‘The Road Not Taken’ is about choices. Frost tells us of a choice he had to make in life and how he came to his final decision. We are presented with a situation in a wood where the poet must take one of two paths. It does not particularly matter what the decision was, indeed it could be a sequence of choices from entirely life changing ones to minor and relatively ineffectual ones. However, Frost’s ultimate thoughts on these decisions are vital to the poem’s meaning. Frost realises that it does not matter which path he took provided he took the one which he believed to be the best one for him at the time.
Frost chooses an aesthetically pleasing setting: a ‘yellow’ wood. The quiet leafy space, reminiscent of Frost’s native Vermont, is well-chosen. The presence of nature and old trees has implications of wisdom. Also, Frost is alone in the wood and the lack of human interference in his decisions not only simplifies the situation, but suggests that Frost was not influenced by others when making decisions. The natural setting also makes the poem universal.
Frost describes how he perceives one path to be worn less than the other. However, in retrospect, there was little difference between them.
‘Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.’
Here Frost speaks of his leaning to be different whenever possible. However this is only a leaning: Frost never intended to be utterly and radically different, he does not want to go ‘off the beaten track’ altogether.
Even so, he describes the second path as ‘wanting wear’. This phrase carries a depth of meaning. Not only does it bring a pull or tension to the poem, but possibly also reveals something about the time of Robert Frost. The path he took in life may have been into a field where he believed few had gone before. Perhaps he suggests that he confronted subjects that were previously untouched in American poetry.
Frost declares that he was original in his actions.
‘And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.’
This is a perfect image. Frost does not claim that others have never been to these woods before, they have just not come here recently – they may have walked the soil, just not the leaves. The leaves have fallen recently and, as they are untouched, it is clear that nobody has been here since. This allows Frost some self-praise without the intrusion of arrogance. Furthermore, to show more modesty, there is a little self-jest in the words ‘trodden black’. The poet implies that his influence was not necessarily positive. However, I think this is just a playful sense of humour on the poets’ part.
The rhyming scheme is quite regular (abaab cdccd efeef ghggh). Each stanza contains five lines, which are usually of nine syllables each. It is good that the poem is stable rather than erratic in its structure because this adds to the silence of the wood, the sense of a fable being told, a composed mood and overall sense of tranquility.
The tone of the poem is calm, contemplative and satisfied. For most it, Frost muses about the nature of his decision making process. At the time, he was sorry he could not take both paths simultaneously.
‘And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler’
Frost shows us himself in the past, perhaps in his youth. He was unable to accept a basic wisdom of life – that you can’t be in two places at once – and laments this. However, he realises that he must take one path and chooses the second.
‘Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.’
The young Frost also shows some sort of progression in his psyche. The poet shows how, in a small space of time, one can learn a great deal. He changed from bemoaning the obvious to accepting it and realising the manner in which life-paths repeatedly fork and divide – there is no going back.
Frost returns to the present and reflects on his past:
‘I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence’
He is positive. I do not think the sigh is of regret. I think the sigh, however, is many feelings compacted into one word. There is perhaps some wish to return to his youth, like most elderly people. It could be Frost laughing at his youthful naivety. It could be Frost thankful for the years he has had. It could be satisfaction in taking the path he eventually took. It could be the inquisitive Frost, wondering what lay down the first path, past ‘where it bent in the undergrowth.’ All these things may be true. What is certain is that Frost is happy with the decisions he made – whether they were fruitful or not. The final line affirms this.
‘And that has made all the difference.’
To me, this is a positive statement. To ‘make a difference’ usually means to give an input which is of benefit. Though the words themselves do not imply anything, the poet would not confuse his readers by intending a different meaning than that which they will instinctively read.
In ‘The Road Not Taken’ Frost looks back on the choices he has made in his life. He claims that he aimed to take a moderately different path to others, but accepts that much of this may have been an illusion. However, the primary message of this poem is universal. Frost says that by making the choices you believe to best at the time, you will not regret making them and you will be ultimately have satisfaction.
‘The Road Not Taken’ is particularly meaningful and important to me because of its universal nature, its richness in language and clever undertones contained in every word and finally because of the simple but essential wisdom it relates.