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The Road Not Taken Critical Analysis

  • 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;
  • 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,
  • 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 roads diverged in a wood, and I—
  • I took the one less traveled by,
  • And that has made all the difference.

Starting With the Poem

Published in 1916 in Frost’s collection, “Mountain Interval,” The Road Not Taken is unquestionably one of Frost’s most popular poems that invariably find a place in high school literature. Infusing New England idioms into traditional blank verse, the poem attempts to highlight a singular observation – the significance of making choices along life’s journey. However, it’s not so simple, and readers over the ages have formed multiple interpretations. What we have in a nutshell, is a masterpiece, an alluring feature of which, is its inherent ambiguity.

Biographical Analysis

The poem owes its composition to the musings of Frost’s friend, Edward Thomas, with whom the former took long walks while staying in Great Britain from 1912 to 1915. In fact, the subject matter of the poem is a recreation of a persistent habit of Edward Thomas, who frequently talked about taking an alternative trail.

The Deeper Meaning of the Poem

The poem seems to underline the importance of making choices in our life and the way they affect us in future. Some may prove beneficial and some may not, but one cannot have two ways of life. The poem thus upholds the universal truth that life is, after all, an exploration.

Stanza by Stanza Analysis and Interpretation

Stanza 1

In the first stanza, the poet by presenting before the reader a unique situation involving himself confronted by “Two roads,” highlights how twists and turns are an unavoidable reality of life and that choices are absolutely necessary.

Stanza 2

The entire task of making choices is, however, extremely difficult and requires much speculation. Thus, even though the poet selects the road that is grassy, he seems doubtful of his selection immediately afterward, thereby pointing towards the fact that life can be utterly unpredictable at times.

Stanza 3

The untrodden appearance of the path he has not taken, lures him to surmise that maybe he’d try it out someday. However, these future ruminations are also clouded by his practical and philosophical realization that perhaps he’d never have a chance to do so. Thus his assertion,

“Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back”

points at certain somber certainties in life; the fact that we may never receive an opportunity to explore the path, once discarded in life.

Stanza 4

The conclusion presents the poet’s thoughts of a phase in future when he would tell “this with a sigh” how, having taken the road, “less traveled by” has caused “all the difference.” Now the reader does not have any means to know what the “difference” is, or whether he “sighs” out of pleasure or repentance. This ambiguity renders the poem to have a double meaning, and the ultimate message sums up to be the poet’s insistence on looking at life as an exploration.

Poetic Techniques

Structure

There are four stanzas in the poem, containing five lines each and the rhyme scheme is ABAB.

Mood and Tone

The poem, dwelling upon the grave issue of making choices, has a reflective tone and does not entertain any hopeful outlook. Neither does it attempt to offer a sermon on what is right and wrong. It is rather a way of looking at life, which the poet hints may prove wrong too (his sighing suggesting his regret perhaps). The mood of the poem, on the other hand, appears to be light – hearted at the beginning as the poet indulges on selecting a particular path, based on how it appears to be (grassy and untrodden). However, as he muses about a future time when he would heave a sigh for making that certain choice, the mood becomes nostalgic.

Symbols

The fork in the road stands for the choices man faces while traversing in life.

The “undergrowth” possibly suggests the unperceived obstacles one might have to encounter as he moves along.

Imagery

The poet mentions the presence of “a yellow wood,” thereby giving the idea that it is autumn.

At first, he selects a particular path “Because it was grassy and wanted wear.” However, immediately later, he states “Though as for that the passing there/Had worn them really about the same,” thus suggesting his indecision or the fact that making choices is pretty tough.

Diction

Frost makes use of simple, descriptive and informal words such as difference, sigh, leads, for giving the reader an impression of the mental confusion, urgency, and isolation, one is bound to experience, when one stands at the crossroads of his life.

Use of Figurative Language

Metaphor

The two roads signify the choices in life

Personification

The path is given human attributes when it is said that it “wanted wear”

Irony

It is ironical that in spite of selecting the path of his choice, the poet assumes that he would be sighing years from now, concerning how his life turns out to be.

For an interpretation of the themes and meaning of the poem, you may go through the line by line summary and an explanation of the themes.

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