Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Road Not Taken


The Road Not Taken” is one of Robert Frost’s most popular poems in which he metaphorically compares the journey that an individual makes through life with that a traveler makes on a road. In this beautifully written poem, Frost, speaking through the voice of a narrator, captures the reader’s imagination and leads him through some moments of reflection as he is faced with a difficult choice which will significantly impact his life and mold his future.

In the literal sense he is traveling on a road until he comes to a fork in the beginning of the poem. He spends a long time looking in one direction, but decides to follow the other road as it looks more appealing to him. Although he realizes they look “really about the same”, he wishes that at some point in the future he may be able to go back and follow the first as stated in line thirteen.

But then, in line fifteen he instantly dismisses such thought as he realizes that is simply unrealistic. He just cannot go back in time and restart on a different path as he knows that his choice leads him to a multilayer of decisions which in turn will define who he has become. Finally, he sees himself in the future sharing with others that taking the road less traveled by “…has made all the difference” in his life as it is described in line twenty.

The Road Not Taken
Robert Frost

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; 5

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, 10

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. 15

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." 20

Some events which evolved in the life of Frost which contributed to writing this poem may have been rooted from the necessity to move to England and the decision to dedicate himself entirely to poetry. He moved with his family in September of 1912 at the age of 38 to Beaconsfield, England and eventually to Dymock in May of 1914 motivated by the fact that he wanted to be a poet fulltime.

Other facts which led him to make such a decision were that he became discouraged with his activities as a farmer in New Hampshire and the fact that his teachings at a local college was barely enough to meet ends need.

As it turned out he arrived in London in the midst of a poetry revival movement and he benefited largely from it. The “Georgian Movement” was in favor of realism and a more open language and against the existing Victorian poetry tendency.


Even though he never really was part of such a movement he ended up meeting many intellectual writers such as, Wilfred Gibson, Lascelles Abercrombie and Edward Thomas. The latter eventually became one of his dearest friends (Hart).

By biographical accounts, Edward and Robert used to go for long walks in the English countryside and those walks were a source of inspiration for Frost to write this poem. (Hart). According to Michelle Lee’s words in her Poetry Critical Essay, it is believed that he started drafting this work in 1912 and only finished it by 1915 (Lee). At that time he was back in rural New Hampshire.

By exploring “The Road Not Taken” in depth, Critic William George points out how the poem is actually narrated by a middle-aged man mocking his younger self in the beginning of the poem and his older self at the end, as cited in Lee’s Critical Essay. (Lee)

Frost points out in his biographical work that this poem was meant to be an ironic commentary on Edward’s romantic nature as quite often he showed regrets for choosing one road and not the other when they were walking together (Lee).

However the speaker may very well be representative of two characters, that of his friend Edward and his own, despite Frost’s claim that Thomas is the narrator and the only speaker in The Road Not Taken”.

The speaker apparently comes down a road and stops momentarily at a fork to decide which way to go. Obviously that fork is a metaphor for choice and the view he has of the road ahead is as limited as his ability to fully understand the consequences which will result from choosing to follow a given path in life.

Eduard Thomas, a very well know critic and prose writer became a very close friend of the Frost family. He decides to come with the whole family and spends the month of August, in the summer of 1914, in a cottage near where Robert and few other poets lived in the countryside town of Dymock in Gloucestershire, a hundred and twenty miles west of London.

The intention was to spend time together and exchange their vast knowledge of literature and poetry in particular. The place where they stayed when they first arrived in Dymock in may of 1914 had a gorgeous countryside view, as Frost’s wife, Elinor, describes in a letter to the sister, as being a lovely country with meadows covered with yellow daffodil flowers. From a hill within a few miles from their cottage one has a breathtaking view of the winding Severn River and the Mountains of Wales (Hart)


What I gather as the significance of the title “The Road Not Taken” is that we all look back and wonder about other possible outcomes if we had decided to follow a different path in life. We always wonder what it would be like if we had decided to do things differently and followed another direction.

 The title of the poem suggests that the speaker is regretful of his decision and wishes he had taken the other road. The speaker looks back at the scene where he made his fateful decision and wondered about the road not taken. The poem is simply an ironic commentary on the autonomy of choice.

At the time of that decision, the roads have the same claim as they are in appearance “really about the same”. They both “equally lay… In leaves no step had trodden black” However, there is a twist and a contradiction when looked at from the perspective of someone who is in the future talking from experience.


The speaker simply concludes then that,” the one less traveled by” was taken and that made all the difference. Even though he is happy with the outcome of his choice he sounds a little regretful that he could not go the other way.

Frost makes the use of this metaphor to show that a choice impacted his life. In "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood", he compares a decision to two diverging roads. Travelers who face two diverging roads are just like when people have to face a decision in life.

At the very end of the poem, the speaker says "and that has made all the difference" in line twenty meaning that the choices he made in the past caused an impact in his life and determined who he became as a result from it.

I gather that the scene occurs either in the spring or in the fall based on the” yellow wood” reference. That description lends itself to a yellowish tone from the buds of the trees or the covered fields with daffodils which is so common in spring in the region of England he was settled or he simply meant the leaves in autumn.


Two themes in “The Road Not Taken” are individualism and romanticism. When it comes to making a decision and following a journey through life, the individual is on his own and he must choose carefully as he cannot follow two paths at the same time or go back and follow a different one once he has acquired all the knowledge and experience gained from choosing one.

He simply has to face the consequences of his choices. In this poem, Frost not only identifies with his romantic side but he also brings out, in an ironic way, the remarkable romantic nature of his closest friend Edward Thomas (Lee).


“TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood” does not only expresses his emotions of being in contact with the outdoors but also reviews his restlessness as he is faced with the challenge of finding his place in the world.

The poem consists of four stanzas of five lines each and the rhymes are masculine. This is basically an Iambic form as it is one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one. However, variations called Anapestic with two unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one is also present.

The tone of the poem is somewhat murky as the traveler expresses some grief due to the possibilities that the necessity of making a choice is left unfulfilled, as we can see from the words used in the poem such as "sorry" and "sigh" in lines two and sixteen.

The speaker’s initial assessment was that as far as he could tell the second option looked more appealing to him as stated in line eight, “Because it was grassy and wanted wear;”. But he comes to the conclusion that they are both alike in “Had worn them really about the same”.

From his statement on line six, “Then took the other, as just as fair” after he spent some time analyzing his first option it appears that he is fooling himself as he does not have all the facts for either choice and he indirectly admits that despite the fact that he may regret his choice along the way, he must pick one.

Because of this, I sense a tone of self-doubt as he is insecure about the outcome of his decision as he is not sure about what lies ahead and of what his eyes see and his mind can interpret.

In line two, “And sorry I could not travel both” there is a tone of regret because he knows that if he had followed the other path he would have accomplished great things in life as well. However, he cannot stand there doing nothing and must move on.

The poem refers to actual and figurative roads. No matter which road we take there is always a chance that we will find ourselves wondering about the one we did not choose. The fork splitting the roads into two metaphorically presents the factor of choice in line one.

Then in lines four and five we are faced with the unpredictable future. We can only predict our journey for as long as our eyes can see and from then on it is unknown. In line six the speaker spends a long time observing one road but despite its appealing looks he decided to take the other one instead which looked just as fair.

That is a metaphor for sudden decision. Lines thirteen to fifteen present a metaphor for self doubt as he questions whether he may be able to take both roads. He then concluded that he will never be able to come back here at the starting point.

In line twenty he concludes that his life has changed for the better because of the choice he made in “And that has made all the difference. “The Road Not Taken” voices universal dilemma as one will inevitably, at some point in the course of their lives, wonder about an imaginary scenario in which certain decisions were handed differently in their past.

But then again, the speaker realizes that as an individual he must follow only one path and deal with whatever consequences lie ahead. Deep inside he knows that The Road Not Taken is just a distraction which takes his focus from the things that he needs to accomplish.



Work Cited

Hart, Linda. “The English Years of Robert Frost.” Contemporary Review 290.168.

(2008):200+.Literature Resource Center. Web. 20 Oct.2011.
http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?&id=GALE%7CA182929986&v=2.1&u=mlin_c_quinscc&it=r&p=LitRG&sw=w


Lee, Michelle, Ed. Poetry Criticism. Vol.71 Detroit: Gale, 2006.       From Literature Resource Center.
Work Overview, Critical Essay.

1 Comments:

Motley Vids said...

Thank you for sharing this photo and explanation of the poem. I wrote a blog this afternoon about the fiftieth anniversary of Frost's death, and linked to your article. I will definitely come back to your blog again.

http://investmeinmymotley.wordpress.com/2013/01/29/robert-frost/

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