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The Choices We Make
The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost is a poem consisting of four stanzas of five lines. (Sparknotes.com) The speaker is standing in the woods, contemplating two roads. Both appear to be equal of wear, he looks down each path “To where it bent in the undergrowth”. (5 Frost) The speaker feels that the decision here at this fork is of crucial importance, so the examination of the choices is extensive and thorough. His choice is then made to take the less traveled road, thinking he would come back and go the other road another day. Although he knows he will probably not, knowing that one path always leads to others. Then he thinks how he will feel about this choice in the future? He says “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference”. (19, 20 Frost) Although he knows one can never be sure where the other road might have led because of the “sigh” (16 Frost) before the thought.
There are many shifts in tone in this poem. In the first stanza the tone begins as factual; “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood”. (1 Frost) The imagery in this line is that of autumn in the woods; “yellow wood”. (1 Frost) It then goes to regret; “And sorry I could not travel both” (2 Frost) because he is only “one traveler”. (3 Frost) He becomes inquisitive “And looked down one as far as I could” (4 Frost) because he knows he must make a choice, but the view is obscured where “it bent in the undergrowth”, (5 Frost) leaving the future of this road uncertain.
The second stanza begins optimistic and hopeful “Then took the other, as just as fair” (6 Frost) giving the sense that the decision will not be that hard because they are similar, so there is relief that nothing will be missed in the choice of one over the other. Then with this sense of liberation he is casual in saying “And having perhaps the better claim, because it was grassy and wanted wear”. (7, 8 Frost) This gave us the imagery of the grass on one of the roads, thus changing the tone making them different. This could make the decision difficult once again. However, “it was grassy and wanted wear” (8 Frost) therefore it feels as though the road wanted his travel and gives a sense of security. His indecision is apparent when he says “the passing there has worn them really about the same” (9, 10 Frost) coming back to his prior thought that they are indeed similar.
The third stanza gives us new imagery of the “morning” (11 Frost) which gives the feeling of bright sun and fresh air and re-confirms the understanding that the roads are similar “And both that morning equally lay”. (11 Frost) It is followed by a line that gives the feeling of dark almost gloom showing opposite polarity of thought “In leaves no step had trodden black”. (12 Frost) Also bringing in new imagery of autumn “In leaves” (12 Frost). Then in an offhand way, as if saying that no decision needs to be made at all, he says with exclamation “Oh, I kept the first for another day!” (13 Frost) This is also said in past tense, suggesting the speaker might still feel future regret and hints at the possibility he may tell a story of a different day on the other road, an optimistic view. All the while knowing how one road leads to another taking him in new directions “Yet knowing how way leads on to way”. (14 Frost) He doubts he will actually ever travel the other road “I doubted if I should ever come back”. (15 Frost)
In the last stanza he looks to the future, as if in regret of possible missed chances with the other road. He imagines he will be telling of this moment, this choice “with a sigh” (16 Frost), “Somewhere ages and ages hence:” (17 Frost). The speaker then re-states in his thought, the summary of this decision “Two roads diverged in a wood and I- -I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” (18, 19, 20 Frost) Even when his decision has been made he is still unsure. “I- -I” (18 Frost) It gives the sense that the truth to lines 19 and 20 might have changed to fiction. Was he now speaking in the future? Did he actually take the more traveled road and now has regret? Or is this just an awkward moment before his final decision was made? That brings the title into question. Why is it “The Road Not Taken” instead of “The Road Less Traveled”? Since the most pride is taken in the last two sentences, why is the most emphasis placed on the road not taken? Or is this just a way to combine both situations without necessarily laying claim to either one. Either way this reader feels that the ending is perfect, without it the mind would not be able to think on its own or ponder the many paths this speaker might have taken.
The attraction of this poem on such a wide scale is because of the classic dilemma having the choice of free will and the looming thought of where fate will lead you. We want to use deep thinking at the moment of these choices in hopes to somehow peer into the future and choose the correct and right road. Everyone has come across this fork in the road in their own lives both literally and figuratively, these are the decisions that etch out the framework for our future. It makes a huge impact on many in both positive and negative ways and so many have noted this poem as being pivotal in their own private thought processes and reflection. I believe the flexible nature of the last 2 lines also makes the poem attractive to more situations. This has caused more readers to be able to relate to the complexity of this fork in the road scenario, and read it in the way they view it in their life, whether they took the road less traveled, that has made all the difference or they have regrets about the road not taken. This poem does not advise a certain path but it suggests a methodical study of choices as they will affect your future in ways that are nearly impossible to see in the present. It is for both the reader that is in the current dilemma and the one reflecting on past choices made in life.
Frost, Robert. “The Road Not Taken.” Literature for Composition: Writing Arguments about Essays, Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. Sylvia Barnet, William Burto and William E. Cain. 8th ed, New York: Longman, 2007. 154.
SparkNotes. “The Road Not Taken.” Frosts Early Poems, 30 April. 2008.