‘The Road Not Taken’ Analysis and Meaning
‘The Road Not Taken’ is an ambiguous poem that allows the reader to think about choices in life, whether to go with the mainstream or go it alone. If life is a journey, this poem highlights those times in life when a decision has to be made. Which way will you go?
The ambiguity springs from the question of free will versus determinism, whether the speaker in the poem consciously decides to take the road that is off the beaten track or only does so because he doesn’t fancy the road with the bend in it. External factors therefore make up his mind for him.
Robert Frost wrote this poem to highlight a trait of, and poke fun at, his friend Edward Thomas, an English-Welsh poet, who, when out walking with Frost in England, would often regret not having taken a different path. Thomas would sigh over what they might have seen and done, and Frost thought this quaintly romantic.
- In other words, Frost’s friend regretted not taking the road that might have offered the best opportunities, despite it being an unknown.
Frost liked to tease and goad. He told Thomas: “No matter which road you take, you’ll always sigh and wish you’d taken another.” So it’s ironic that Frost meant the poem to be somewhat light-hearted, but it turned out to be anything but. People take it very seriously.
It is the hallmark of the true poet to take such everyday realities, in this case, the sighs of a friend on a country walk, and transform them into something so much more.
‘The Road Not Taken’ is all about what did not happen: This person, faced with an important conscious decision, chose the least popular, the path of most resistance. He was destined to go down one and regretted not being able to take both, so he sacrificed one for the other.
Ultimately, the reader is left to make up their own mind about the emotional state of the speaker at the end. Was the choice of the road less traveled a positive one? It certainly made ‘all the difference’, but Frost does not make it clear just what this difference is.
All of Robert Frost’s poems can be found in this exceptional book, The Collected Poems, which I use for all my analyses. It contains all of his classics and more. It’s the most comprehensive collection currently on offer.
‘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.
What Is the Main Theme of the Poem?
The main theme of ‘The Road Not Taken’ is that it is often impossible to see where a life-altering decision will lead. Thus, one should make their decision swiftly and with confidence.
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