Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” is one of the most famous poems of all time. Even though this poem is so famous it is typically misunderstood. “The Road Not Taken” was written by Robert Frost in the spring of 1915 and it’s meaning has been has been debated ever since then. To fully understand the Frost’s meaning of the poem one needs to analyze the poem itself, stanza by stanza then also analyze the context of the poem. The best place to start breaking down Robert Frost’s poem is by reading the poem itself.
The first stanza of the poem begins by describing a fork in the road in the middle of a yellow wood. By describing the woods as yellow Frost is implying that it most likely fall. In the next two lines Frost apologizes for not being able to travel down both paths and be one traveler. Why does Frost make this obviously simple statement into two lines? This is very interesting because Frost could have easily said this in one line yet he puts emphasis on it by making it into two lines. According to David Orr in “The Road Not Taken: The Poem Everyone Loves and Everyone Gets Wrong”
Frost often likes to use repetition and its cousin, redundancy, to suggest the complex contours of seemingly simple concepts. In this case, we have what seems like the most straightforward preposition imaginable: If a road forks, a single person can’t “travel both” branches. But the concept is oddly extended to include the observation that one can’t “travel both’ and “be one traveler,” which seems superfluous. After all, Frost might more easily and obviously have written the stanza. In the next two lines Frost describes himself staring intently down one path as far as he could until the road bent in the undergrowth.
One could interpret that this is Frost trying to see into the future of his life and discover what is down the road for his life. The second stanza begins with a change of view. Frost looks down the other path surveying his other option. He claims that the other path looks just as fair as the first path does. But in the next line he contradicts himself and says that this path perhaps has a better claim. He states that this one has a better claim because it is grassy and wanted wear. When reading the poem it seems that Frost is being sarcastic when he says that the path “wanted wear”.
This is the first time in the poem that Frost aims that one path is greater than the other then looks back and realizes that they are the same. He reiterates this point in the fourth and fifth line of the stanza when he says “Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the 2. “. Frost is saving that both paths have been walked on the same amount. This stanza is where the poem becomes somewhat confusing. Frost was even quoted saying “You have to be careful of that; it’s a tricky poem, very tricky. “(The Art of Robert Frost Tim Kendall)
The poem continues to be confusing as the third stanza begins. Once again Frost says that both paths are equal. We learn in the first two lines of this stanza that Frost is walking through the woods in the morning and that he may be the first person to walk the trail today. “And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. ” In the next line Frost appears to make a decision on which path he wants to travel down. He says that he is going to save the first path for another day. Why does Frost say that he is going to return when later we learn that he is never planning on returning to this path? Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back”. One can assume that he is only telling himself this so he can fell better about the decision he made. Frost chooses to walk down the second path, the path that he originally claimed was more grassy and wanted wear even though he claimed that both paths were completely equal. In stanza four the poem shifts to somewhere in the future. In the first line of this stanza Frost says he is telling this story with a sigh. We do not know if this sigh is a sigh of relief or a sigh of regret.
Frost could either be sighing because he took the wrong road or sighing because he is relieved by his decision. In the second line of the poem he states that it is now somewhere ages hence. Now he is looking at the story in retrospect. In the next line Frost uses repetition and repeats the first line of the poem “Two roads diverged in a wood, and l-“. The poem appears to start to come to a conclusion with this line. This line sets up what decision Frost is going to make and what path he is going to choose. The next two lines are the two most famous and most misread lines of the entire poem. I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. ” In this line Frost finally makes his decision of what path he is going to take. Many people interpret this line to mean to take the road less traveled, go against the grain or go adventure. This view of the poem has been advertised everywhere. It is featured on many motivational posters and a Ford car commercial has even been based on this misreading of the poem. According to famous author David Orr you must look at the entire poem to realize what Frost is truly trying to convey in his famous final lines.
It’s easy to forget what happens in the middle of the poem. In the middle of the poem, it becomes very clear that the two roads that the speaker is confronting are actually the same, or at least interchangeable. And, in fact, we should probably take a look at those lines, just so people can understand what I’m talking about. In the middle of the poem, Frost writes: “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. ” It doesn’t matter which one you take.
And, in fact, what Frost is suggesting is that when the speaker later claims that the road he took was less traveled and that it made all the difference, the speaker will just be making up a story after the fact to justify a choice that maybe wasn’t even really a choice in the first place. Orr is saying that this poem has nothing to do with choosing a path that is different or less traveled like majority of the poem’s readers assume. He is saying that the path Frost chose wasn’t a choice at all because the paths were the virtually the same.
Later in the article Orr also claims that to fully understand Frost’s poem you need to look into the history of the poem. What many people do not realize about Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” is the history behind Frost’s original intentions. We learn in the book Robert Frost Among his Poems by Jeffrey Cramer that Frost is basing this poem from walks that he and his friend Edward Thomas took. “In 1914, Frost and Thomas often took long walks through the Gloucestershire countryside. Thomas would try to choose a way which might allow him to show botanizing friend a rare plant or a special scene.
Often, before the walk ended, Thomas would regret his choice, sighing over what they could have seen if they had chosen a better route”(P. 45 Cramer). David Orr is quoted in a PBS interview saying “Frost was very amused by this. And so he wrote the poem as a kind of joke at his friend’s expense. “(pbs). According to poets. org Frost sent this poem as a letter to Edward Thomas in the spring of 1915. Thomas responds to Frost’s letter confused by the letter and calling it staggering. Thomas clearly does not understand Frost’s intention of mocking him.
Frost and Thomas send three more letters back and forth before Thomas realizes that the poem is a joke mocking him. “By way of reply, Frost explained that his friend had failed to see that the sigh [in “The Road Not Taken”] was a mocking sigh, hypo-critical for the fun of the thing”(P. 180 Kendall). Frost was simply mocking Thomas for sighing and always wishing they had taken a different direction. Frost was very concerned that even his close friend misinterpreted the ‘sigh’ in his poem.
Thomas originally interpreted the sigh as sincere and positive, just like many readers of the poem assume. After understanding what the poem is about Thomas is not very amused by it “I doubt if you can get anyone to see the fun of the thing without showing them and advising them what kind of laugh they are to turn on”(poets. org). An example of the reason many people misinterpret this poem is shown here when Edward Thomas, who was one of the greatest literary thinkers of his time, does not understand the poem even though it is written about him.