Directions: After reading both poems by Robert Frost ("The Road Not Taken" and "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"), use the Ten Steps of...


  1. After reading both poems by Robert Frost ("The Road Not Taken" and "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"), use the Ten Steps of Poetry Analysis to interpret both poems.

  2. In a 250 word essay, compare and contrast the speakers in both poems, using the questions below as guidelines.                                                  
  • What is happening in each poem?
  • What is the conflict for each speaker?
  • How does each speaker resolve his conflict? Do not use outside sources (other than the poems) for this assignment.

Important:  Your paper must have a well developed introduction, body, and conclusion.


Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

[There has been so much written about these poems of Robert Frost that you will need to be very careful to "express in your own words" as per your teacher's instructions. Also, I was unable to access the ten steps to which you meant to provide the link, so I will use a compilation of 3 other sources.]

"The Road Not Taken"

There has been much debate on this poem because Frost himself stated that he wrote this poem about a friend of his, Edward Thomas, with whom Frost would take long walks. Thomas was so indecisive whenever they came to a fork in the path, worried that perhaps they should veer off onto the other path; then, if they did, Thomas would be concerned that perhaps the first had more wildflowers, etc. On the other hand, the poem is often interpreted as a metaphor for life, and, of course, this interpretation can be well substantiated.

1. Title - Certainly, the reader can make some predictions about this poem as the words "not taken" significantly point to the reflective quality of the verses and also suggest some rue on the part of the speaker.

2. Paraphrase the poem - It is helpful to put the literal meaning of the poem into one's own words in order to understand how the poem differs from beginning to end. In Frost's opening stanzas, for instance, indicate the indecisiveness of the speaker. Then, rather than expressing how enjoyable his treks were, the speaker bemoans that he did not choose another path, a mistake for which he deeply regrets.

3. Connotations and Denotations - In the discovery of meaning and tone of a poem, the word choices, the manipulation of words, and the meanings and suggested meanings of words are the keys that unlock the controlling metaphor of the poem, which will lead the way to the understanding of the theme of the poem. For instance, in the first stanza, the speaker considers "...sorry I could not travel both" suggesting his regret; further, the indecisiveness of the speaker is again indicated by his use of "And" in three sequential lines. Then, in the second stanza, the speaker uses doubting words such as "perhaps," and "Though." His regret is noted with the words, "Oh," "doubted" "ever," "sigh." All of these words fall under the denotation of the poem. Words that have significant connotations, or suggested meanings, are "long I stood/And looked down..." presenting the picture of indecision. The speaker's regret is suggested with such words as "I doubted," "with this a sigh," "the one less traveled by," suggesting that the speaker may have conformed and followed the path worn by many others.

4. Patterns and Structure - Attention should be paid to the structure of the poem and any patterns in phrasing, sentence, rhyme, etc.  Frost's "The Road Not Taken" is very balanced with its alternating lines that rhyme. Each stanza builds upon the next in the development of the theme until the concluding line. Many of the lines suggest the indecision of the speaker as they begin with such words as "And," "Though," "Oh," "Yet." 

5. Tone -"The Road Not Taken" with its negative word in the title and its uncertainty indicated in both connotations and denotations of words has a rueful tone. 

6. Diction - The level of language often affects the tone of a poem. Some words are "loaded" such as "fair" and "wanted wear" since the path the speaker has chosen was worn. Also, the speaker's use of the word "claim" in the second line of the second stanza is intriguing as it indicates that the speaker was lured to choose that path, but he shied from it for some lack of courage, sense of adventure, perhaps. 

7. Shifts - In order to discover a poet's interpretation of an experience, the student should trace the feelings of the speaker from beginning to end, watching for a shift in mood or expression. In this poem, the shift occurs with the last stanza. For, whereas the speaker rather languidly reminisces about the wooded passage, it is almost as though he sits up, shakes his head, and arrives at the realization that he will never "ever come back" to take the other path: "I shall be telling this with a sigh/Somewhere ages and ages hence" because he has missed an opportunity, one that could have made a great difference in his life, either aesthetically or otherwise.

8. Literary Devices - It is important to formulate the function of such things as similes, symbols, allusions, assonance, repetition, imagery, figures of speech, or even irony, which often indicates a change in direction. For, it is ironic that the speaker describes the second path as more alluring, yet he has chosen the other--out of conformity? fear? of what?

9. Closing lines - Clearly, the last line is a statement upon the poem as a whole.

10. Theme - This is the human motivation, experience, or condition that is implied in the poem and can be determined by summarizing the plot and listing the subjects of the poem, and then moving to the figurative, or abstract concepts presented such as love, life, death, discovery. This is the act of finding the controlling metaphor of a poem. e.g. The wooded paths represent the variables in one's life, the choices, the opportunities, etc.

"Stopping By a Woods on a Snowy Evening"

(The student can follow the examples given above for this poem as space does not permit such a lengthy itemized explanation)

In making a comparison/contrast with the previous poem, the student will notice that the pace of this poem is faster than the desultory pace of the indecisive speaker in the previous one because three of the four lines in each stanza rhyme. Interesting, too, are the inverted sentences that connote the hesitation of the speaker as he wishes to turn and stop and delight in the beauty of nature and its comforting quiet.

The shift in this poem comes with the line "He gives his harness bells a shake." Here the man-made bells act as a reminder to the speaker that he must return to the duties of his life where he has "promises to keep," a metaphor for his obligations. The refrain of "And miles to go before I sleep" is very important as it establishes the conflict in the poem since the speaker reminds himself with some melancholy that the quotidian duties of life impose upon the transcendental.

Thus, both poems arrive at conclusions that have sharp turns to them. For, there is a reverie in the beginning that is disturbed by a recognition of the reality of the human condition. The idle contemplation of the paths that perhaps offered interesting and rewarding experiences will come along no more for the first speaker; the beauty of the winter evening in a snowy woods and the communion of spirit with nature have been disturbed by human obligation and are also lost. 

Read the study guide:
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

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