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“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost is one of the most famous, but misunderstood poems in American culture because the simple language he uses opens the doors to superficial interpretation rather than a deeper metaphorical understanding. “The Road Not Taken” dramatizes the internal conflict and consequences involved in making a decision; an experience we have all faced many times in our lives. This conflict is revealed as the poem evolves through the masterful use of metaphors, diction, verb tenses, and title.
The setting of the poem is important in describing both its literal and figurative meaning. The literal meaning is the physical journey of a person traveling along a road and coming to an intersection. No map is available so the traveler must make a decision as to which road to take. He wishes he could travel both, but that is not physically possible. In addition, the traveler plans to choose the “road less traveled.” He looks down one road for a long time, examines it carefully, and then quickly chooses the other, because it is “grassy” and “wanted wear.” In the next verse the traveler realizes that both roads are actually worn about the same. No grass is visible because they are both covered with leaves. The traveler’s contradiction here parallels the confusion he is experiencing in choosing a path. In the end, although the traveler believes he has chosen the “road less traveled” he regrets not being able to return to try the other path. Figuratively, the poem is an extended metaphor. Paths in the woods and forks in a road are classic metaphors for the crises and decisions involved in life. In the past, identical forks have symbolized the connection between free will and fate. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” is the first line in the first stanza. This line is a metaphor in which the poet uses the woods to represent life. This image helps to provide a better understanding of the problem that the speaker is facing. When standing at the edge of the woods, it is not possible to clearly see what lies ahead, as the view is obstructed by trees and branches. We are free to choose, but we do not know beforehand what we are choosing. Our journey is, therefore, determined by a combination of choice and chance, as it is impossible to separate the two. Life is like those woods. No one can see what lies ahead, just as no one can accurately predict the future.
Several literary devices can be identified throughout the poem. “The Road Not Taken” is written in the first person and uses the personal pronoun “I” to personalize its meaning as an inner journey, which suggests that the reader has direct insight into the poet’s thoughts and feelings. In addition, line 8 in the second stanza, “Because it was grassy and wanted wear,” is an example of personification. Imagery is used to create a picture in the reader’s mind. Imagery can be taken at face value or examined for a deeper meaning. For example, “yellow wood” can be associated with autumn, or could suggest the ‘Golden Years’ of one’s life. The simple word choice used in this poem adds interest, but its vagueness also complicates the poem by allowing for several interpretations. The rhyme and rhythm scheme is simple and effective. Throughout the poem the rhyme scheme is ABAAB and the use of conversational iambic tetrameter rhythm also establishes a personal connection with the reader.
The poet uses tense to illustrate the passage of time, thereby leading to reflections in the poem. The first three stanzas are written in the past tense. Then, the last stanza jumps to the future. In line 16, the word “shall” indicates that the poet is looking into the future. He wonders how he will defend the choices he made at the fork in the road. The ironic tone is unavoidable when he says, “I shall be telling this with a sigh / Somewhere ages and ages hence.” The speaker is revealing a characteristic about human nature. Given the choice between thinking well of ourselves or not – most people would choose to think well of themselves. They will alter facts so that their understanding of themselves is positive rather than negative. The sigh indicates that the poet believes it is almost inevitable that in the future he will betray this moment of decision in favor of a positive reflection. This realization is both ironic and sad. Even thought he may have said, “I took the road less travelled by, / and that has made all the difference” the sigh indicates that he does not really believe it. Somewhere in the back of his mind he will still remember the image of yellow woods and two equally leafy paths. It is this memory that causes the poem to be filled with the anticipation of remorse. Its title is not “The Road Less Traveled” but “The Road Not Taken.” The title of the poem can refer to either road because it says that the speaker takes the road “less traveled,” which means the road not taken by most travellers. When the poet choses this “less traveled” road, the other road becomes “the road not taken.” So, the poet did not take the road “less traveled,” he took the road determined by choice and chance.
In conclusion, it is interesting to note that this poem may actually present a parallel to the life of Robert Frost. Robert Frost is known to his public as a gentle, grandfathery, New England farmer who spoke affirmatively and in simple language about American values. It was later revealed that he had a darker side in his personal life. Frost had spent a good part of his life, masking or disguising this darker side. The poem illustrates this same notion, as it is popularly interpreted in one way, but on a closer reading it has a darker side. It is, therefore, possible that this poem is refers to Robert Frost’s life.
THE ROAD NOT TAKEN
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; 5
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, 10
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. 15
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.
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