Frost The Road Not Taken Robert Frost


Individual, personal and anecdotal experiences of ordinary, everyday life, close to nature is the subject matter of the Romantics as well as Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”. Though Frost is not a romantic, he is a pastoral poet using the vernacular, close to the land; while aware of nature’s restorative benevolence; yet also its dark, sinister, ruthless and imperative power over mankind is recognised.

Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard revealingly suggested we all encounter “that fork on the road […] where the path branches off.”

While he means a critical juncture at which we decide to make a major free choice, there is something about this act that is fateful as well. We can neither turn back nor turn away from it. Nor can we undo or redo it, predict or escape from its long-term consequences. We do have to make a decision.

This poem opens the possibilities of different life paths. Robert Burns wrote: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.” (awry) while John Lennon assured us that “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans, ” and Joshua Rothman ponders “The uncanny allure of our unlived lives. The movie Sliding Doors illustrates how random events could radically alter your life path and destiny.

Yogi Bear’s quirky take was: “when you come to a fork in the road, take it”.

You can hear Robert Frost read the poem on

The Road Not Taken #

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.

The poem has a number of negative nuances, such as the title implying it is about the other road, the undergrowth, the leaves trodden black, and the uncertainty prevailing. This is reinforced in “and sorry I could not travel both” and compounded with an ambiguous sigh which could be of relief/contentment or of regret/weariness.

The negative, world weary tone is supported by the many frustrating contradictions throughout the poem; his path is “grassy and wanted wear” and yet “the passing there Had worn them about the same,” “yellow wood” yet ages and ages hence” the former suggesting late in life, while the latter, lots of time left. Though fundamentally negative, the second stanza is more positive where the affirmative choice of the “other” road is made decisively.

Frost’s deliberate ambiguity and equivocations are in keeping with much of his poetry; they lack conclusive arguments, let alone final answers to life’s dilemmas. Other ambiguities include the “sigh” and the “difference” - for good or not? Frost has commented: “My poems are set to trip the readers head foremost into the boundless “(the dark).

Frost’s commonplace, ordinary, individual experience is expressed in colloquial conversational language resonant with powerful underlying universal meanings. Though many of the concrete images: roads, woods, leaves, trees and grass are tangible, others are charged or riddled with colourful suggestiveness; “yellow wood” (old – end of life decision) , “undergrowth” (nuisance/hazard) , “leaves trodden black” (evil connotations) .

The change of tense from the present to the future, in the last stanza suggests a positive view of future life.

The poem articulates beautifully the reasons why decisions are so very fraught. Most are difficult and come with fear and uncertainty. Each step we take carries us one step away from the other roads we may have traveled. Each decision by necessity excludes other decisions. We cannot travel two roads at once, and as we get older, we also know that there is not endless time to travel those roads not taken.

The poem is about life’s journeys and about the everyday choices confronting us.

Frost writes that every poem is a momentary stay against the confusion of the world. What gives life clarity is a sense of form.

Frost himself maintains he swam against the currents: “I have fought a lover’s quarrel with the world”.