person walking through a forest

The Road Not Taken

by Robert Frost
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Interpret and analyze "The Road Not Taken."

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Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” can be interpreted on both the literal and metaphorical levels. Analysts have long debated which of those aspects should predominate. In addition, Frost’s writing merits close attention.

The poem begins in a straightforward way, simply stating that there were two roads going in two different directions. In the second line, we are introduced to the first-person speaker, who mentions that they were “sorry” they could not take both of them. We gain a clear impression of the speaker’s indecision, as they describe how they stood at a point in the wood and examine the condition of both roads. The indecisiveness is emphasized by the number of ways that they present it, and the way they waffle in their opinion. They say that one is “just as fair” as the other, and after deciding on the one that showed less “wear,” reverses themselves and says that both had been worn “really about the same” and that “both equally lay in leaves” that no one had stepped on.

The idea that the speaker changes their view of the roads’ equality is important because the speaker finally makes a clear distinction:

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

The importance and finality of that difference is further emphasized by the near repetition, in the line just preceding those, of the first line.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

While one can appreciate this poem as a description of a choice to walk down a road, it has potential for broader significance about any important decision that makes “all the difference.” One such decision, for Frost, was becoming a professional poet, which is not a typical occupation.

In terms of formal qualities, the poem has four five-line stanzas, and uses regular ABAAB rhyme scheme in all four, with no repetition among stanzas. The meter is iambic tetrameter.

The poet makes considerable use of assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds. In the first stanza, for example, he often uses O sounds, with several slight variations; these often echo the rhyming words at the lines’ ends. In lines 1 and 2, “roads” has the long O of “both,” and “wood” and “looked” and “could” are matched with “wood,” and “could” appears twice. Numerous other O sounds appear in “sorry,” “not,” “one,” “long,” and “down.” These sounds tend to soften the effect and slow the pace. While subsequent stanzas do not use many of these sounds, when they do, they bring the reader back to that original, questioning set-up. In stanza 3, for example, the last line includes “I doubted if I should ever come….”

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