Discuss the tone of the poem "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost.

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” discusses the choices that a person may face in his life.  Frost was once quoted, “No matter which road you take, you’ll always sigh, and wish you’d taken another way.” The poem has a literal and a figurative meaning. Its tone is therefore reflective and pensive.

The tone of the poem is serious and does not necessarily have an optimistic outlook. On the other hand, the poem is not about good and evil. It is about selecting the right approach to life through making decisions. The speaker in the poem must make a selection with little to help him make the decision. Both choices are similar. 

The speaker's attitude toward his decision is positive until the end of the poem when he looks back many years later; then, he thinks about the other possibility that he left behind. He relates the story of his choice with a sign indicating that he wishes that he could have at least tried the other way.

Unfortunately, life does not work that way. The greatest difficulty for the speaker is that he will not know the success of his choice until later on down the path of life when it may be too late to make any changes.  

Often, the reader fails to gain significance of the title.  It is not the road that made all the difference that the title emphasizes, but rather the road that the speaker did not choose.  This alters the meaning of the poem.

The poem’s figurative meaning appears simplistic: the speaker has a decision to make—marriage, career, college, money—and he has been given two choices.  The choices are similar in their ultimate return.  He wishes that he could take both selections, but that is not possible. Each of the alternatives brings a set of events and circumstances that will take the person’s life in a different direction.

The speaker hopes that he might get the chance to look again at the other option; however, that seldom happens in the reality of life. When the speaker thinks about his choice years later, he does it with an inkling of regret.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And I, I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

This poem typifies Frost’s approach to poetry.  He does not give answers to his puzzles. It is for each reader to come to his own conclusion.  Frost felt that poetry should simply “be.” Each person who reads the poem brings his own meaning to the poem. 

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