Who is the speaker of the poem "The Road Not Taken"?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Because "The Road Not Taken" is written with the use of a first person narrator, there is often debate regarding who the speaker is; however, it has been noted by Frost biographer Lawrance Thompson that when giving a public reading of these verses, Frost himself would frequently introduce this poem as one based upon his Welsh friend Edward Thomas, an indecisive man who could never decide which path he wished to take when the two men would walk together. In Frost’s words, Thomas was “a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn’t go the other.”

Yet, the fact that Frost did not always introduce the poem in this manner, nor was he always known for straightforward language, along with his having made a pretense of being a New Englander when, in fact, he was not originally from this area of the United States, raises some doubt in Frost's credibility in his audiences. Certainly, in the third stanza, there is the possibility that the speaker may be a spirit:

I shall be telling this with a sigh 
Somewhere ages and ages hence: 
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— 
I took the one less traveled by, 
And that has made all the difference.

The mention of "ages and ages hence" in the second line suggests an immortality on the part of the speaker; thus, he may be speaking post-mortem, much as Emily Dickinson's speaker does in "Because I Could Not Stop for Death."

At any rate, there is little doubt that Frost has enjoyed creating his verses because his speaker begins his tale with stoic solemnity, but then he exploits his speaker as the image of such an indecisive man that he ridicules this way of thinking. For example, the speaker deliberates over insignificant variations on the two paths; then, when he finally reaches the conclusion that the two roads are essentially alike as they have been worn "really about the same," he allows his penchant for overthinking to run away with himself as he sighs and continues to deliberate over his choice.

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