Poetry Explication: "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost


(From Literature Resource Center 3.1
Author Resource Pages, CCCCD Lib. database)



Author: Robert (Lee) Frost
Genre: poetry
Date: 1916


"The Road Not Taken," first published in Mountain Interval in 1916, is one of Frost's most well-known poems, and its concluding three lines may be his most famous. Like many of Frost's poems, "The Road Not Taken " is set in a rural natural environment which encourages the speaker toward introspection. The poem relies on a metaphor in which the journey through life is compared to a journey on a road. The speaker of the poem must choose one path instead of another. Although the paths look equally attractive, the speaker knows that his choice at this moment may have a significant influence on his future. He does make a decision, hoping that he may be able to visit this place again, yet realizing that such an opportunity is unlikely. He imagines himself in the future telling the story of his life and claiming that his decision to take the road "less traveled by," the road few other people have taken, "has made all the difference."


Line 1: In this line Frost introduces the elements of his primary metaphor, the diverging roads.

Lines 2-3: Here the speaker expresses his regret at his human limitations, that he must make a choice. Yet, the choice is not easy, since "long I stood" before coming to a decision.

Lines 4-5: He examines the path as best he can, but his vision is limited because the path bends and is covered over. These lines indicate that although the speaker would like to acquire more information, he is prevented from doing so because of the nature of his environment.

Lines 6-8: In these lines, the speaker seems to indicate that the second path is a more attractive choice because no one has taken it lately. However, he seems to feel ambivalent, since he also describes the path as "just as fair" as the first rather than more fair.

Lines 9-12: Although the poet breaks the stanza after line 10, the central idea continues into the third stanza, creating a structural link between these parts of the poem. Here, the speaker states that the paths are "really about the same." Neither path has been traveled lately. Although he's searching for a clear logical reason to decide on one path over another, that reason is unavailable.

Lines 13-15: The speaker makes his decision, trying to persuade himself that he will eventually satisfy his desire to travel both paths, but simultaneously admitting that such a hope is unrealistic. Notice the exclamation mark after line 13; such a punctuation mark conveys excitement, but that excitement is quickly undercut by his admission in the following lines.

Lines 16-20: In this stanza, the tone clearly shifts. This is the only stanza which also begins with a new sentence, indicating a stronger break from the previous ideas. The speaker imagines himself in the future, discussing his life. What he suggests, here, though, appears to contradict what he has said earlier. At the end of the poem, in the future, he will claim that the paths were different from each other and that he courageously did not choose the conventional route. Perhaps he will actually believe this in the future; perhaps he only wishes that he could choose "the one less traveled by."

Source: "`The Road Not Taken'," in Poetry for Students, Vol. 2, Gale Research, 1997.
Source Database: Literature Resource Center