“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost: Critical Analysis

Introduction

The poem chosen for this critical analysis essay is Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”. This poem was published by Frost in 1916 and appears in Mountain Interval of 1920. The Poem was retrieved from Bartleby.com Great Books Online and is as follows:

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

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.

Structure

In the first stanza, lines two, three, and four all begin with the word “And”. This repetition focuses the reader’s attention on those three lines. In those three lines, the traveler is faced with a decision: which way to go? All four stanzas used the same rhyming pattern. The ending words of the first, third, and fourth lines rhyme. The second line’s ending word rhymes with the ending word in the last line. This rhyming scheme is ABAAB. Each line has four stressed syllables. They have an iambic tetrameter base. The first three stanzas speak of the decision that has to be made while in the fourth stanza the decision is made: “The one less traveled”.

The Decision

This is one of the best-known poems in the United States. Its title is sometimes confused and those searching out the poem often look for “The Road Less Traveled”. This is primarily because that title is a line in the last stanza of the poem and sums up the intent of the walker when he tells others which road he chose to take.

If the poem is read for content only, one notices that both roads are pretty much the same. The only difference is that one goes one way while the other goes another way. Both roads are barely worn and entice the walker. But, only one can be chosen apparently.

This poem has been used by some as a way to let new graduates know that whatever road they chose (path or direction in life) is okay. This poem is often found in graduation cards and used in graduation exercises. Although this may not have been the intent of the author the poem is used this way anyway.

The Author

Many wonder what the author of this poem was thinking when he wrote it. It is most probable that Frost was simply jotting down another of his brief poems when he did “The Road Not Taken”. This is not to say that he was not a great poet. It is so that Frost wrote all the time jotting down thoughts and poems in notebooks, flip binders, and pads that were available to him. He was quoted as writing in one of his notebooks that “I reel them off with one brain tied behind me” (Gates, p1). Amazingly, Frost did not value his jottings and often threw his notebooks away when they were full! One can only imagine the genius contained in those notebooks. “Since Frost used his notebooks to think through his poems, his essays, and his teaching, they reveal only his working mind–and that’s revelation aplenty. “Form,” one entry reads, “is only the last refinement of subject matter”–which solves the old form-versus-content debate. Or: “An idea comes as close to something for nothing as you can get”–which uses deliberately crass language to celebrate the mind as a cornucopia of gifts freely given” (Gates, p2).

It is also interesting to note that Frost often took walks and his poetry often reflected what was happening in his world at any given time. The poem is often described as presenting an archetypal dilemma as one would encounter in life (thus the graduation cards). So readers can continue to debate whether this poem was simply about two roads or about the dilemma of choices in life.

Works Cited

Frost, Robert. “The Road Not Taken”. Bartleby Great Books Online.

Gates, David. “The Man With Two Brains; Whose words these are we thought we knew. But his notebooks show Robert Frost discovering himself.” Newsweek (2007): 61. General Reference Center Gold. Gale. Web.

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