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‘The Road Not Taken’ and ‘Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening’ – Analysis and Appreciation


Robert Frost was born in San Francisco on the 26th March 1874 and died on the 29th January 1963 in Boston. He was one of America’s leading twentieth century poets and won many awards and honours, including four Pulitzer Prizes.

When Frost was eleven, he moved to New England, where his interest in poetry came during his high school years at Lawrence, Massachusetts. He studied at Harvard from 1897 to 1899, although he did not get a formal degree. During his life, he went through many occupations such as working as a teacher and cobbler. He also managed a farm that his grandfather had bought him, but when this failed he decided to sell it and used the money to take his family to England, where he could devote his time to writing poetry. By the time he returned to the United States in 1915, he had written and published a number of collections and became one of America’s most celebrated poets. With each new book – including ‘Mountain Interval’ (1916), ‘New Hampshire’ (1923) and ‘Steeple Bush’ (1947) – fame and publicity amplified.

I do not read much poetry, although I particularly favour the writings of Robert Frost. Many of his poems including ‘The Road Not Taken’ and ‘Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening’ focus on images and descriptions of the natural world. However, they mainly concentrate on conveying a much deeper, more intense message. The teachings of Robert Frost are often very emotional. I very much enjoy reading his poems and trying to interpret their true meanings. I found that writing this essay made me understand the poems that I had already read many times even more clearly.

‘The Road Not Taken’ is a very thoughtful and meaningful poem. The traditional but experimental and unique verses attract readers to the poem, as they are different from other poems. When first read, ‘The Road Not Taken’ comes across as a simple poem based on intricacies of nature. It is clear from the first stanza that it is a poem that aims to paint a detailed picture of a peaceful road that leads into a yellow wood. However, with further readings and analysis, one can easily see that there is a much stronger, deeper meaning behind the smoothly woven words, common in many of Frost’s poems. The poem’s appeal lies in the extended metaphor and extended imagery, devices used very strongly to convey an important message about the twists and turns of life. ‘The Road Not Taken’ is Frost’s portrayal of the challenging choices that one is forced to make in life. I believe that every reader can relate to the poem and although the message is very strong, it is quite easy to interpret as it’s readers can compare the poem to their own experiences.

As the narrator is walking, he encounters a fork in the road. Both the roads ahead diverge “in a yellow wood”. The uninvited predicament causes him to pause and carefully ponder over his choices – “long I stood”. He has no desire to quickly rush into a decision and wants to be sure as to which road he takes. He “looked down one as far as” he could, to help him make his decision as to which road he will take, but both bend away into the undergrowth. If the reader compares this stanza to real life, they can see that the narrator has come to a point in his life when he has to make a very important decision. He has two choices in front of him that, at a glance seem very much alike (both diverge in a yellow wood). He calmly gathers his previous experiences and resources, showing that he is very much a perfectionist. However, he is unable to find any help that will give him an insight into the future. In life, we try to determine the outcome of our choices but it is very unlikely that we will be able to say exactly what will happen to us – we can only depend on assumptions based on our previous experiences and any insight we may have on other people’s experiences.

After looking down the second road and finding that it was “just as fair”, the narrator decides to travel through it because it was “grassy and wanted wear”. Once he had taken the road and begun travelling, he realised that the “passing there had worn them really about the same.” Taking the road less travelled by describes his personality. He seems to be an individualist and does not wish to take the more commonly used path and be influenced by other travellers’ experiences. By taking the less commonly used road, the traveller sums himself up as being adventurous and daring, he is not afraid to try new things and likes to take risks and gambles. However, when he realised that other people had also been bold enough to take the less-travelled road, he may have felt a bit let down. Every reader can relate to this sort of situation. We all want to be unique, and want to boast about being brave enough to try something new. However, most probably there will be someone who has tried it before us.

In stanza 3, it is clear that both roads “equally lay” and that there was not a less-trodden road. However, the man tries to convince himself that there is a difference in the two roads. He wavers slightly as he realises that his initial interpretation of the two roads was somewhat inaccurate, but retrieves his confidence by saying that he will return to the fork sometime in the future – “Oh, I kept the first for another day” – to see where the first road will lead him. At this point, the reader is introduced to the traveller’s ego as he shoos away the truth that he could be wrong, by saying that it doesn’t matter…he can always come back if things do not go to plan. “Yet knowing how way leads on to way/I doubted if I should ever come back”. Here, he acknowledges the harsh realities of life, which do not allow one to trace their footsteps back to the origin. All people when making a choice, say that they can always try the other option later on if need be. Frost teaches in lines 14 and 15 that, in life and the journey through the woods, there will be many other forks where new choices will have to be made. There will almost certainly never be time to return to the same spot again.

The narrator is walking through ‘the road not taken’ and looks into the future “with a sigh”. He wonders what it will bring – will he be successful and reach his destination or not? There is an element of doubt in his mind – what if? What if he had taken the more common road, what would have happened? When people make choices in life, they always question the future. They hope that what they are doing will result in victory. If one succeeds in their goals, the chances are that they will never look back. On the other hand, if one does not attain their goal, they remember the other options they had and wish that they had chosen one of those, even though that may have also not worked.

The traveller continues to think about the future as he walks and meets other forks (challenges), and considers what he will tell people about his choice…

“Two roads diverged in to a yellow wood, and I –

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference”

‘Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening’ comes across as very pensive and serene, describing, as many of Frost’s poems do, tranquil images of nature. Although the poem does not have any direct metaphors and similes, there is a clear use of extended imagery which is the main poetic device in the poem although it takes a couple of reads before one can see it, unlike the subject of nature which can be seen in the first few lines. It is a beautiful poem with a very strong message about life and how it forces people to work and strive away until there is nothing left to fight for.

The first stanza enlightens the reader of the setting and mood of the poem. A man is travelling through woods when he stops to observe the natural world around him. He knows the person “whose woods these are” and knows that “his house is in the village”. The poet’s tone and mood appears dismal as he states that the person in the village “will not see me stopping here/To watch his woods fill up with snow”, although he does not hint why this could be. From this verse, the reader can gather that the narrator is trying to reach a destination, his tone and mood suggesting that maybe he does not wish to go there. The woods are obviously special to him as it causes him to pause at such a desolate place on a snowy evening. The line, “His house is in the village, though”, indicates that the woods are away from the village and any civilisation. The woods are lovely and peaceful, but they are isolated too.

In stanza 2, the reader can identify some examples of extended imagery. The coldness of the night (“frozen lake”) and description of it being “the darkest evening of the year” may describe the way he feels as well as his surroundings. “My little horse may think it queer/To stop without a farmhouse near” indicates that the poet is aware that he does not have time to stop and stare at the woods filled with snow, even though he does not want to leave. In life, people are always busy doing things. They often wish to stop and reflect, yet the demanding circumstances around them forbid them to do this, and they are forced to battle away with the day-to-day chores. ‘Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening’ seems to give this sort of message.

In stanza 3, the man has still not moved on and his horse is becoming more and more confused as to where they are. He “gives his harness bells a shake/To ask if there is some mistake”. The horse keeps hurrying Frost by shaking his bells, upsetting the narrator’s thoughts and short break. Even in such a beautiful, soothing place, where the “only other sound’s the sweep/Of easy wind and downy flake”, the traveller is not free from interruption and disturbance. One can easily relate to this – when people try to relax for a little while, away from all the work, others around them seem to think that he or she is being lazy and hurry them along. In the same way, the horse cannot understand as to why Frost is not doing anything, even though it is so cold and dark.

The traveller conveys his feelings towards the woods, saying that they are “lovely, dark and deep”. However, he sadly sighs, admitting that he cannot stay as he has “promises to keep/And miles to go before I sleep”. Maybe the journey that the traveller is travelling through is the journey of life, the one common journey that all human beings have to travel. He has made many promises and has many goals that he wants to achieve in life. Frost implies that it will be a long time before he sleeps, sleep maybe being a metaphor for death as this is really the only time when one is free from the daily circle of work and unrest.

In ‘Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening’ the description of the night being cold and dark emphasises the fact that even in the most impossible situation, one has to struggle on and on until the end. The poem shows that even an animal like the traveller’s horse will hurry you if the work is not done. Also, the choices that one makes in life have to be achieved if success is to be met. No matter what happens, humans have to keep on fighting all the problems and distractions until everything is done. In life, people find rest and freedom very late in life. By the time they have finished all the work and attained all their goals, they are very old and probably cannot enjoy the good things life has to offer. True happiness and rest comes only with death. I think that Frost tries to convey all these messages through the profound images in the poem. I like ‘Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening’ very much, as the multi-layered and poignant messages, in my mind, hold a lot of truth. The emotional and passion-arousing teachings give the poem a very strong identity and cause me to stop and reflect, while comparing them to my own experiences.

When comparing ‘The Road Not Taken’ and ‘Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening’, I find that they are very similar in a number of ways. In both the poems, the woods encountered are travelled into unintentionally. For example, in ‘The Road Not Taken’ the man is walking when he suddenly faces a fork in the road that leads into yellow woods. In ‘Stopping By Woods…’ the traveller is travelling on horseback on a snowy, dark evening as he passes peaceful, wild woods that belong to someone in the village. This could be a metaphor for unknown, unfamiliar circumstances.

Even though one would think that the narrator is a different person each time, both travellers seem very similar. The traveller that takes ‘the road not taken’ is different from others. He seems to be a cool, level-headed, unbiased man who likes to take risks and try new challenges. The man who encounters the woods on a snowy evening is also different from others. Despite the cold and darkness, he insists on staying in the woods for some time. He loves the sense of desertion and loneliness and wants a break from the hustle and bustle of work. The dark and deep woods seem to reflect on him, revealing his dark emotion and depth of character. Both men are peculiar in their actions and views when compared with the majority of people, their deep thinking much the opposite to most of the impulsive minds of today.

Both of the poems written by Frost have the use of extended imagery, giving them the ‘Robert Frost’s poetry’ stamp straight away. Although the poems themselves are simplistic, plain and candid, they have very deep, significant and emotional messages, which teach readers the harsh realities of life. The poems provoke and challenge one’s existence, bringing the true meaning of his words home to the reader, making them so beautiful and unique in their way.