Introduction to PoetrySection 01
Ambiguity and Dark Undertones in Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”
Robert Frost and his poetry were adored by the American public, as both were often thought to embody deeply cherished American values such as freedom, independence, nobility and rising to the occasion. The narrator of Frost’s works are often presumed to be Frost himself, as his public audience idolized him for standing for these American values – values which seemed to be the main meaning of his poems. A predisposition such as this one leads to assumptions about the poem’s meaning which are based off of preexisting positive notions society held for him. In other words, many people interpreted Frost’s poems to be just as sincere as Frost seemed as a person. However, Frost creates a character as the speaker, thus unbinding himself from whatever message the speaker conveys. He uses his characters or speakers as tools to demonstrate and explore the ways in which people delude themselves. In “The Road Not Taken”, the speaker is forced into deciding between two metaphorical “roads” to travel down, and wanting only to take both, he inevitably feels doubtful whether or not he chose the best one. Frost travels into the human mind in this poem, portraying how his speaker is an unreliable narrator to compensate for his anxiety. For means of comparison, the speaker in William Wordsworth’s poem, “Surprised by Joy”, can safely be assumed to be Wordsworth himself because the loss of his daughter, seen in the poem, was an unfortunate reality for the poet. Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”, in addition to many of his other works, provides no such indication of a link between the speaker and himself. Therefore, attaching Frost and his “American values” to his poems inevitably misleads the reader from seeing past the surface level of the text. “The Road Not Taken” is one of Frost’s most commonly misconceived poems, often thought to envelope following one’s dreams, especially if it is against what the majority rejects. Because of this, “The Road Not Taken” is wonted read at graduation ceremonies, to fit the theme of inspiration and independence. However, the poem contains darker elements of deceit and regret. On this topic, William Pritchard claimed that, “It was taken to be an inspiring poem rather… In fact, it is an especially notable instance in Frost’s work of a poem which sounds noble and is really mischievous”. Pritchard notes how a quick surface-level reading in addition to Frost’s beloved image as a “farmer-poet of New Hampshire” has led most of Frost’s audience to mistake the poem for sincere and triumphant. But because the meaning of the poem can so easily be evaluated in a negative light, the romanticized perspective becomes naïve and much less convincing.
Starting with the title, “The Road Not Taken” focuses on the choice which the speaker did not take instead of that which he did. This leads to the question: If the speaker “followed his dreams”, like many would like to believe, then why does he take the time to address his anxiety over the road not taken?
In the beginning of the poem, the two roads are introduced, “diverg[ing]” in a “yellow wood”, indicating that the season is autumn. The two roads can also symbolize the confrontation of a major decision while the speaker’s journey can be a metaphor for life. The next two lines present the speaker’s main dilemma, “And sorry I could not travel both/ And be one traveler” (2-3). This counters the common misconception that the speaker wants to take the road less traveled by, when in fact, what he wants is to be able to take both. If he were able to take both, the speaker would face no risk of choosing the wrong one. He examines one road closely for a long period of time, and “looked down…as far as [he] could/ To where it bent in the undergrowth” (4-5). The speaker attempts to foresee...