Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The first poem in Frost’s book Mountain Interval, “The Road Not Taken,” has long been a popular favorite. Like many of his poems, it seems simple, but it is not exactly straightforward, and even perceptive readers have disagreed considerably over its best interpretation. It looks like a personal poem about a decision of vast importance, but there is evidence to the contrary both inside and outside the poem. Frost has created a richly mysterious reading experience out of a marvelous economy of means.
The first significant thing about “The Road Not Taken” is its title, which presumably refers to an unexercised option, something about which the speaker can only speculate. The traveler comes to a fork in a road through a “yellow wood” and wishes he could somehow manage to “travel both” routes; he rejects that aspiration as impractical, however, at least for the day at hand. The road he selects is “the one less traveled by,” suggesting the decision of an individualist, someone little inclined to follow the crowd. Almost immediately, however, he seems to contradict his own judgment: “Though as for that the passing there/ Had worn them really about the same.” The poet appears to imply that the decision is based on evidence that is, or comes close to being, an illusion.
The contradictions continue. He decides to save the first, (perhaps) more traveled route for another day but then confesses that he does not think it probable that he will return, implying that this seemingly casual and inconsequential choice is really likely to be crucial—one of the choices of life that involve commitment or lead to the necessity of other choices that will divert the traveler forever from the original stopping place. In the final stanza, the traveler says that he will be...
(The entire section is 739 words.)
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