The Road Not Taken

Choices are never easy and while some decisions to these choices are clear, others are more difficult to determine. This poem is a first person narrative tale of an unprecedented moment in the speaker’s life and Frost is the narrator in this poem.

The narrator walks down a rural road and encounters a point on his journey that branches off into two separate similar paths (“Choices are”). He presents the idea of facing the difficult “unalterable predilection of a moment and a lifetime” (“Choices are”) as he chooses to take the road not taken after looking carefully at both paths at this important fork in the road (“Choices are”). No poem best describes the universal theme of the process of making difficult decisions than Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”.

Two words 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, 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, [�] (1-10)

At the split in the road, the narrator looks far down the two paths to see what each will bring. However, his sight is limited because he can only see the path until it bends into “the undergrowth” (5). Both of the roads diverge into a “yellow wood” (1) and appear to be “about the same” (10) in their purpose. The difference is that one was the more common route while the other was the less traveled route (“Choices are”).

Throughout our lives, we face decisions where we have two choices. Sometimes it seems there is only one choice, but there are still two alternatives because we can decide to do it or not to do it (T, “The Road”). Lines two and three remind us that sometimes we wish we could make both decisions, have our cake and eat it too. It is impossible to go both ways as illustrated in line three so we must pick one and we do this by identifying our choices and weighing the possibilities. In our mind, we justify the choice we make and sometimes both choices look almost the same as illustrated in lines four through ten. We ask ourselves what the difference really is. One of the questions we ask ourselves is that if fewer people did it this way, will that give us any edge over the competition or just level out the playing field (T, “The Road”).

The author shows a person’s attempts to tell which path is better by trying to see what the result will be down the road. The author describes the process of contemplating a decision by using symbolism. “Frost presents a classic conflict – the decision between the common easy path and the exceptional challenging path. Choosing the already known easy path in life many people frequently endure reassures that the outcome will be predictable. While choosing the ‘less traveled’ (19) road represents the gamble of facing a more difficult path in life in hopes to achieve an incomparable and satisfactory life, contrasting the more familiar lives other people take” (“Choices are”).

[�] 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 woods diverged in a wood and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.” (11-20)

As the narrator picks one path and goes down it, he wonders what would have happened if he chose the other path. He realizes there will be no way he can ever return to the fork in the road to experience the other route. He sighs at the end satisfied with his choice to take the uncommon road but he also sighs for worry he may have missed something (“Choices are”).

In lines eleven and twelve, we ask ourselves; what if few people made either decision? Does that mean both decisions are wrong? In lines thirteen through fifteen, Frost contemplates making a decision, but possibly later changing his mind. Finally, he realizes that it is doubtful he will ever be able to be back at the fork of the road again and choose the other way.

Unfortunately, most decisions cannot be made again and in most, we run out of time if we just stand there contemplating our options. Sometimes we tell ourselves we may make the other choice later in the future, knowing full well we will keep putting it off until eventually time runs out and we no longer have that option. Lines sixteen through eighteen remind us that sometime in the future, we will contemplate and wonder what would have happened if we made the other choice. However, we will realize that the decision we made was not so bad. Even with 20/20 hindsight we will never quite know what would have happened if we made the other choice, whether we would be better or worse off than we are right now. Lines nineteen and twenty help us realize that perhaps the difference in our decision lies in us individually. Maybe it is in our own minds, our own talents, and our own abilities. No matter what we chose to do, things could blossom. We could have missed an excellent opportunity because of something we did not do but most likely things turned out well because of the decision we made, not in spite of it (T, “The Road”).

The poem not only has the theme of making decisions but also is a good example of old-fashioned poetry. Robert Frost was a poet who wrote in traditional rhymed styles. For hundreds of years, part of the definition of poetry was that it had to rhyme. When other poets began to break away from rhyme in the early part of the 20th century, Frost said that writing poetry without rhyme was like “playing tennis with the net down” (Charters and Charters, 813-14). Traditional rhymed styles are now called closed form and these styles are evident throughout the poem (Charters and Charters, 828). Frost uses several instances of end rhyme. End rhyme is the most familiar use of rhyme in which the words at the end of the line rhyme. Examples of this in the poem are: wood (1) and stood (3), both (2) and undergrowth (5), lay (11) and day (13), I (18) and by (19), sigh (16) and I (18), could (4) and wood (1), and fair (6) and wear (8) (Charters and Charters, 813-814). End-stopped lines are those where the meaning of the line comes to a definite end while endjambed lines are lines where the meaning does not end but continues on to the next line. Most of the lines of this poem are enjambments except for lines twelve, thirteen, fifteen, and twenty (Charters and Charters, 816).

I chose the poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost because it is easy to understand and has universal themes about making decisions as well as having powerful imagery. The different forms of imagery are visual images, aural images, and tactile images. Visual images are things we see while aural images are things we hear and tactile images are things we touch. The visual images in the poem include seeing two roads in the forest, the morning sun, and grass and trees in the forest. The two roads remind me of Mansfield State Park in which there are paved walking trails. However, I think the roads in this poem that Frost is talking about are marked trails similar to those I have seen at the Connecticut Yankee Nature Trail in Haddam Neck. The aural images in the poem are the steps made over leaves and the sounds heard in a forest. The tactile images in the poem are the ground the poet is walking on as well as leaves and trees (Charters and Charters, 840).

The background to this poem comes from Frost’s experiences while living in Gloucestershire, England in 1914. He frequently took walks with his close friend Edward Thomas through the countryside. Thomas would always choose a route that might allow him to show Frost, his American friend, a rare plant or a special scene. Before the end of such a walk, he would regret the choice he made and he considered what they might have been able to see if they had gone a better direction. Frost would make fun of his friend for such regrets because Frost was brought up with biblical principles that teach that once a man puts his hand on the plow; he should not look back. Frost found it somewhat romantic to sigh over what might have been and wrote this poem when he got back to America (Tripathi & Barnerjee, “The Road”). He wrote the poem as a joke and sent a copy to Thomas since Thomas could never make up his mind. “No matter which road you take, you’ll always sigh and wish you’d taken another” (Frost, 1027). Thomas missed the joke entirely and thought Frost was talking about his own life. Frost’s biographer Lawrence Thompson said Frost never did confess the poem did not the work the way in which he intended (Charters and Charters, 1027).

The poem was published in the Atlantic Monthly in August 1915 and Frost hoped that some of his American readers would recognize the irony of the poem, but again was disappointed. When he went to public audiences, he dropped subtle hints and on one occasion, a grammar-school girl asked “Why the sigh?” [which is in the poem, 16]. He said that “You have to be careful of that one; it’s a tricky poem – very tricky.” Frost liked to carry a posture that wasn’t his own in both poem and letter simply for mockery – both gentle and malicious. (Tripathi & Barnerjee, “The Road”).

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