Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” discusses a fork in the road, where a person must decide which path to take. The speaker is walking along a path in the woods, before they come to a fork where they have to choose which route to take. This fork represents a life decision that the speaker had already made, and now they fantasizing about reliving the moment. The poem discusses the choices we make, and alludes to the fact that people are unable to test one long road before trying the other. This essay will discuss the imagery contained in the poem to communicate the subject matter, while also discussing the structure, voice and tone, and diction. Frost’s poem is based on making life decisions, and he uses each word precisely to communicate the unfair fact that life is often a guessing game. The speaker goes back in time, to the point where they needed to make a decision, and instead of choosing the path less travelled, they regretfully walked down the more trodden path.
As the speaker approaches the fork, they can see that they need to choose one of the roads. This is a situation that many people face in their lives. Frost is alluding to the fact that once people decide to take one major route, there is no turning back to take the other. For example, someone might be faced with a decision about whether to leave a small town to move to the big city to attain an education. Once they make that decision, they will need to commit many years of study to attain their degree. The subsequent events that play out in their lives is a result of that one decision. Sometimes, people are unaware they are making a life-changing decision; not making a decision is choosing to not take another path when it approaches. For example, a person leading a sedentary lifestyle has many options (or paths) that approach them as they continue along their life’s trail. Deciding to ignore the paths that are presented to them, and staying on the current path, is making a decision, even if they are unaware. Frost’s poem puts into perspective these choices that people have.
Frost uses a visual poetry technique that provides the illusion that the poem itself is a path. Each line in the poem is nearly the same length, and when looking at the piece as a whole, it gives the illusion that the poem itself is a trail. This is due to the relatively straight lines on each side of the poem. This technique adds an effective component to the poem, because its builds an element of physical style that makes the poem appear to be in sync with the content that is being addressed in the poem: the trail.
The diction and connotation in the poem provide an additional element that helps communicate the feeling of optimism, and then regret in the poem. Through the form (ABAAB), Frost is able to combine the rhyming words to create a feeling in his poem that helps communicate his message. During the first stanza – in the “A”-rhyming scheme – Frost rhymes“wood,” “stood,” and “could.” These words all give a tough, decisive meaning. “Wood” is typically very strong, “stood” is a word that implies sturdiness, and “could” communicates something that can be attained. All of these words are tough, and this helps to communicate the “tough” decision that the speaker needs to make about which path to take. Frost goes on, in the second stanza, to rhyme “fair,” “wear,” and “there.” These words are much weaker than the ones chosen in the first stanza. “Fair,” is neither strong nor assertive, “wear” is associated with a long length of time (due to the fact that it takes a while to wear something out), and this makes it less decisive. “There,” is meant to be used to question which path the person should take: “should I go there, or there?,” for example. Each of these words represents the speaker questioning the path they should take. While both paths are strong and decisive, as seen in the first stanza, the speaker is now questioning which to take. The message in the rhyming sequence continues in the third stanza, with the use of “lay,” “day,” and “way.” “Lay” denotes the path that the speaker will lay their foot on, “day,” represents the fact that the decision is being made now, and “way” represents the way that the speaker will be taking their life. Each of these words represents the decision that is being made. In the final stanza, the meaning behind the rhyming scheme continues. “Sigh,” “I,” and “by,” all represent a regret in the decision that was made. “Sigh,” can be an expression of distraught. In this case, the speaker is distraught because of the decision that they made; “I” represents the fact that they are talking about the fact that the speaker is the one that made the decision; and the representation in “by” is unclear to me. It could be a final closing statement, used as a pun – as in “bye,” to the possibility of choosing the incorrect path, and saying “bye” to the better opportunity.
In the first stanza – during the “B”-rhyming scheme – frost similarly uses his rhyming words to communicate his optimistic, then regretful message. He uses “both,” and “growth,” which allude to the possibility of progress in each of the decisions. These words carry a similar meaning to the “A”-rhyming scheme in the same paragraph, which are generally positive. They allude to strength. Furthermore, the use of “wood,” and “growth,” in the first stanza could represent the strength of the decision to majorly impact the growth the speaker’s life, while also intertwining the forest setting. The woods provide a powerful backdrop, and represent the longevity of the decision. After all, forests are typically centuries old. In the second stanza, he rhymes, “claim,” and “same,” and this alludes to the fact that both the decisions claim the same possibilities. These mould well with the delicate words in the “A”-rhyming scheme of the second stanza: “fair,” “wear,” and “there.” All of the second-stanza words are indecisive, and communicate a sense of doubt. In the third stanza, the use of “black,” and “back” denote negative connotations. This communicates a sense realization that the other path should have been chosen. The “A”-rhyming scheme in the same stanza includes “lay,” “day,” and “way.” This stanza represents the doubt, because the “A”-rhyming scheme denotes the path that was chosen, and the “B”-rhyming scheme represents the doubt. This third stanza, in itself, shows the fork that is presented by the two decisions. In the final stanza, the speaker uses “hence,” and “difference.” These represent regret, as it notes the results hence choosing of the path, and the difference in the speaker’s life that may have presented itself if the other path were chosen. The “B”-sequence combines well with the “A”-sequence, which is “sigh,” “I,” and “by.” Again, these represent a regret in choosing the path that was taken, much like the words in the “B”-rhyming sequence.
While the ABAAB rhyming sequence can communicate the symbolism of optimism and regret in the poem, it is also important to take a look at several other elements contained in “The Road Not Taken,” such as the literal aspects that provide hints that the piece is a reflection of speaker’s decided path. In analysing the poem, the words carry a significant literal meaning. The title in itself provides the first, and perhaps the most significant, clue that the speaker is reflecting on a past decision: “The Road Not Taken.” The speaker is reliving the moment as if they had decided to take the road less travelled. Furthermore, the use of the word “could” in the second line, shows that the speaker is reflecting on a previous decision. “And sorry I could not travel both,” (2). This not only captures the reflectivity of the speaker, it is also central to the theme of the poem, as it depicts the challenge of making a decision. While at the fork of roads, people are challenged to choose the path that will bring them most happiness in their lives. And with some of the most important decisions in life, both paths cannot be taken. As a person takes one path, the other disappears in many cases. While people can try to predict what will happen in each of the paths, “And looked down one as far as I could,” (3) the path cannot be truly experienced until it is walked down. Also, note the use of the word “could,” once again. Furthermore “looked” provides further proof that the speaker is using past tense to describe a decision that had already been made, and these are just a couple examples of the past tense that is used to describe the major event that already happened.
The speaker also combines the reflectivity with reliving the moment, and taking the route less travelled. “Then I took the other / Two roads diverged in a wood and I – / I took the one less traveled by” (6, 16, 17). The 16th and 17th lines provides particularly interesting evidence of the reliving of the moment, by the use of hesitation as expressed in the M-dash. The speaker hesitates when they are describing the road that was taken, as if they were going to say they took the road more travelled (which in reality they did), but they catch themselves, and decide to say they took the road less travelled.
Through the speaker’s reflection, they provide a message: while people typically take the road that is more commonly walked upon, journeying down the road less travelled could be the better decision, “I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference,” (19, 20). While he is positive in these final two lines of the poem, it is only because he is imagining taking the path less trodden. But while the speaker is saying to the reader that they would have likely been better off by taking the path less travelled, they still have their doubts, because they have not actually taken that path and can only see “To where it bent in the undergrowth,” (5). Frost subtly communicates his doubt about taking the new path: “And having perhaps the better claims,” (7). Using the word “perhaps,” communicates a sense of doubt that the path less travelled would be better. After all, he can’t see beyond the bend “in the undergrowth,” (5). The doubt is also communicated when he says, “I doubted if I should ever come back,” (15).
Frost’s poem represents a core component of everyone’s life, and he creates this allegory not from the perspective of a person who approaches a decision, but from the perspective of someone who has made a decision, and they wish they had chosen otherwise. An easy but inaccurate interpretation of the poem would describe the point where the speaker has come face to face with a major decision, but does not know which path to choose. However, by looking at the various symbolic and literal nuances, the reader can begin to understand the deeper meaning behind the carefully chosen words. Ultimately, the speaker wants to be able to travel both paths, to see which is better, but this is not possible with many life decisions. All a person can do, is look as far down the path as possible, to see where that road goes. However, while this essay has interpreted the poem to indicate regret – due to the fact that the speaker wants to travel the opposite road – could it not represent greed? After all, perhaps the speaker wants to travel both trails for the joy that each of them brings.
Frost. R. (1920). The Road Not Taken.