The Road Not Taken – Robert Frost | Literary 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.
While strolling through a forest whose leaves have gone yellow in the autumn, the poet comes to a fork in the road. He becomes unhappy that he cannot walk on both ways (because he is only one person). He pauses at the fork in the road for a long time, trying to see which path leads to where. However, because the forest is deep and the road is not straight, he cannot see very far.
The poet chooses the other way, deeming it to be just as excellent as the first and even suggesting that it may be the best alternative of the two because it is grassy and appears to be less worn. Though, now that he has walked on the second road, he believes that the two roads must have been roughly similar in wear and tear. He emphasizes this point by stating that both roadways were covered with leaves that had not yet been stained black by foot activity.
He then declares that he or she is simply saving the first road and will travel it at a later time, but then immediately contradicts himself by admitting that, in life, one road tends to lead onward to another, making it unlikely that he will ever get a chance to return to that first road.
With a sigh, the poet imagines himself in the far future, relating the story of deciding which path to choose. He claims that when faced with a choice between two routes, he selected the less frequented road, and the repercussions of that decision have made all the difference in his life.
“The Road Not Taken” was written by Robert Frost as a joke for a friend and poet, Edward Thomas. When they went for a walk together, Thomas was perpetually undecided about which road they should take and frequently lamented that they should have taken the other. Frost complained to Thomas shortly after writing the poem in 1915 that he had read it to a group of college students and that it had been “received very seriously… although doing my best to make it evident by my manner that I was joking.” “I apologize.”
“The Road Not Taken,” written in England in 1915, is one of Robert Frost’s — and the world’s — most well-known poems, as well as one of the most misunderstood. The poem actually has multiple interpretations. When faced with a choice between two roads, the speaker in the poem chooses the “less traveled,” a decision that he or she believes “made all the difference.” However, Frost leaves enough room for interpretation in the poem to make it unclear whether the speaker’s judgment should be taken at face value, and thus whether the poem is about the speaker making a simple but impactful choice, or about how the speaker interprets a choice whose impact is unknown. “The Road Not Taken” leaves a message that choice is unavoidable.
- The Uncertainty of Choices: In “The Road Not Taken,” the poet must choose between two options. His decision serves as a metaphor for all the decisions that people must make in their lives. The poem explores the nature of choices and what it means to be forced to choose. The poet eventually chooses a path based on which appears to be less traveled, yet the poem demonstrates that this decision does not solve the speaker’s problem. You will make many decisions in your life, and each one will elicit a variety of thoughts about what might have happened if you had made a different decision. The final statement serves as a subliminal reminder that the only thing one can know about one’s life choices is that they “make all the difference.”
- Independence and Non – conformity: When given an option between two routes, the poet selects the one that looks to be little less traveled. The splitting roads might be interpreted as a metaphor for two types of life choices in general: conventional and otherwise. The speaker implies that he or she favors individualism over conformity by choosing the less-traveled way over the well-traveled path.
- Making a Meaning out of Life: In “The Road Not Taken,” the poet must pick between two paths without knowing exactly how they differ. He can’t judge his experience even after taking the second road because he doesn’t know how things would have turned out if he had taken the first. He then imagines himself in the distant future, looking back on this decision. The poem thus engages not only with a choice made but also with how the speaker interprets and assigns significance to that choice after the fact. After all, the poet only recognizes the choice of which road to take as having made “all the difference” when looking back. In essence, the poem acknowledges that people fictionalize their lives by inventing meaning where none exists, but it paints such meanings as a natural aspect of being human.