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Robert Frost finds himself at a point where the road splits into two. He must make a decision. He chooses the grassy and less travelled path. The other road is more conventional, risk free and well-traveled. The poet realizes that he can’t travel on both roads, so he keeps it for another day. He says that perhaps he may use the more conventional path some time in future, but it is not possible to start the journey afresh. It seems to be a characteristic of Robert Frost to express doubt while making revolutionary decisions.
The striking feature of Frosts’ poems is the presentation of conflicts. Here conflict is between the right choice and wrong choice. We should always have the courage to choose the right way even if it is rough and thorny. The poem makes us think about choice we must make in life. All of us reach a crucial point in life when we must make a right choice. That choice determines our destiny. The poem inspires us to face the challenging realities in life. The chief theme of his poetry is an ambiguous relationship with nature. He is interested in the paradox of life. The phrase “some were ages and age hence” refers to distant future. Here “sigh” should not be taken as regret. However, Frost is very optimistic. He looks into distant future. A small courageous step makes a big difference. It can lead to a great discovery, success, prosperity, or happiness. However, the line “… And that has made all the difference” is not clear. The poet beautifully leaves this to the imagination of the readers; Ambiguity is one of the striking features of Frost in poetry.
The Poem’s Theme
‘The Road Not Taken’ is more than a poem about someone trying to decide which road he’s going to take on a stroll through the woods. It is a poem about the journey of life. The two roads diverged in a yellow wood forest symbolizing a person’s life. The narrator’s choice about which road to take represents the different decisions we sometimes must make and how those decisions will affect the future. Think of the expression, ‘down the road’, that we often use to describe something that might happen months or even years from now, and you will see how Frost is making the connection between life and traveling. Frost captures the uncertainty about making decisions. Our natural desire to know what will happen because of the decisions we make is in the first stanza of the poem:
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‘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’
Here, Frost uses the bend in the road as a metaphor for what the narrator wishes he could see but ultimately can’t make out in the undergrowth. The narrator eventually decides to take the other road because it really does not matter. Whichever path he chooses, he has no way of knowing where he is going to end up.
The only difference between the two roads is that the one the narrator chooses in the second stanza is ‘grassy and wanted wear’; in other words, it doesn’t look like anyone’s taken it before or in a long time. At this point in the poem, Frost tries to encourage readers to overcome the fear of the unknown: someone must be the first person to try a new thing.
The first significant thing about ‘The Road Not Taken’ is its title, which presumably refers to an unexercised option, something about which the speaker can only speculate. The traveler comes to a fork in a road through a ‘yellow wood’ and wishes he could somehow manage to ‘travel both’ routes; he rejects that aspiration as impractical, however, at least for the day at hand. The road he selects is ‘the one less traveled by,’ suggesting the decision of an individualist, someone little not inclined to follow the crowd. Almost immediately, however, he seems to contradict his own judgment: “Though as for that the passing there/ Had worn them really about the same.” The poet appears to imply that the decision is based on evidence that is, or comes close to being, an illusion; The contradictions continue. He decides to save the first, (perhaps) more traveled route for another day but then confesses that he does not think it probable that he will return. This implies that this seemingly casual and inconsequential choice is likely to be a crucial commitment. In the final stanza, the traveler says that he will be “telling this with a sigh,” which may connote regret. His choice, in any event, “has made all the difference”. The tone of this stanza, coupled with the title, strongly suggests that the traveler, if not regretting his choice, at least laments the possibilities that the need to make a choice.
Had Frost had a particular and irrevocable choice of his own? If so, what feeling in this poem of mixed feelings, should be regarded as dominant? There is no way of identifying such a specific decision from the evidence of the poem itself. Although a prejudice exists in favor of identifying the “I” of the poem with the author in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the speaker may not be Frost at all. On more than one occasion the poet claimed that this poem was about his friend Edward Thomas, a man inclined to indecisiveness out of a strong and (as Frost thought) amusing habit of dwelling on the irrevocability of decisions. If so, the reference in the poem’s final stanza to “telling” of the experience “with a sigh”/somewhere ages and ages hence” might be read not only as the boast of Robert Frost, but also as a perpetual revelation of Thomas, also a fine poet. What is clear is that the speaker is, at least, a person like Thomas in some respects (though there may well be some of Frost in him also).
Critics of this poem are likely always to argue whether it is an affirmation of the crucial nature of the choices people must make on the road of life or a gentle satire on the sort of temperament that always insists on struggling with such choices. The extent of the poets’ sympathy with the traveler also remains an open question. Frost composed this poem in four five-line stanzas with only two end rhymes in each stanza (abaab). The flexible iambic meter has four strong beats to the line. Of the technical achievements in “The Road Not Taken”, one in particular shows Frost’s skill at enforcing meaning through form. The poem ends:
‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—/ I took the one less traveled by / And that has made all the difference.’
The indecision of the speaker and his divided state of mind is heightened by the repetition of “I” split by the line division and emphasized by the rhyme and pause. It is an effect possible only in a rhymed and metrical poem and thus a good argument for the continuing viability of traditional forms.