A Road Not Taken


A Road Not Taken Essay, Research Paper

The Road Taken By Robert Frost 1864-1973 Robert Lee Frost, was one of America’s leading 20th-century poets and a four-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize. An essentially pastoral poet often associated with rural New England, Frost wrote poems whose philosophical dimensions transcend any region. Although his verse forms are traditional he often said, in a dig at archival Carl Sandburg, that he would as soon play tennis without a net as write free verse he was a pioneer in the interplay of rhythm and meter and in the poetic se of the vocabulary and inflections of everyday speech. His poetry is thus both traditional and experimental, regional and universal ( Charles Alteri, 77). Robert?s father, William Prescot Frost Jr., was something of a drifter. He worked usually as a newspaperman and sometimes squandered his wages in a saloon and casino. Frost?s mother, a schoolteacher, her professional training served her well when in 18 she fled San Francisco and her improvident husband for the first time. Packing two year old Robert with her, she crossed the Continent to William?s parents house. There she gave birth to Robert?s sister, Jeanie. Less than ten years later Frost?s ? My tterfly,? his first published poem appears in the Independent. In 1912, at the age of 38, he sold the farm his father had passed to him and used the proceeds to take his family to England, where he could devote himself entirely to writing. His efforts to establish himself and his work were almost immediately succe ful. A Boy’s Will was accepted by a London publisher and brought out in 1913, followed a year later by North of Boston (Brocheim, 120). Favorable reviews on both sides of the Atlantic resulted in American publication of the books by Henry Holt and Comp y, Frost’s primary American publisher, and in the establishing of Frost’s transatlantic reputation. In 1916 Frost suffers great nervousness while addressing Boston Authors’ Club in May, but feels more at ease when reading poems “Birches,” “The Road Not Taken,” and “The Sound of Trees” at Tufts College. Elinor, who was pregnant at the time had weak he t, suffers a miscarriage. As early as 1916 Robert Frost told Louis Untermeyer that he had already passed through ?several phases, four to be exact? as a poet and considered himself permanently shaped. He knew what it was he could do well. He intended t go ahead and do it, and along the way make certain that everyone who counted knew what he was doing and appreciated him (Abrams, 235). ? I have myself in a strong box where I can unfold as a personality at discretion.? During his most productive years as a poet, Robert Frost pursued his three careers simultaneously poet, farmer, and college professor and while he would not have traded any of them for the lot of anyone else on earth, he recognized that he did not re ly fit in with the average practitioner of any of those vocations. He was a different breed. ?Frost wrote poems whose philosophical dimension transcend any region?(Abrams, 237), yet the rhythms of New England, its land and people, were imprinted deeply Frost?s soul, and he saw in the most commonplace observations a metaphor for his own spiritual loneliness. “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, is a poem full of symbols, he uses nature images to get his point across. If the reader doesn’t pay close attention to what he is reading, he might find it very easy to get confused. Robert Frost writes his poems ike this, so that he can get the reader to think about life and what he is saying. This sense of his own inner divisions is perfectly reflected in his ?The Road Not Taken.? The poem?s surface meaning is that we have choices in life, and our lives can tu out completely differently depending on the options we choose. Frost himself notes that he wrote ?The Road Not Taken,? not with himself in mind, but a friend: ?One stanza of ?The Road Not Taken? was written while I was sitting on a sofa in the middle o England. . . . I wasn?t thinking about myself there, but about a friend who had gone off to war, a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn?t go the other. He was hard on himself that way?. Later, Frost discovered his friend died durin the war in Europe. Everyone is a traveler, choosing the roads to follow on the map of their continuous journey, life. There is never a straight path that leaves one with but a sole direction in which to head. Regardless of the original message that Robert Frost had inten d to convey, his poem, “The Road Not Taken”, has left its readers with many different interpretations. It is one?s past, present and the attitude with which he looks upon his future that determines the shade of the light that he will see the poem in. In ny case however, this poem clearly demonstrates Frost?s belief that it is the road that one chooses that makes him the man who he is (Houma, 92). Often in life, we are left to wonder what might have happened, what could have been, and how things would ve turned out.. if only.. There are times when we are sure that those other choices might have led to unfound greatness but there are also moments when we feel as though we were indeed better off not having journeyed down such unsure paths. Nevertheless that which we chose not to do is what perennially comprises part of our life’s mystery it is the ultimate example of the unknown and perhaps the one that we spend the most time pondering. In Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” the poet explores this very realm of uncertainty with a poetic curiosity that makes us indeed wonder what could have been. Frost’s subject is more specifically narrowed down to a choice : the poet is faced with wo roads, two ideas, and two possibilities of action. It is very possible that the road not taken will be the one longed for thereafter. The poem examines the choice between these two roads, and the results of the choice which the poet makes. “And sorry I could not travel both…” It is always difficult to make a decision because it is impossible not to wonder about the opportunity cost, what will be missed out on. There is a strong sense of regret before the choice is even made and it l s in the knowledge that in one lifetime, it is impossible to travel down every path. In an attempt to make a decision, the traveler “looks down one as far as I could”. The road that will be chosen leads to the unknown, as does any choice in life. As muc as he may strain his eyes to see as far the road stretches, eventually it surpasses his vision and he can never see where it is going to lead. It is the way that he chooses here that sets him off on his journey and decides where he is going. “Then took the other, just as fair, and having perhaps the better claim.” What made it have the better claim is that “it was grassy and wanted wear.” It was something that was obviously not for everyone because it seemed that the majority of people too the other path therefore he calls it “the road less traveled by” ( Leary, 75).The fact that the traveler took this path over the more popular, secure one indicates the type of personality he has, one that does not want to necessarily follow the crowd bu do more of what has never been done, what is new and different. “And both that morning equally lay in leaves no step had trodden black.” The leaves had covered the ground and since the time they had fallen no one had yet to pass by on this road. Perhaps Frost does this because each time a person comes to the point ere they have to make a choice, it is new to them, somewhere they have never been and they tend to feel as though no one else had ever been there either. “I kept them first for another day!” The desire to travel down both paths is expressed and is not u sual, but “knowing how way leads on to way”, the speaker of this poem realizes that the decision is not just a temporary one and he “doubted if I should ever come back.” This is his common sense speaking and acknowledging that what he chooses now will a ect every other choice he makes afterward. Once you have performed an act or spoken a word that crystallizes who you are, there is no turning back, it cannot be undone. Once again at the end of the poem the regret hangs over the traveler like a heavy cloud about to burst. He realizes that at the end of his life, “somewhere ages and ages hence”, he will have regrets about having never gone back and traveling down the r ds he did not take. Yet he remains proud of his decision and he recognizes that it was this path that he chose that made him turn out the way and he did and live his life the way in which he lived. “I took the road less traveled by and that had made all he difference.” To this man, what was most important, what really made the difference, is that he did what he wanted, even if it meant taking the road less traveled. If he hadn?t, he wouldn?t be the same man he is now (Leary, 73). In Frost?s book, Mountain Interval, direct irony did not find a continued development toward a truly satirical verse form, although irony does occur through varied inderictions. The objective self teasing appears in the ?The Road Not Taken,? when the p t knows he will tell ? with a sigh? the old story of a choice which ?made all th difference.? Again irony flashes in those familiar lines of ?Birches? Where it is hoped that the wish to get away from the earth may not ne granted too soon and too complet y. It also becomes a focal point of the war poem, ?Range Finding,? when the spider whose web was disturbed by the death dealing bullet finds it to be of no importance. With sadness and pleasantry, irony threads its way through the Mountain Interval, as had done in A Boy?s Will, without becoming aggressive enough to be considered satire. Throughout the piece, metaphor is the prevalent convention used by Robert Frost. Everything about the poem conveys metaphor. Frost used this literary tool to describe the choices people make throughout their lives. These choices, sometimes unalterab , are the forks in the road of our life. He demonstrates the unalterable choices by writing, ?Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.? We cannot tell where they will take us and e cannot tell which is the better path. However, we take roads that completely define our lives. Frost conveyed these ideas to the reader through the metaphor of the diverging roads in the wood. The speaker mentions that he or she took the less trave d road. This metaphor may suggest that Frost thought he had made a decision in life that was not the ?normal? or mainstream decision for his time. Perhaps this could refer to his literary career, as opposed to his initial nonliterary career prior to h move to England. Many conventions were used by Robert Frost to create the poetic piece ?The Road Not Taken.? It is evident, however, that imagery, polyvalence and metaphor are the most prevalent. These three tools bring together the thread of Robert Frost?s t ughts into an extraordinary poem. The poem uses these conventions to convey a fundamental part of human existence. Everyone who reads this poem can somehow relate to its meaning. Those that are young can associate it to their current lives. They ar making decisions that will drastically affect the rest of their lives. Those that are older can relate to the end of the poem. The speaker knows he will look back some time in the future and realize the effect the decision had on his or her life. Dec ion-making is a very important part of living. For the most part, it makes all the difference in the world. Robert Frost himself declared that his ultimate goal was that of any serious poet: ? to lodge a few poems where they will be hard to get rid of .? This he had already done long before he had died (Alteri, 55). Whether in making the great effort hid sal manship had also lodged a reputation which would be hard to get rid of is yet to be seen. When one considers that he is a poet pure and simple, the pervasive extent of his fame is somewhat suprising. It certainly matched or surpassed that of the better publicized prose writers, such as F. Scott Fitgerald, William Faulkner, or Ernest Hemingw . That fame achieved without Frost?s being the least bit avant garde or bohemian (Leary, 156). He was never controversial, never summoned before an investigating committee nor in any other sense made notorious. His apparently stormless private life sent ut no titillating ripples to spice the columns of newspapers or magazines. There are many equally valid meanings to this poem and Robert Frost may have intended this. He may have been trying to achieve a universal understanding. In other words, there is o judgment, no specificity, no moral. There is simply a narrator who makes a decision in his life that had changed the direction of his life from what it may have otherwise been. It allows all readers from all different experiences to relate to the poem


Abrams, M. H., ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 1993. Altieri, Charles. Modern Poetry. Arlington Heights, Ill. : AHM Pub. Corp., 1979.

Brocheim, Anna. American Biographies. Durham, N.C. : Duke University Press, 1963. Houma, Harry. A Critical Approach to Questions of Usage. Language Variation in North American English:Research and Teaching. Ed. A. Wayne Glowka and Donald M. Lance. New York: Modern LanguageAssociation, 1993. 318-321. Articles on American Literature : 1950-1967. Compiled by Lewis Leary, with the assistance of Carolyn Bartholet and Catharine Roth. Durham, N.C., Duke University Press, 1970.

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