There are many different readings of poetic texts, because poetry is a form which is malleable to many different conclusions brought by myriad readers. When reading a poem, there are a number of meanings which can occur, often simultaneously. Robert Frost is a famous American poet whose poetry often reflects what can be attributed as a central theme or concern of the poem, often involving the pedestrian narrator making some kind of insightful reaction to human nature, or a combination of the compound. In the poem, “The Road Not Taken,” Frost’s poetic narrator confronts a choice when walking in the natural setting of what appears to be a fall forest in New England: they can go down one or another paths, one of which looks well traveled and the other of which does not, but they are essentially both going to the same place, and do not seem like such an integral decision basis for the narrator, while they are experiencing the events of the poem.The traveler reflects on this in the poem, and then in the final stanza switches to a future perspective.
The speaker of the poem imagines their own old age, when they are looking back on choosing the path, and the speaker remarks how at this point, the decision will seem to be very important. This is a poem of subtle depth and humor. The basic thesis or argument of this report is that Frost’s “The Road not Taken” represents a main theme of the poet-narrator making a statement about the relativity of time and human decisions made in the span of time, where the person looks back and attributes more meaning to a decision than was actually involved in it. This is a sad but funny scene in which the poet-narrator changes in their realizations, and this creates an emotional response in the reader that empathizes with the poet narrator and their own situation. This is an effect that is common in much of Frost’s poetry: one gets the sense that the reader is on Frost’s side in some sort of metaphysical argument involving metaphors for life, whether the subject matter is a winter road, a fence and a neighbor, or a road in the autumn woods.In this, one of Frost’s most representative poems, “The Road Not Taken,” the main thematic concern does not employ a narrative strategy in which others are involved in the poem; instead, Frost’s narrator is communicating with himself in a spirit of indecisiveness. There is no one else in the woods who is with the poet, and there is no traveling companion to the speaker in the poem who can give him advice about which road to take in the forest. This poem is also very well-mannered in its sequential metrical base and simple alternating end-rhymes, and it is the opinion of many critics that the poem is, because of its pleasant façade, largely misunderstood.
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This is perhaps the case because on personal reading the poem seems to have very deep and subtle meaning. It does take two or three readings to realize that the two paths proposed by the narrator, who reaches a point in the woods where two roads diverge and must make a choice between one path and another, are essentially the same. In other words, there are no big differences between the decisions that the poet makes and the time frame in which they are inspired.
When looking at the paths, the poet narrator knows that one of the paths looks less traveled than the other, but really there is not much of a difference between them. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both and be one lone traveler, long I stood and looked down one as far as I could To where it bent the undergrowth” (Frost). Later in the poem, the narrator posits a future time when, recalling their hesitation between taking paths that are superficially similar, they will manufacture a sort of drama to surround the choice, with which the poem is complicit in revealing as initially equal. And even though the two paths appear the same, the narrator is still thrown into a conflict of indecision regarding the path to which the most worth should be attributed.
This makes the poem both sad and funny, because of the indecision and inflated importance of the narrator when they are thinking of their own lifespan and decisions. The poet is thinking about their own mortality, which is an important consideration. They see the autumn leaves and perhaps are thinking of the autumn of their own life, and what their life has measured up to in terms of the decisions they have made, or will make. It is interesting how the narrator switches time around in the poem in an imaginative manner, when the narrator suddenly sees themselves looking back on the past.In another reading of the poem, the choice faced by the poet narrator at the junction reflects the idea of the poet refusing to indulge in the petty notions of the world, instead going from the “countless trivial and vulgar amusements” (Frost) to a more refined state where people are not as concerned with, and controlled by commerce.From another reading, Frost seems to have mainly meant the poem to be a sort of combination of a mocking tribute to hindsight bias and the realization that the weight placed on choices is fairly subjective. There are many different possible readings of the poem.
What seems certain about the poem itself is that, the literal scene and situation that the poet-narrator faces in the poem is one in which they are walking in the woods, with a sense of urgency. Added to this sense, the poet-narrator must make a choice between two paths in the forest. By the end of the poem, the speaker’s mood is changed, from one of hopefulness to one of a sort of sad wisdom about the choices which face him in life, and how he tends to look back on these choices as being more momentous than they really are. The poet-speaker has changed his tone and mood by the end of the poem in order to give the poem a sense of meaning and interest, in terms of character-driven change. The more symbolic implications of the poem involve themes such as the values of decisions that a person makes in life, and the ways in which individuals tend to reflect and look back on their actions as being more important than they seemed at the time. The implications of straying from the path in the metaphorical forest is also a strong point in the poem, which takes cues from earlier writers’ estimations of New England wilderness.
The title of Frost’s poem emphasizes the road not taken because this is the road which sows its seed of doubt in the future mind of the speaker’s imagination. The “yellow wood” (Frost) also implies that it is fall, the season of metaphorical change and renewal. The change and renewal can also be applied to the decision of the speaker. It is like the voice of possible old age, seen from a sarcastic perspective: “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” (Frost).
End rhymes are very important in this section, as well as assonance and consonance. These are the elements of language used by the poet.REFERENCEFrost, R. “The Road Not Taken.
” Arp, T. R. Perrine’s Literature: Structure, Sound, andSense. 9th ed. Boston, MA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2006.