The Road Not Taken

General thoughts

On a surface level, the poem narrates the experience of a man who went to the woods and had to make a decision about where to go. On a deeper level, the poem explores decision-making, aging and a person's path through life.

Presentation of the woods on the day

  • 'Two roads diverged in a yellow wood' - The immediate presentation of the woods as 'yellow' is deliberately ambiguous. 'Yellow' in woods can either be autumn or it can the blossoming of woodland flowers in spring. The ambiguity in this presentation suggests that the decision can either be a beginning or the start of an ending. If it is autumn, this may also suggest that the poet's life is also coming to an end, and is symbolic for a choice made late in life.

  • Frost's upbringing in Vermont, the landscape of which is quite clearly shown in this poem. Many of Frost's poems describe landscape of rural New England and use it to express greater truths about the poet's own perceptions of life. As in many poems, nature here takes on symbolic values as well as literal ones.

Presentation of the roads

  • First Road: 'I looked down one as far as I could/To where it bent in the undergrowth' The first road, the poet suggests, is only visible for a short while before it bends 'in the undergrowth' and its course is lost to him. 'As far I could' suggests that there is a limit to his ability to see where this road takes him, just as he is limited with the other road as well. The limits might be the unknowable factors which influence your course in life and the unknown consequences any path will bring.

  • Second Road: 'just as fair/And having perhaps the better claim,/ Because it was grassy and wanted wear' - The second road is initially presented in a much more romantic way. It was 'grassy', which suggests spring and life, where 'wanted wear' suggests both that it lacked wear and also that it is almost personified as calling Frost to it. The way he discriminates between the roads is in saying that each has a 'claim', as though they are beings trying to justify his taking of them, but in a way which gives them agency over him. It is also though, Frost is trying to erase his own choice, suggesting that it was an inevitable decision of the 'better claim' and 'claimant.' Might also look at alliteration in 'wanted wear', to emphasize these words.

  • 'Though as for that the passing there/Had worn them really about the same' - Frost uses a number of monosyllabic words to explore (showing how own thought process) that the roads are actually more similar than he would like to think. Shows his growing realisation that no paths in life are untrodden and that people distinguish between paths arbitrarily, seizing on any little details that might help pick them apart. Even 'about the same' is a very un-specific phrase, showing the lack of certain knowledge of each of these paths.

  • 'And both that morning equally lay/In leaves no step had trodden black.' Finally we find our that this journey was taken on a morning, symbolizing perhaps new chances and journeys - although throughout the poem Frost questions how 'new' this journey actually is. Use of repeated 'l' sounds gives the stanza a lyrical quality, which then connotes Frost's nostalgia and his appreciation of the beauty of the scene. Both roads were equal in their unblemished leaves, although he gives a suggestion that his own footsteps will be the ones to turn them 'black.'

 

Consequences and narrative voice

  • 'Oh, I kept the first for another day!/ Yet knowing how way leads on to way,/I doubted if I should ever come back'. Exclamation at the middle of the third stanza suggests an implicit regret about how the speaker 'kept' the first, and so took the second. We might think at this point about the title, which focuses not on the path he took but on 'the road not taken.' Life, Frost suggests is a matter of obsession with paths not taken. 'Oh' also suggests regret, as it suggests a lament in conversation. The 'Yet' expresses his knowledge of the fact that as 'way leads on to way', each path inevitably moving forwards to an equally anonymous 'way', it is impossible to go back and explore the road not taken. Frost shows that he knew this even at the time, though he still hoped that he might be able to come back. Stanza ends on the end-stopped word 'back', as though suggesting a finality, a path which cannot be returned to.

  • 'I shall be telling this with a sigh/Somewhere ages and ages hence:' Sibilance throughout these lines connotes the sign of the weary speaker. There's an odd sense of when this poem is actually being said - it is definitely after the moment of choosing, but before the moment when he 'shall be telling this with a sigh', as though in middle age between youth and old age. 'Ages and ages' also uses repetition to stretch on as though the speaker is already weary. Lack of certainty in the future is seen throughout the poem, he will be 'somewhere' in an uncertain amount of time, all he knows are the decisions he has already made.

  • 'Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-/ I took the one less travelled by,/And that has made all the difference.' In the poem, just as in his mind, he returns to the site of the original choice. The 'I' with a dash immediately after almost shows an uncertain stuttering, as though he has to encourage himself to go forwards and take responsibility for what he has done. 'And that has made all the difference' can be read as meaning that every choice taken has influenced his life even if he regrets it. On the other hand, it could be sarcastic, showing that as the two roads were so similar no real difference has been made, though the poet might wonder if life would have been different had he taken the other path. Notable that no value is given to the 'difference', it is neither positive nor negative, but simply is the case.

 

Structure

  • Very formulaic, four five line stanzas in iambics with an abaab rhyme scheme. The structure and rhyme might symbolize the roads, which split and he is in the middle of them. Also the rhythms of the poem give a conversational final, but also suggest his ongoing journey from which Frost cannot turns back.

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