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"The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost - A Biographical Analysis

biographical-analysis-the-road-not-taken

Poetry


“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.

---Robert Frost---

     “The Road Not Taken”, by “Robert Frost” was first published in 1916, and was included in a collection titled “Mountain Interval” (Wikipedia). Some critics would say that its meaning is pretty straight forward. It describes the process of an individual having to make a decision in life, not knowing at that moment if the decision will be the right one, and surely to second guess the decision sometime later. However, regardless of the decision, it is a decision made, that has played a part in what that individual is today. Is this what Frost intended? I feel that by doing a biographical analysis on “Frost”, we can find his true meaning in this poem. To make this analysis we must look at Frost’s life prior to 1916 for any relativity and validity.

     Toward the end of 1894, living in Lawrence, Massachusetts, Frost had sold his very first poem. Excited, he proposed to a woman named Elinor Miriam White, although they were not married until she finished college. After getting married, Frost’s grandfather had bought them a farm where Frost had continued writing in the early mornings. His farming had proved to be unfulfilling and not very successful. After nine years he decided to go back to teaching English, which he had done briefly before getting married.

     In 1912 the couple moved to Great Britain, then eventually settling in Beaconsfield, just outside London, England (Wikipedia). “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both”, (Frost). If the roads indeed represent choice, then the yellow wood represents life. Could Frost be writing about his decision to move to Great Britain leaving America behind? Frost then writes of sorrow and not being able to travel both roads, could this be fear of future regret? What he will miss by leaving America? “And be one traveler, long I stood” (Frost). This represents his uncertainty of what the future might bring them in Great Britain. Possibly Second Guessing?

     While living in England Frost befriended another poet (Edward Thomas). Together, Frost and Thomas would take long walks in the forest, where Thomas would often complain that they should have taken another path (Wikipedia). Frost and his wife only stayed in England a short time, moving back to America as World War I began in 1915. Upon their arrival, Frost purchased another farm in Franconia, New Hampshire. This is where Frost started his career of writing, teaching and lecturing (Wikipedia).  When we look further at the poem, “And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear (Frost);” This can be represented by the fact, he had moved to Great Britain. “Though as for that, the passing there, Had worn them really about the same, And both that morning equally lay” (Frost). After returning home to America Frost might feel like he is right back where he started, and that possibly he should not have left to begin with. Frost writes further, “Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way” (Frost). I feel this represents that before moving to Great Britain and then to England, Frost thought he could always return home, but knowing after some choices are made it is not always easy undoing them, thus “I doubted if I should ever come back” (Frost). This does not mean he thought he would never return to America, it was only a belief when making the initial decision to move away.

     “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” (Frost). Frost expresses here that he will one day look back on the decision he has made, and then sigh, knowing it has made him the individual he is.

     I feel that analysis of Frosts life, from the time he left high school until the time this poem was published in 1916, shows just how his biographical background influenced this poem. However, “biographical accounts make it clear that Frost did not intend the message of this poem to be taken at face value. His biographer, Laurence Thompson, explained in Robert Frost: The Years of Triumph 1915-1938, that the poet wrote “The Road Not Taken” as a satire of his friend Edward Thomas. Frost was amused by Thomas’ indecisiveness; by the way he would dither over decisions, unable to make up his mind” (Kelly). Robert Frost on his own poetry: "One stanza of 'The Road Not Taken' was written while I was sitting on a sofa in the middle of England: Was found three or four years later, and I couldn't bear not to finish it. I wasn't thinking about myself there, but about a friend who had gone off to war, a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn't go the other. He was hard on himself that way."
Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, 23 Aug. 1953 (Frost, Road Not Taken)


Works Cited:

Frost, Robert. Road Not Taken. 01 06 2010 <http://poetrypages.lemon8.nl/life/roadnottaken/roadnottaken.htm>.

Frost, Robert. "The Road Not Taken." DiYanni, Robert. Literature - Approaches To Fiction, Poetry, and Drama (second edition). New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008. 539-540.

Kelly, David. The Road Not Taken (Criticism). 1997. 01 06 2010 <http://www.answers.com/topic/the-road-not-taken-poem-7>.

Wikipedia. Robert Frost. 26 05 2010. 01 06 2010 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Frost>.

—. The Road Not Taken. 06 06 2010. 06 06 2010 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Road_Not_Taken_%28poem%29>.

© 2010 John C. Evenstar

Comments

M Riley from Virginia on July 15, 2018:

I've actually never come across a biographical interpretation of this common poem before. I appreciate that you include Frost's comments about indecisiveness, which makes the poem less of a tribute to choosing the less traveled road and more a comical commentary that we'll never be satisfied.

Billie Kelpin from Newport Beach on August 06, 2016:

In 1964, I sat in Ms. Brunhummer's English Lit. class at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. What she did that day has been with me ever since. She let another student and me argue for almost the whole class over Frost's intention in another poem, "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening". I was adamant about the metaphorical meaning of that poem "and miles to go before I sleep" while another student, a young man argued with me that the poem was just a beautiful poem about nature. Mr. Brunhummer let the two of us go on the full class time defending our positions. The bell rang as which point, as I remember, Ms. Brunhummer stopped the rustling of students books, and said, "Wait people, what you just witnessed was something powerful. To Billie, Frost's poem had a deep metaphorical meaning, to Stacey it had beauty merely in it's representation of nature. The message is unique to Billie and unique to Stacey. And that, class, is the definition of "universality" in poetry and why Frost's poems touch us and live on. Frost touches each of us in a very unique and personal way.

Dayita on July 21, 2014:

Such a worthy explanation. Truly, Inspite of what critics think, The Road Not Taken has a deeper meaning, and I believe every person could philosophically define the poem for himself/herself.

sharanjeet on May 10, 2014:

I am still not clear as to what does the word sigh indicate in the last stanza.The sigh is of joy or sorrow.It is difficult to tell my class 9 cbse students whether the poet is regretting his decision n which decision it is

Pure Busani Ndlovu on December 09, 2013:

I have taught this poem to learners and I have always underscored the need to know the biography of Frost

Pure Busani Ndlovu on December 09, 2013:

I have taught this poem to learners and I have always underscored the need to know the biography of Frost

antoinette on October 20, 2013:

thanks for the explanation of the meaning,the theme,and the purpose of writing of this poem...

elizabeth on October 08, 2013:

thanks for the.........explanation of the poem .........

Dan3k on November 19, 2012:

Great Paem

Shubham jhunjhunwala on September 10, 2012:

a good poem....!!

ROSU on August 01, 2012:

It's a Meaning Full Poem . We Have It In Our Textbook .

Our Sir Teach It Very Interestingly . It Made me To Read This

Wonder full Poem. Thank you For Such A Poem.

THANK YOU

FIFI on August 01, 2012:

Its a Meaning full poem . We Have This Poem In Our Text Book.

Our Sir Teach It Wonder Fully . Thank You For This Poem.

Rohan M Santhosh on July 03, 2012:

my teacher told me that the poem relates with the poet's life

shubhangi on June 19, 2012:

thx a lot.............

Pritha Mitra on June 07, 2012:

Its really a wonderful poem.... It tells us that whatever decision an individual takes,it isn't necessary that it will always be right....

John C. Evenstar (author) from Portland on May 30, 2012:

In fact, this poem has no relation to the loss of anything, it was written about a friend of Frost who could never make up a solid decision. The gentleman was a very indecisive individual. This said, the nice thing about this poem is any individual can interpret it in many ways. That is the beauty of poetry. My suggestion is to tell your instructor what it means to you.

John C Evenstar

oakleyrocks99 on May 30, 2012:

i need help in identifying how the poem relates to a loss of something!!!!???? my teacher told me to make a speech for our teacher leaving and she says this poem relates?????? HOW?????!!!! HELP!!!!!!????

anonymous on May 03, 2012:

great poem

ambar raj parmar on February 02, 2012:

a truly inspirated poem written by a genius

BOB on November 03, 2011:

TALENTE SALENTE

leeree on July 07, 2011:

Frost was a very quirky individual and had such vigor in life. I find the real reason behind his most influential poem endearing. Isn't comical that Frost's poem was a jest to his old friend and a generation of graduates found life changing inspiration?

lyfroxx95 on August 31, 2010:

this poem changes one's perspective on life

gayatri on August 16, 2010:

we hv dis poem in r english buk

kelster from San Diego, Ca on July 22, 2010:

Great poem. And very timely and this point in my own life.

Rosie Scott on June 20, 2010:

This is an awesome poem. To me, it reflects individuality and the desire and need to walk your own path. Stand out and be different. What's the point in being like everyone else?

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on June 20, 2010:

Such a beautiful and influential poem! So many people love it but do not know the background. I sure did not.

cnocera from North of Boston on June 19, 2010:

I have not read that poem in awhile.

I love that poem. I never knew anything about his life that was interesting.

Thank You

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