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In Stanza 1 of Robert Frost's poem The Road Not Taken, the speaker is in a wood in autumn when leaves fall and comes upon a fork in the road ("Two roads diverged"). He laments that he can't divide himself and travel both roads because both look appealing. Knowing a decision must be made, he gazes long down one road, peering as far as he can.
Stanza 2 starts with the announcement that he "took the other" road. His reasoning was that (1) the road he chose was as appealing as the first; (2) the road he chose was "grassy and wanted wear." This line often trips us up because "want" has more meanings than are commonly used. "Want" (verb) is most often used in its meaning to feel inclined; wish; like [Random House dictionary on Dictionary.com] as in, "We'll stay if you want to" or "I don't want to see that movie." But there are other meanings for "want," one of which is to have a lack or a deficiency of something: "her dress wanted ironing." Frost is saying that the road lacked wear (wear meaning use) or it had a deficient amount of wear. So "wants wear" equates to the having had few travelers.
Then Frost throws in a bit of a twist by saying that actually, over time both roads had just about the same number of travelers after all: "Had worn them really about the same." This indicates that the careers or life styles represented by the roads were both fairly unique and that neither drew all that many travelers. You might think of this as being an FBI bureau chief or a White House Counsel (attorney), neither one has many people who follow down the path.
The third Stanza says that when the speaker came upon the roads during his travels (symbolizing the course of his life), both roads were covered in autumn leaves that "no step had trodden black." The more walkers there are, the more trampled and mixed with earth the leaves on the path becomes. Then he declares that his decision is made: "I marked the first for another day!" Again, you need to think of "mark" in terms of an uncommon definition. In this usage he doesn't "mark" like you make a mark with chalk. This usage of "mark" as a verb means to single out or designate. In other words, the speaker singles out or designates the first path for another day's travels. He then laments that, according to the way life goes, he may never take the same walk to the same fork again, leaving it forever untraveled.
The last Stanza projects into the future as he speculates that he will tell the tale of the two roads in the woods, the fork in the road of his life. The first line of this Stanza says he will be "telling this with a sigh." There are different kinds of sighs. The most familiar is the sigh of sorrow or lamenting. But there are also sighs of relief; sighs of longing; sighs of contentment or pleasure. The last part of the poem says "...and I, / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference." There is no note of sorrow or regret in this statement. The first "and I" is in an unstressed sentence position at the end of the line. This produces a reading that is not one of despair or agitation, as would be the case if the repetitions were both at the start of a line carrying sentence stress. This indicates that the "difference" at the end of the last line of the poem is a good difference preceded by a sigh of contentment at life's fulfillment. Robert Frost knew precisely what reader emotion he wanted to evoke and how to evoke that emotion.
- First stanza - the poet is standing in the woods and has the choice of taking two roads. He states he is only one traveler, so he has to choose - he cannot travel down both, although he wishes he could.
- Second stanza - he decides to take the second road because it is pretty, lots of grass and looks like it "wants wear" - it seems to be a less-traveled road; but he says that it is probably "just as fair" as the one he did not choose.
- He continues walking down the second road, sees that no one else appears to have come that way yet as there are no footprints. He muses that perhaps he will go down the other road another time, but he may not even come back this way - who knows?
- He says that someday, he may be telling the story about "the road not taken" - the one "less traveled" - but alas, he did choose this road, and it has made all the difference in his life.
Some people believe this is an autobiographical poem, with Frost describing his own life, that he chose to be a poet, a life that not too many choose, but it has worked out for him. So "road not taken" becomes a metaphor for his life path.
Since this is poetry, it can mean anything we want it to mean, which is the beauty of reading poetry. I like to think that the poem has a more universal theme - taking chances in life, trying new things, choosing "the road not taken" by others. We are all faced with choices every day - which ones will we make? Some of the choices turn out well, as in this poem, but some do not (in the short story The Devil and Tom Walker, Tom Walker takes a different road, a short cut, and he meets the devil!).
Read about Frost here on enotes and see what YOU think!
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