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The Interpretation of Frost's Poem
Topics: Poetry, Robert Frost, The Road / Pages: 6 (1444 words) / Published: Nov 23rd, 2010

"The Road Not Taken" is a poem by Robert Frost, published in 1916 in the collection Mountain Interval. It is the first poem in the volume and is printed in italics. The title is often mistakenly given as "The Road Less Traveled", from the penultimate line: "I took the one less traveled by".
"The Road Not Taken" is a narrative poem consisting of four stanzas of iambic tetrameter and is perhaps one of Frost's most popular works.


The poem has at least two interpretations: a popular interpretation that reads the last lines of the poem literally, as an expression of individualism, and an ironic interpretation, offered by many critics, that reads those lines as ironic in the context of the poem as a whole.[2]

[edit] Popular interpretation

According to the popular interpretation, the poem is inspirational, a paean to individualism and non-conformism. Popular interpretations take the last two lines literally, as meaning that the speaker was a courageous nonconformist in taking a road few other people had taken.

[edit] Ironic interpretation

The ironic interpretation, widely held by critics,[2][3] is that the poem is instead about making personal choices and rationalizing our decisions, whether with pride or with regret. In this view, "The Road Not Taken" "is perhaps the most famous example of Frost's own claims to conscious irony and 'the best example in all of American poetry of a wolf in sheep's clothing.'"[4] Frost himself warned "You have to be careful of that one; it's a tricky poem – very tricky."[5] According to Frost the poem is intended as a gentle jab at his great friend and fellow poet Edward Thomas, with whom he used to take walks through the forest (Thomas always complained at the end that they should have taken a different path) and seemed amused at the interpretation of the poem as inspirational.[6]
In the ironic interpretation, the final two lines: I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. cannot be taken literally : whatever difference the choice might have made, it could not have been made on the non-conformist or individualist basis of one road's being less traveled, the speaker's protestations to the contrary. The speaker admits in the second and third stanzas that both paths may be equally worn and equally leaf-covered, and it is only in his future recollection that he will call one road "less traveled by."
The sigh can be interpreted as a sigh of regret or as a sigh of self-satisfaction; in either case, the irony lies in the distance between what the speaker has just told us about the roads' similarity and what his or her later claims will be. Frost might also have intended a personal irony: in a 1925 letter to Cristine Yates of Dickson, Tennessee, asking about the sigh, Frost replied: "It was my rather private jest at the expense of those who might think I would yet live to be sorry for the way I had taken in life."[7]
The Road Not Taken”, by “Robert Frost” was first published in 1916, and was included in a collection titled “Mountain Interval” (Wikipedia). Some critics would say that its meaning is pretty straight forward. It describes the process of an individual having to make a decision in life, not knowing at that moment if the decision will be the right one, and surely to second guess the decision sometime later. However, regardless of the decision, it is a decision made, that has played a part in what that individual is today. Is this what Frost intended? I feel that by doing a biographical analysis on “Frost”, we can find his true meaning in this poem. To make this analysis we must look at Frost’s life prior to 1916 for any relativity and validity. Toward the end of 1894, living in Lawrence, Massachusetts, Frost had sold his very first poem. Excited, he proposed to a woman named Elinor Miriam White, although they were not married until she finished college. After getting married, Frost’s grandfather had bought them a farm where Frost had continued writing in the early mornings. His farming had proved to be unfulfilling and not very successful. After nine years he decided to go back to teaching English, which he had done briefly before getting married. In 1912 the couple moved to Great Britain, then eventually settling in Beaconsfield, just outside London, England (Wikipedia). “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both”, (Frost). If the roads indeed represent choice, then the yellow wood represents life. Could Frost be writing about his decision to move to Great Britain leaving America behind? Frost then writes of sorrow and not being able to travel both roads, could this be fear of future regret? What he will miss by leaving America? “And be one traveler, long I stood” (Frost). This represents his uncertainty of what the future might bring them in Great Britain. Possibly Second Guessing? While living in England Frost befriended another poet (Edward Thomas). Together, Frost and Thomas would take long walks in the forest, where Thomas would often complain that they should have taken another path (Wikipedia). Frost and his wife only stayed in England a short time, moving back to America as World War I began in 1915. Upon their arrival, Frost purchased another farm in Franconia, New Hampshire. This is where Frost started his career of writing, teaching and lecturing (Wikipedia). When we look further at the poem, “And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear (Frost);” This can be represented by the fact, he had moved to Great Britain. “Though as for that, the passing there, Had worn them really about the same, And both that morning equally lay” (Frost). After returning home to America Frost might feel like he is right back where he started, and that possibly he should not have left to begin with. Frost writes further, “Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way” (Frost). I feel this represents that before moving to Great Britain and then to England, Frost thought he could always return home, but knowing after some choices are made it is not always easy undoing them, thus “I doubted if I should ever come back” (Frost). This does not mean he thought he would never return to America, it was only a belief when making the initial decision to move away. “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). Frost expresses here that he will one day look back on the decision he has made, and then sigh, knowing it has made him the individual he is. I feel that analysis of Frosts life, from the time he left high school until the time this poem was published in 1916, shows just how his biographical background influenced this poem. However, “biographical accounts make it clear that Frost did not intend the message of this poem to be taken at face value. His biographer, Laurence Thompson, explained in Robert Frost: The Years of Triumph 1915-1938, that the poet wrote “The Road Not Taken” as a satire of his friend Edward Thomas. Frost was amused by Thomas’ indecisiveness; by the way he would dither over decisions, unable to make up his mind” (Kelly). Robert Frost on his own poetry: "One stanza of 'The Road Not Taken' was written while I was sitting on a sofa in the middle of England: Was found three or four years later, and I couldn't bear not to finish it. I wasn't thinking about myself there, but about a friend who had gone off to war, a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn't go the other. He was hard on himself that way."
Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, 23 Aug. 1953 (Frost, Road Not Taken)


The speaker stands in the woods, considering a fork in the road. Both ways are equally worn and equally overlaid with un-trodden leaves. The speaker chooses one, telling himself that he will take the other another day. Yet he knows it is unlikely that he will have the opportunity to do so. And he admits that someday in the future he will recreate the scene with a slight twist: He will claim that he took the less-traveled road.

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