person walking through a forest

The Road Not Taken

by Robert Frost

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What is the structure of "The Road Not Taken"?

Frost structures his text according to an ABAAB rhyme scheme. He bases his meter on iambic tetrameter, but adds an extra syllable to each line. In two places, he uses end punctation of an exclamation point and a long dash to place emphasis on the speaker's hesitation to make a choice.

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"The Road Not Taken" is a poem made up of four five-line stanzas. The rhyme scheme is ABAAB. For example, "wood," "stood," and "could" in the first, third, and fourth lines rhyme in the first stanza, while "both" and "growth" rhyme in the second and fifth lines of that stanza.

The meter is based on an iambic tetrameter scheme. Strictly speaking this means there are four two-beat syllables with the stress falling on the second syllable in each group. For instance, in line one of the poem, the beats fall as follows: "two ROADS di VERGED ..." However, Frost plays with this scheme slightly by adding an extra beat to every line, to create nine syllable lines. This means, for example, in line one, that "two ROADS di VERGED in a YEL low WOOD" with the beats "in a" quickly slurred together as unstressed beats. The same effect occurs with the "could not" in line two.

Frost also uses punctuation to add emphasis to two of the poem's lines. "Oh, I kept the first for another day!" ends with an exclamation point. This, along with the "Oh" at the beginning of the line, emphasizes the emotional intensity of this particular thought, underlining the (possibly humorous) regret the speaker feels at having to give up taking one of the roads. The second use of punctuation at the end of a line to create emphasis comes in the line:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

The long dash at the end emphasizes that even as he makes his decision, the speaker is still pausing and hesitating.

At a time when many poets were experimenting with poetic structure, Frost shows his control of his craft in his ability to use a very regular and traditional rhyme scheme and meter and make it look utterly effortless.

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