The Road Not Taken Analysis
The Road not taken was first published in 1916, in the volume of poems entitled Mountain Interval. It has been acknowledged as one of the finest and most popular poems of the volume. In the poem, we find a rare blend of ‘inner lyric vision and the outer contemplative narration’. The poet’s creative faculty gets enlivened when he faces the problem of having to choose one of the two roads at a bifurcation. Here the poet takes his chance and comments on the difficulty and importance of having to make a choice. As G.W. Nitchie points out this poem has for its theme, one of the major themes in Frost’s poetry- the problem of having to make a choice.
Relating the poem to the reality of Frost’s experience, Untermeyer says that Frost has gone his own way. It was not he that chose his destiny. He was inevitably guided towards his destination by some spirit, some unseen forces that keep working on man. This inevitability, which apparently has an element of choice is brought in this oft-quoted and oft-misunderstood poem, The Road not Taken.
In this poem, Frost tells us that as he was travelling alone one day he found himself to have reached a point where the road divided into two. Robert Frost found it difficult choosing to take one road out of the two. He was indecisive and lingered on for some time. Ultimately he was able to choose one road-the road which he thought was frequented by fewer people than those that took to the other road.
But the poet also realized immediately that there was no real difference because his going through the road would have worn it about the same. Even at this crucial moment of having to make a choice, the poet was aware of the importance of the choice general as well as in particular.
In general, the poet realizes that a person has very often to make choices. One cannot always have the best of everything. It is in making a choice that one has to order one’s priorities and is tested. In particular the poet has an intuition that one day he will look back in retrospect and perhaps be glad that he took the less frequented road. And this is what has made difference to the poet.
“And that has made all the difference”.
The poet’s difference is a characteristic part of him and is in him, ingrained in him even before he launched on his career as a poet. The road that Frost took, (though not wholly of his choice) was not only a ‘different road’-it was a very lonely road, very few people took to it. But as destiny had it, it was the right road for Frost, the road he was, bound to take.
George Nitchie points out that the problem of choice is one of the major themes in Frost’s poetry. It is like a resting point to which Frost keeps returning on and often. Along with this poem, Frost has written many poems in which the question of making a choice is the central point-choices that have to be made compulsorily, choices that have been made, choices that could not be made. Crucial moments when choices have to be made are distinct spots of time in human life. With Frost, these moments become the theme themselves, not just a prop or a backdrop for developing his themes.
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Perhaps, if asked, Frost would define man as a choice-making animal. From birth till death, he has to make choices at every step-he chooses, deliberately—and in the best of men, it (this act of making a choice) is often coupled with a thorough knowledge of the consequences implied in making the choice.
In The Road not Taken, the problem of choice is very elementary. There are no obvious reasons for Frost preferring one road to the other. There are no residues of self-respect, moral obligation, not even curiosity in Frost’s preference of the road he finally did take. In interviews, conversation and lectures, Frost always stresses that though the road he had taken had:
“…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…”
Hence, we find that the poet’s choice was logically incomprehensible and appears wholly arbitrary, whimsical and undetermined. But perhaps it was not without an intuitive impulse that it was motivated.
Yvor Winters has spared no pains to speak in strong, derogatory terms about this poem. He has shown the wrath and ire of his angry mind through his devastating pen in his well-known essay, “Robert Frost; or the Spiritual Drifter as Poet”, in one clean sweep. Winters feels: “All have a single theme: the, whimsical accidental and incomprehensible nature of the formative decision and I should like to point out that if one takes this view of the formative decision one has cut oneself off from understanding most of human experience, for in these terms there is nothing to be understood”. Winters also argues that in The Road not Taken Frost is mistaking whimsical impulse for moral choice, and this blunder obscures his understanding and we get a feeling that his mood regarding the value of the entire business is very uncertain.
Simplicity, clarity, epigrammatic force and terseness are the hallmarks of the stanzas, each consisting of five lines. Each line has eight syllables with slight variations here and there to impart informality and casualness of tone. It is a personal lyric and is devoid of the parentheses, the dashes. the pauses and exclamations that are found in the dramatic lyrics.
Speaking about the stanza form in this and some other poems, Thompson says that “an entirely different modification occurs when the four-stress lines are used in certain forms which are related to the ballad; the five lines-stanzas, the six lines-stanzas, or the combined five and three stress-lines.”
We ourselves, as readers feel that though the decision of the poet is incomprehensible, his predicament is totally familiar to us. We also feel at though the poem is quite good, Frost is shirking responsibility. He speaks on the reader, the burden of critical intelligence, which, properly speaking, should be borne by the poet.
The Road not Taken shows Frost’s art and versatility marching ahead on the road of progress. Ironically, it is the first person speaker himself who candidly presents himself to us, with all his faults and foibles. Very unselfconsciously he reveals himself to us as one who is Hamlet like, who is too intelligent and conscious to do anything without pondering (a bit too much) on the pros and cons of it. But unlike Hamlet, he regrets the choices he makes. When he has made his choice he wistfully yearns for the alternative which he has been forced to reject. He has not yet come to terms with the fact that Man must learn to accept and live with his limitations.
We notice that when the road forks, the narrator regrets that he possibly cannot travel both roads because he is ‘one traveller’. He learns painfully that Man cannot have things all his own way; he is not only bound to make a choice but also that the choice he makes is irrevocable. One must hope to get the best of everything. Man’s vision encompasses manifold more than what he can get in his arms. Yes, one may always look heavenward and aspire for the stars but one must never forget that one has to walk on the earth.