Robert Lee Frost is an American poet who is known for his verse concerning nature and New England life. He was born in San Francisco in 1874. When his father died in 1885, his mother moved the family to Lawrence, Massachusetts. Frost attended college sporadically after graduating high school and made a living by working as a bobbin boy in a wool mill, a shoemaker, a country schoolteacher, editor of a rural newspaper, and a farmer. He also wrote poetry but had little success in having his poems published until, in 1912, when his family moved to England. There, he was befriended by such established poets as Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, and Lascelles Abercrombie. With their help, Robert Frost’s first two volumes of poetry were published. These works won him immediate recognition and, in 1915, Frost returned to the United States to find his fame had preceded him. He continued to write poetry with increasing success while living on farms in Vermont and New Hampshire, and teaching literature at Amherst College, the University of Michigan, Harvard University and Dartmouth College.
Frost was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry four times during his lifetime and became the first poet to read a poem at a Presidential Inauguration (of John F. Kennedy in 1961).
The majority of Frost’s poetry is based mainly upon the life and scenery of rural New England, and the language of his verse reflects the strong dialect of that region. Frost’s colloquialism, however, is structured within traditional metrical and rhythmical schemes; he disliked free verse (Encarta, 1). Although he concentrates on ordinary subject matter, Frost’s emotional range is wide and deep, and his poems often shift from a tone of humor or jest to the passionate expression of a tragic experience. Much of his poetry is concerned with the interaction between humans and nature. Frost regarded nature as a beautiful but dangerous force, worthy of admiration, but full of danger. The underlying philosophy of Frost’s poetry is rooted in traditional New England individualism, and his work shows his strong empathy for the values of early American society (Encarta,1).
I have chosen to analyze Frost’s two poems “The Road Not Taken” and “Neither Out Far Nor In Deep.” I chose these particular selections because of their vast differences in form and meaning. Each of these works represents a completely different outlook of Frost about life issues, and were written approximately twenty years apart. So many of Frost’s poems describe relatively ordinary scenes or events that raise issues about the meaning of life and then conclude by suggesting a positive answer, such as “The Road Not Taken” does. However, “Neither Out Far Nor In Deep” represents the opposite end of the spectrum, dealing with the harsh questions of life, but offering no consolation or conclusion. The latter format in Frost’s poetry is the rarer of the two among his extensive collections of poems, and which is the reason I chose one of each type.
“The Road Not Taken” is one of Robert Frost’s most familiar and most popular poems. It is author Terri Andrews’ belief that the popularity of the poem is largely a result of the simplicity of its symbolism: The speaker must choose between different directions in life (1838). However, for such a simple poem, it has, in fact, been subject to various interpretations of how the speaker feels about his situation and how he should be viewed.
Robert Frost himself referred to this poem as being “a tricky poem, very tricky” (Andrews, 1838), probably referring to the many ways that the poem can be viewed and interpreted. The poem is written in the first person narrative. On several occasions, Frost has confirmed that the poem’s speaker is based on his friend Edward Thomas, stating that Thomas was “a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn’t go the other” (Andrews, 1839).
“The Road Not Taken” is made up of four stanzas of five lines each and has a roughly iambic rhythm. The poem begins with the speaker walking through the forest on an autumn day where the leaves have changed to yellow, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” He is faced with two paths, or roads, that lead in different directions, and he must choose which path to take. He regrets that he cannot follow both roads, and pauses a while before making his choice, “And sorry I could not travel both….And be one traveler, long I stood.” At first, one road seems as if it might be the better of the two, “And having perhaps the better claim.” However, he soon determines them to be pretty much equal, “And both that morning equally lay.” He tries to reassure himself by stating that he will come back and take the other road someday, “Oh, I kept the first for another day!”; But he realistically recognizes that life is easy to get caught up in, “Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.” The speaker returns to feelings of uncertainty and regret. There are really two ways to interpret the way this poem ends – a negative way, which would be the speaker having feelings of regret, or a positive way, which would be the speaker having feelings of relief.
There are two things that may lead us to believe that the speaker believes he will later regret his choice: First, he believes that he shall, someday, “be telling this with a sigh.” Second, is the title of the poem itself, “The Road Not Taken,” which could imply that the reader will never stop thinking about the other path he could have taken. At the same time, these two examples can be viewed as a positive conclusion. The “sigh” ultimately being a sigh of relief that, even though he had to take a chance on the road “less traveled by,” it turned out to be the right choice. And the title, “The Road Not Taken,” being relief in the fact that he did not take the other, more commonly traveled road, which may have held a very different and less enhancing life for him. Regardless of how it is interpreted, we know from the speaker that his one, very important choice “has made all the difference.” Whether that difference be for the better or for the worse may be for each individual to determine for themselves. However, considering the common form of Frost’s poems, as mentioned earlier, it may be more likely to accept the more positive ending.
“Neither Out Far Nor In Deep” is a lyric poem consisting of four four-line stanzas using a regular rhyme scheme and, for the most part, regular iambic trimeter. Frost only uses precise imagery in one small part of the poem; the majority is general description, which is rare for Frost. The setting of this poem is the seaside. The poet’s original observation is that the people at the beach always look toward the water, “They turn their back on the land. They look at the sea all day.” What they can see are a ship out on the ocean, “A ship keeps raising its hull,” and a gull standing on the wet sand near the water, “The wetter ground like glass…Reflects a standing gull.” It seems that the poet is implying that people come to the sea in search of the truth, and hope to find it watching the ocean, which is unchanging; unlike the land, which is more subject to change. This may symbolize the need for something to be consistent, as the sea is, in order for them to find the answers they’re in search of:
And the people look at the sea.”
Although their vision is limited, “They cannot look out far…They cannot look in deep,” they continue looking. They cannot help searching for answers and there is nothing else for them to do. According to author John Muste, “The form implies a rigidity in the minds of the people being described, a lack of imagination which leads them always to look in one direction, however unrewarding their study may be”(1481). His view implies that there is a simplicity to these people. They fail to see anything in detail, due to their lack of imagination, which is an obstacle to their understanding to begin with. They look to the ocean to provide them with answers to life’s questions, but the irony of the unchanging ocean being a symbol of stability, is actually just a dead end. Since it never changes, it is not going to have any answers tomorrow, for example, that it does not have today. Since they continue to look, never being able to see farther or deeper, they are simply preventing their search from being able to come to any conclusion. The people are looking for answers to life from a source that cannot provide those answers. Since they cannot even realize this, they will never find any answers, and will continue to lead a shallow existence. Even through the basic simplicity of the poem, we can decipher the irony that Frost is conveying.
Unlike “The Road Not Taken,” we cannot find a way to come to a positive conclusion at the end of “Neither Out Far Nor In Deep.” Frost deviates from his usual poetry form when writing “Neither Out Far Nor In Deep,” both in the simplicity of the detail and the lack of conclusion or positive imaging. By closely reviewing and analyzing these two of Frost’s works, we are able to see two sides of the spectrum of his views on life. In both of these poems, he uses objects in nature to symbolize aspects of life. In “The Road Not Taken,” the two roads represent a lifetime decision that has to be made. In “Neither Out Far Nor In Deep,” the sea represents a dead end in the search for the answers to life’s questions. Both may serve as a life lesson of their own. “The Road Not Taken,” suggesting that sometimes you need to take chances in life, be your own person; “Neither Out Far Nor In Deep” suggesting that if you want the answers to life’s questions, you have to open up your mind and explore, not look to one place for the answers. Robert Frost saw a connection in life between humans and nature and expressed this connection in most of his poetry. We can see, first hand, this connection, when studying both “The Road Not Taken” and “Neither Out Far Nor In Deep.” It is a connection that nature has with the human mind and the human spirit.
Andrews, Terri L. “The Road Not Taken.” Masterplots II: Poetry Series. Vol. 5: 1838. Englewood: Salem Press, 1992.
Frost, Robert Lee. Complete Poems of Robert Frost. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965.
Microsoft Coproration. “Frost, Robert Lee.” Encarta 96 Encyclopedia.
(c) Funk and Wagnalls Corporation, 1995.
Muste, John M. “Neither Far Out Nor In Deep.” Masterplots II: Poetry Series. Vol. 4: 1481. Englewood: Salem Press, 1992.