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'The Road Not Taken' by Robert Frost: A Critical Analysis

Ayesha is an English literature and language teacher. She obtained her Master's degree in English Literature.


The Road Not Taken BY ROBERT FROST

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 irony

The poem gives an insight into singular choices in life. The title is ironic because the road less travelled is the one chosen by the poet in the end.

‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,’

The ‘yellow wood’ is symbolic of maturity. It also symbolizes the confusions of life. The poet is in confusion as he is unable to choose a path for himself. He regrets that he cannot travel both roads because he is ‘one traveller.’ He must make a choice as to which road he must choose.

What do the two roads represent?

The two roads are, in fact, two approaches to life: the traditional and the sophisticated. The poet looks at the divergence hesitatingly for a while and starts to weigh the pros and cons of each option. He is pondering upon the outcome of his choice. He finally decides to tread on the ‘other’ road. It was as beautiful as the first one. He preferred the other road

‘Because it was grassy and wanted wear;’

It had not been frequently visited by human beings. It was the road of the artists which lead to beauty. Frost's road is certainly the one which leads him towards isolation, but he is happy that he took the second road.

Ambivalent Mood

Frost feels that, in the morning, both roads were covered by leaves and were waiting for him to make his final choice. Once he starts walking on the second road, he realises that it is not possible for him to come back. Once a choice in life has been made, it is difficult to turn back. On the one hand, the speaker finds himself to be a Romantic, an escapist who would like to travel both roads but cannot. The creative artist is set apart from the multitude. On the other hand, he expresses his inner doubt about truth and beauty and their identification. This identification in Keats’ words is

‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’

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The poet’s reflection upon his choice

The sigh in the last stanza is symbolic of relief and satisfaction. It is not of regret, but of gratitude. Once again, we come across an ambivalent mood. It appears that Frost is pleased with the thought that he is not a common man but an artist – a poet. He is glad that he chose the road less travelled,

‘And that has made all the difference.’

The difference is that he will live forever in the minds of men because of his choice.

‘Somewhere ages and ages hence:’

He is happy because he finds the choice of his own free will right with reference to the time and distant future.

Autobiographical element

The road not taken has ironically become a well-travelled road. The poem has an autobiographical touch. It points to the intellectual crossroad which Frost faced during his poetic career. Dissatisfied with the academic life, Frost chose this sincere loving path of individualistic men and was satisfied with his choice.

Robert Frost Poem Wall Art The Road Not Taken Poem Poster

Lessons for life

Herein, lies a message for us. Decision-making is a challenging affair for everyone. We must draw on wisdom, knowledge, and experience, to name a few, while making choices. There are moments of hesitation, confusion, chaos, and retreat. The cycle keeps running till we arrive at the right decision. The consequences of choices are to be visualised and judged against all odds that may come our way.


Robert Frost and John Keats

In this poem, there is an element of individualistic choice that aligns Frost with the Romantics. Here, we find that he has deeper affinities with Keats with respect to the beauty and truth formula. One road is that of beauty, the other of truth. He finds it difficult to combine the two. For Keats, ‘beauty is truth, truth beauty.’

But for Frost, they are still different paths. The pathway selected by him is the road leading to beauty. The other road leads to truth. He has an ambivalent attitude because he refers to them both as being fair. The first road is fair in the ethical sense, the other is fair in the aesthetic sense.

The Road Not Taken - Poem by Robert Frost Vintage Wall Art

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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