Why is it inappropriate to call Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken," "The Road Taken," and how does the poem express the concept of a journey?

Expert Answers
Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" uses the choice one makes when facing a fork in the road as a metaphor for choices one makes in life.  The concept of a walk, or journey, is compared to the "journey" of life.  The poem concludes:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

I suppose one could say it is inappropriate to call the poem "The Road Taken,"  because Frost emphasizes in his final lines that he didn't take the road the majority of people take.  The emphasis is placed on not doing what everyone else does.  Following the majority is the natural route for most people, and going a different route may take more of a conscious decision.  Yet, this is not really what the poem is about.  Frost's conclusion is his version of the road he chose when he will retell the story later.  Earlier in the poem Frost demonstrates that both paths were equally well-traveled.  The poem's speaker says he will edit/revise/elaborate, whatever, when he retells the story.

Of course, on a simpler level, it would be inappropriate to call the poem anything other than what Frost titled it.  The title demonstrates what Frost intended to emphasize.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator
  • With respect to the inquiry about "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost, it is inappropriate to call the poem "The Road Taken" since the content of Frost's poem concerns the regret that the speaker has for not having taking a path in his life.  As a result of not having taken this path, he "left it for another day," which the speaker declares "has made all the difference."
  •  Regarding the "concept of the journey" in the poem is the speaker's reflection upon his life.  As a young man in first stanza he gazes ahead at both grassy roads with indecision, "then took the other/Because it...wanted wear" although he adds they were "both the same."  In the third stanza, the speaker remarks that he "marked the first for another day!" although he "doubted if I should ever come back."  Here he is older and notes that he will probably not be able to return to his youth and choose a path again.  Finally, the speaker redirects his thoughts from the past to the present, as he ponders his future when he "shall be telling this "with a sigh"

 Somewhere ages and ages hence

I took the one less traveled by

And that has made all the difference.



Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Part of the reason why Frost's poem centers on which exact path was taken was to express the journey that exists within choice.  The path, in my mind, is not as important as why individuals make the selection that they do and how they make peace with their choices.  The speaker in the poem examined the divergent paths in front of him and developed criteria needed to make the choice or selection. It is within this process that one's utilization of freedom is similar to a journey in that one must examine multiple sets of criteria to help substantiate choices made and decisions undertaken.  In the end, I don't see the selection of the road taken as one of regret, as it implies that the speaker must choose between both paths.  Regret is inevitable no matter which path is taken, as the speaker is poised between equally desirable, yet ultimately incompatible courses of action.

epollock | Student

The diverging roads are pretty similar; the speaker chose the one less worn, as “having perhaps the better claim,” but three times we are told that the difference was negligible: “just as fair”; “Though as for that, the passing there / Had worn them really about the same”; “equally.” It is important to notice that although a reason is given for the choice (“it was grassy and wanted wear”), we are led to doubt that there really was a clear basis for choosing. Certainly there is no moral basis.

Moreover, we may feel that had the speaker chosen the other path, the ending of the poem would have been the same; that is, he would remember the alternative path and would fantasize that he might someday return to take it, and would at the same time know that he would not return.

And so he would find that it too “has made all the difference.” The sigh imagined in the last stanza is not to be taken as an expression of regret for a life wasted, but as a semicomic picture of the speaker envisioning himself as an old man, wondering how things would have turned out if he had made a different choice—which is not at all to imply a rejection of the choice he did make.

A student can easily take the poem too seriously and to press it too hard for a moral, for example, that Frost says we should choose the “less traveled,” the unconventional, path. I have tried to suggest that the first two lines of the last stanza are playful, a reading that is supported by a letter in which Frost spoke of the poem as

“my rather private jest.” ( American Literature 50 [November 1978]: 478–79