THE ROAD NOT TAKEN
The story behind the poem The Road Not Taken is quite an exciting story. Its author, Robert Frost, said that he wrote the poem for a friend but only as a joke. His friend, Edward Thomas, was also a poet. While they were out walking, they reached a point where they became undecided of which road they should take. Despite having taken one route, they, later on, lamented quite often of how they should have taken the other lane. After he wrote the poem in 1915, he told Thomas how he had to read the poem to students in college and to his surprise, they took the poem seriously. Every decision made in life is like a turn in the road, as whatever we do in choosing our path in life can be similar to taking a bend in the street.
The poem is mainly about choices. The roads used in the poem are used to symbolize choices that each of us has to encounter in our lives. The journey itself is metaphoric for the trip or walk of life. The author has used the poem to speak of the realities that we have to face in life. We have a traveller who found himself in the woods and had come to fork in the road and so had to choose, one route or the other. He feels disappointed because he wanted to go down both streets, but he is only one traveller, and just like in life, we find ourselves having to choose one direction or the other. We try to look down one path and see where it’s going to lead and hopefully get some data on which is the best decision. He tries to do that as he states, “Long I stood and looked down as far as I could to where it bent in the undergrowth.” We see the use of rhymes, ‘would’, ‘stood’ and ‘could’, that is, line 1, 3, and 4. Then there is also ‘both’ and ‘undergrowth’, that is, line 2 and 5. This is a pattern that is repeated throughout the poem. He uses this to show that the poem was crafted and not words just thrown down on the page. It also makes the poem more interesting as the emphasis is put on the stanzas.
The whole poem is an extended metaphor, and the road acts as a metaphor for life. The conscience of the persona is divided upon which path he is to take, just as in life, there are times and moments when we are unable to have it all. Hence a decision to choose which part is suitable to the other falls upon our judgement. We are often in a dilemma as we are scared of missing out on the experiences that would have been brought about by the path we did not choose. We blame our reality that we did not choose the other road or trail, which in our impaired judgement looks to have been the better choice and would have led to a better and perhaps a more bearable reality. The reality is that whatever road we take, we can never go the other way, as we are only a person and hence restricted to one path.
The poem has also given some aspect of regret or the potential for regret as we think of how different things would have been. The verse does not point to any bitter sadness. In this way, we see that there is never a need to regret as the only thing offered by a path is the difference, not that there was any assurance that there would be better things in the other part. The choices were also plain as no way was made to look better than the other hence it was only a matter of choosing the path not based on which was better but based on which direction was determined. There was no preference, just a choice. The only regret we encounter is that the persona never gets to find out what would have happened had he taken the other path. We also relate to that, as in most times, we battle with the idea of how things would have turned out had we taken a different path. Had we not taken that job and instead chose the other, had we not married that man and instead chose the other. But the reality remains that there was no better choice. We just had to choose either. If there were grace, we would have taken both, but that was not given. Hence, we had to part with one.
We are shown the meditation of choice as the poem also imposes that the only better road is the one that was taken. The intention was only a matter of impulse but was necessary. The notion is later to be referred to as triumphant and, in fact, more intentional compared to choosing the other. Often it is better to glorify the current moment that was brought about by an inevitable decision than anguish over the idea that maybe the other path would have been different. It talks about owning up to the results of a decision we made and handle them as they come. We are to embrace the realities and situations arising from the choice, choosing not to wish things were better or fearing how worse they would have turned out, but instead being graceful in accepting the reality of the challenge and treating matters with the individuality or unison they deserve instead of covering them up in regret.
The choice of choosing the path untraveled is also brought out in the poem. The persona chose the path that was not walked by anyone before, and in this way, we see that he refused to travel in the direction of someone else. We see that the basis of the selection was based upon the individuality of choice. He chooses the path that would make him different. We can relate to the poem as often we happen to be caught up in the cliché of the moment as the fear of finding out what to us is unfamiliar does not happen to settle well with us. We are scared of being different and refuse to beat the odds and instead pay for the bare minimum. We are encouraged to choose our path, not that the most travelled course is less good, but that the new way or less crossed path brings about a unique experience. Finding what is best for a person is often not what is best for everybody. Usually, setting out to figure out a path of our own comes with a lot of confusion but just as the first person to walk the most travelled path had to be brave enough to find out what lies ahead. The speaker also refused to travel in the way that had already been walked by someone else, “took the other, as just as fair, … Because it was grassy and wanted wear.”
The dilemma of not seeing as far as we want to in the paths also comes to light. Upon looking down one of the roads, the persona could only see as far as the undergrowth, “where it bent in the undergrowth”. This shows that the persona cannot see as far as he wanted to figure out which path was the best. The decision he is left with is the one of actually choosing away, then finding out later what lies ahead. We relate to this in that as we are faced with choices, we often want to find out what it took for other people who have made that choice. At times we want to know every detail, but often, not everyone we talk to will be open about every experience they encountered. Some pieces are left out, and often we only have to take the decision head-on and only hope for the best as we get to have our encounters.
Another interpretation can come like that. Whatever road the persona took, there was no going back on it. The persona had the choice of being wise and choose the path that was best for him. The poet insists that whichever road was taken stated a clear decision on our future and destination. As both courses could not lead to the same place, the persona had to make peace with the choice he made. The aspect of not being able to go back on a selection of path also shows the irreversibility of the situation. In most cas4ees, people find themselves in situations where we cannot undo whatever led us into it in the first place. Instead, we are forced to accept the reality and deal with matters as they are before they get out of hand. The awareness of wrong choices is also brought out as the persona knows that whatever lies ahead of the path he chooses is not something he can undo. We are encouraged to be wise in making choices as second chances in most cases are not offered.
The poem The Road Not Taken is one of the most inspirational poems. From what is stated above, it is clear that every decision made in life is like a turn in the road, as whatever we do in choosing our path in life can be similar to taking a bend in the street. As both courses could not lead to the same place, the persona had to make peace with the choice he made. Often, setting out to figure out a path of our own comes with a lot of confusion but just as the first person to walk the most travelled path had to be brave enough to find out what lies ahead.
Robinson, Katherine. “Robert Frost: “The Road Not Taken”. Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
Robert Frost, “A Group of Poems”, The Atlantic Monthly (August 1915). Accessed 2021-03-18.
Thompson, Lawrance Roger; Winnick, R. H. (1970). Robert Frost: The early years, 1874-1915. Holt, Rinehart and Winston. p. 546.
Hollis, Matthew (2011-07-29). “Edward Thomas, Robert Frost and the road to war”. The Guardian. London. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
White, James Boyd (2009). Living Speech: Resisting the Empire of Force. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9781400827534. p. 98
Timmerman, John H. (2002). Robert Frost: The Ethics of Ambiguity. Bucknell University Press. ISBN 9780838755327. p. 71
Orr, David (2015-09-11). “The Most Misread Poem in America”. The Paris Review. Retrieved 2020-04-12.
Sterbenz, Christina. “Everyone Totally Misinterprets Robert Frost’s Most Famous Poem”. Business Insider. Business Insider. Retrieved 13 June 2015.
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