual views from a future perspective. This self-realization is pathetic and ironic in itself. The future self will regret first his decision about taking the road less traveled on. In hindsight, his regret is everlasting in this case point.
The ironic undertone is inexorable. As he writes,
I shall be telling this with a sigh
somewhere ages and ages hence,
The individual anticipates insincerity in his future, looking in retrospect later on. He’s aware that he will be far from correct and even hypocritical at times, looking at his life. Furthermore, he is fully aware that his future self will ultimately deny his past self’s decision, asserting it strongly. In essence, there’s no definitive true path here. As a result, what lies on the other path may trouble an individual with remnant feelings of guilt afterward. With ironic undertones throughout, the poem contains hints of remorse due to choosing a path without much knowledge about either. Along the way, the individual wonders about the other path and what’s irrevocably lost in deselecting it. In conclusion, the thematic idea of ‘The Road Not Taken’ intrinsically lies in ‘carpe diem’, judging by its nuance.