About the poet: Robert Lee Frost was an American poet. His work was initially published in England before it was published in America. He is held in high regard for his realistic depictions of rural life and his command of American colloquial speech. Frost was honored frequently during his lifetime, receiving four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry. He was also awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1960 for his poetical works. Most importantly though, Frost was named Poet Laureate of Vermont on 22nd July 1961. Frost was 86 when he read his well-known poem “The Gift Outright” at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy on January 20, 1961. He died in Boston two years later, on January 29, 1963, after complications arose from a prostate surgery he had undergone recently.
About the poem: “The Road Not Taken” was published in the year 1916 as the first poem in the collection of poetry by Robert Frost entitled Mountain Interval. Frost spent the years 1912 to 1915 in England. At this time, he was very close with the writer Edward Thomas. Thomas and Frost are said to have enjoyed taking many walks together then. After Frost returned to New Hampshire in 1915, he sent Thomas an advance copy of “The Road Not Taken” for his perusal. The poem was meant to be read as a gentle mocking of indecision, particularly the indecision that Thomas had shown while walking with Frost. Frost later expressed chagrin that most audiences took the poem more seriously than he had intended. In fact, Thomas himself took it seriously and personally, and it provided the last straw in Thomas’ decision to enlist in World War I. Thomas was sadly killed the Battle of Arras two years later.
Frost’s biographer Lawrance Thompson has also said that the speaker of the poem is “one who habitually wastes energy in regretting any choice made: belatedly but wistfully he sighs over the attractive alternative rejected.” A case could certainly be made for the sigh being one of satisfaction, but given the critical support of the ‘regret’ analysis, it seems fair to say that this poem is about the human tendency to look back and attribute blame to minor events in one’s life, or to attribute more meaning to things than they may deserve.
Setting of the poem:
“The Road Not Taken” seems to be set in a forest trail during the autumn season. At some point in this trail, there is a junction that divides into two separate roads from a single path. As the poet comes to this junction, he is faced with the choice of which road to continue along. The poem itself is about making that choice, and then looking back on it with some amount of regret. But in the end, the poet seems to be happy with the road he has chosen to walk along.
Annotation: Meaning of The Road Not Taken
Please note: N= noun, V=verb, Adj=Adjective, Adv=Adverb, P=Preposition
Diverged (V): Past tense of the word “diverge”, that is, (of a road, route, or line) to separate from another route and go in a different direction
Wood (N): An area of land, smaller than a forest, which is covered with growing trees
Undergrowth (N): A dense growth of shrubs and other plants, especially under trees in woodland
Just (Adj): Based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair
Fair (Adj): Treating people equally without favouritism or discrimination
Claim (N): A right or title to something
Wear (N): Damage or deterioration sustained from continuous use
Worn (V): Past tense of the word “wear”, that is, to damage, erode, or destroy by friction or use
Trodden (V): Past participle of the word “tread”, that is, to walk in a specified way
Way (N): A road, track, or path for travelling along
Sigh (N): A long, deep audible exhalation expressing sadness, relief, tiredness, or similar
Ages (N): A very long time
Hence (P): From now (used after a period of time)
The Road Not Taken Summary by Robert Frost
The poem consists of four stanzas. Each of these stanzas is again made up of five lines. Hence, the entire poem consists of twenty lines in total. “The Road Not Taken” is written in the first person. Hence, we can assume that the speaker of the poem is Frost himself.
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;
In this stanza, the poet describes how he was walking along a trail through a forest where in the leaves of all the trees had turned yellow, and how in the course of this walk, he came across a junction where the trail divided into two paths. Being a single and lone traveller, the poet could not possibly travel along both of those paths, and had to choose one path to walk down instead. However, this was not an easy choice for Frost to make. For a long time, he stood at the junction and looked as far as his vision would reach down one of the two paths. His field of vision only allowed the poet to see the length of that path to the point at which it disappeared among a dense growth of shrubs and other plants along its way.
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,
In this stanza, the poet describes what he did after looking down one of the two paths at the junction of a forest trail along which he was taking a walk. He says that the other road was as justified a choice as the first one for the poet to walk along, and so he chose the second one. Moreover, this second path was in fact a better choice for him because he could see that it was filled with grass still, unlike the other path that was almost barren. The poet concluded that every person passing through either of the paths must have caused the grass beneath his feet to fade to a similar extent, and therefore, since the second path had more grass on it than the first one, it had been less often chosen by other travellers like him who had been faced with the same choice before his arrival at the junction of the forest trail.
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.
In this stanza, the poet says that after all his calculations as to which path was more often taken, he saw that on the same day as he was walking along that forest trail no other traveller had reached that junction, and he was the first to do so. As a result of this, no leaves on either of the paths bore any sign of being blackened by travellers’ footprints. Having chosen to walk along the second path, the poet thought he would walk along the first one some other day in the future. However, this resolution of his could not be made with any certainty. Frost knew that one road leads to another, and another, and another so that he might never have the chance to come to that junction again, and consequently, never be able to walk along the first path that he had just rejected.
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.
In this stanza, the poet says that having made his choice of taking the second path from the junction in the forest trail, he still cannot rest easy about his decision. He believes that after many years, he will look back on the memory of that walk and think that by choosing the path that less people had been on, he has forever eliminated the first path from his travels. However, the last line of this stanza, and of the poem as a whole, is a bit ambiguous. The poet could also be saying that his choice of the second road has affected his life in a positive light, and perhaps choosing the first one wouldn’t have had such an effect and instead been a bane for him in his life. Read the next segment here- The Road Not Taken Detailed Analysis