Robert Frost's biographer describes him as a man of contradictions.On the one hand he was an individualist who wanted to do things his way; on the other hand he wanted to be accepted by others, to...

Robert Frost's biographer describes him as a man of contradictions.

On the one hand he was an individualist who wanted to do things his way; on the other hand he wanted to be accepted by others, to fit in.

How does this info. add to your understanding of the poem "The Road Not Taken"?

Expert Answers
William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Robert Frost was confronted with the same problem that confronts most people who want to devote their lives to creative writing--and especially to writing poetry. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to make any kind of a decent living writing poetry. It always has been. Frost must have known he had exceptional talent and that he had a chance of making a success as a poet—which he did. But he knew it was a gamble, and, as the biographer you quoted says, he also wanted to be respected and accepted by others.

 In “The Road Not Taken” the speaker, Frost himself without doubt, is faced with a critical choice of careers. He can either go his own way and devote himself to creative writing, regardless of the possible economic consequences; or he can take a more conventional path and go into some line of work that would bring him a good income and respectability and hopefully allow him enough free time to write his poetry as a sideline. With his brains and education he could become an advertising executive, a banker (like T.S. Eliot), a lawyer, a doctor, or almost anything else he chose. The “road not taken” would seem to lead in the direction of “The Big Apple,” New York City with its fantastic skyscrapers and multifold opportunities.

The most common choice for people like Frost is to become a college professor. This is a highly respectable career, and it allows time for writing—in many cases it actually requires publishing (or perishing!). But it has its drawbacks, as some poets have complained in their published works. It is a somewhat cloistered existence, and the potential subject matter has been deeply mined already. Frost knew that his inspiration depended on freedom and exposure to a wider range of life experience. We know from his poetry that he chose the very simple, humble life style of a New England farmer. Many years had to pass before he achieved the recognition he deserved.

Somerset Maugham was one of the most successful writers of all time. He wrote novels, plays, stories and essays, and he was internationally famous. Like Frost, he understood what a perilous profession creative writing, or any other creative occupation, can be. In his old age, Maugham wrote the following caveat:

To write prose and verse, to hammer out little tunes on the piano, and to draw and paint, are instinctive with a great many young persons. It is a form of play, due merely to the exuberance of their years, and is no more significant than a child’s building of a castle on the sands....The point I want to make is that this facility is, if not universal, so common that one can draw no conclusions from it. Youth is the inspiration. One of the tragedies of the arts is the spectacle of the vast number of persons who have been misled by this passing fertility to devote their lives to the effort of creation. Their invention deserts them as they grow older, and they are faced with the long years before them in which, unfitted by now for a more humdrum calling, they harass their wearied brain to beat out material it is incapable of giving them. They are lucky when, with what bitterness we know, they can make a living in ways, like journalism or teaching, that are allied to the arts.

                                                          The Summing Up