person walking through a forest

The Road Not Taken

by Robert Frost

Start Free Trial

What is the mood/tone of the poem "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It's always important to understand the difference between tone and mood.

I like to say that tone is how the author feels about the work. You can tell how the author feels by the word choices (diction) he or she makes. 

Mood is a more personal reaction. How does the work make you feel?

If I am looking for what the tone of this poem is, I'd look at words like "diverged" and "sorry" in the first stanza and the phrase "wanted wear" in the second stanza and the lines "I doubted if I should ever come back" and "I shall be telling this with a sigh" in stanzas three and four. I might make the conclusion that the tone of this poem is one of longing. 

As far as the mood goes, you might end up using the same lines and word choices as in the paragraph above. But the mood is going to be a different answer. How do you feel as a reader? Sad? Somber? Hopeful? Anxious? 

As a reader, you are never sure the poem's speaker made the right choice. So that's why the mood is left up to you.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The mood or tone of Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken" can perhaps be best described by the word nostalgia. It means looking back on the past with sentimental emotions. The poem can be profitably compared with Shakespeare's famous sonnet #30 which begins with the following lines.

When to the sessions of sweet, silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past

After a certain age--say forty-five or thereabouts--it is common for people to look back on their lives and reflect about what they could have done differently, or should have done differently. It is appropriate that Frost uses the two roads diverging in the woods as a symbol or metaphor, because no doubt as a young man he was actually taking long walks by himself and meditating on his biggest problem of that period, which is most people's biggest problem when they are young. The roads represent possible career choices. He knew he wanted to write poetry, but he knew he also had to earn a living. And poets generally make very little money, if they earn anything at all.

Your whole duty as a writer is to please and satisfy yourself, and the true writer always plays to an audience of one. Start sniffing the air, or glancing at the Trend Machine, and you are as good as dead, although you may make a nice living.
E. B. White, The Elements of Style

The speaker in the poem, who is undoubtedly Frost himself, knows he doesn't really want to change and knows he is too old to change now even if he wanted to. But he can't help wondering whether he made the right decision, whether he really had any choice in the matter, or whether everyone's fate is predetermined. Life is a mystery when we are young, and instead of getting less mysterious as we grow older, it gets more and more mysterious.

The poem is inconclusive. All that is resolved is that he had to make a choice and he chose to lead a simple, rural life not unlike that of Henry David Thoreau, and to devote most of his time to creative writing. This inevitably meant writing about nature, since there was little else to write about. Life is largely a matter of making choices at what William James, the distinguished American philosopher and psychologist, brother of the great fiction writer Henry James, called "crossroads situations." 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are several meaning of this poem by Robert Frost. This is probably one of his most famous poems. It is a beautifully written poem and many people are encouraged by the poem.

The narrator of the poem is at a fork in the road. He ponders on which road he should take. He looks at one road, and part of him wants to take it, but something calls him to take the other road. At first he is not so sure he should have taken this road, and thinks that another day he will take the other road. Here we see that this probably won't happen, but in his mind he thinks he will. He wishes he could have been two people and taken both roads, but is getting more content on the road he has chosen. The road he chooses represents the road that is no as morally cloudy as the one that is taken by so many. This is interesting for humanity itself. Everything is about choices. We hope we make the right choice, but sometimes we are pulled in the wrong direction, and make bad ones. By being diligent in our life we can only hope we make the right choice and take the road that will lead us the journey we are supposed to take.

The last lines in the poem, show us that the narrator is happy with his choice. It makes us feel good for him. It gives us hope, and that is why this poem is beloved by millions.

"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."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The mood is the emotional atmosphere evoked by the text, whereas the word 'tone' describes the author's attitude toward the subject to topic. 

In "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost, the narrator finds himself facing a choice between two paths when the road forks on his journey through woods in autumn.  He must decide which road to take.  The mood at the beginning of the poem reflects the warmth of the "yellow wood" and the traveler's anticipation at having to choose his own path, so the mood feels light-hearted, even anticipatory. 

The tone, however, really focuses more on how Frost feels about the uncertainty of choices.  The narrator of the poem is unsure about choosing the wrong road and missing unknown opportunities.  The fork in the road becomes a metaphor for all choices that people must and how certain choices may affect the outcome of their lives.  As the narrator reflects on having to make a decision, the tone of "The Road Not Taken" becomes serious and contemplative.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

”The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost focuses on the idea of having choices in life.  The poem uses a first person narrator who finds himself on  a fall morning in the woods.  The person comes to a fork in the road splitting in two directions.  The narrator examines both roads and has to decide which way to go.

The mood of the poem appears light hearted in the literal meaning; however, in the figurative aspect of the poem, the atmosphere becomes more serious.  Decisions are being made about life altering facets of a person’s life. As the man contemplates his life and the selection that he made, the poem develops a more pensive tone.

As the man looks at the two roads, he tries to see as far as he can until the bushes and other trees conceal the road.  For some reason, he chooses the other path. He first says it was the road less worn but later establishes that they were both about the same.  Both of the paths had leaves that had not been disturbed.  After he makes his decision, he does hope that someday he will return and try the other way.

That is the literal denotation of the poem.  However, as in most of Frost’s poetry, there is a figurative meaning.  The setting of the poem represents a concept dealing with the speaker’s life. The road or the path in the woods symbolizes life and a decision the man must make.  Something is happening that is forcing him to make a choice—a career, an education, a marriage, the military.  Making determinations is not easy. He has to make the decision based on very little information, yet he must consider all aspects of the choice and also the consequences of his resolve.

The narrator hopes that someday he will be to take that other path in life.  Of course, that does not usually happen:

Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back

Naturally, the primary theme of the poem is choices. The speaker makes his selection because it is different from what he had originally planned on accomplishing. This choice is linked to the future and how this will change his life.  The part that is frightening is that the narrator will not know if his decision is appropriate until it is too late.  There is ambivalence in the selection that was made. When the man tells his grandchildren fifty years in the future why he made this selection, he will tell it with a sigh implying some wistfulness about the lost opportunities he missed when he made his decision.

To further understand the poem’s meaning, the reader must examine the title of the poem.  It is not the road less traveled. It does not refer to the path that the narrator chose, but rather the one that he did not select: the road not taken.  

That is the delicious part of Frost’s writing.  Every single word in his poetry has meaning.  Interestingly, this title adds mystery to the poem because of the implication that maybe that was the path that should have been taken.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Robert Frost was a great poet. He knew he had that rare talent, and he certainly wanted to use it. However, he also knew that anyone who chooses any kind of career in the creative arts is likely to have a hard time earning a living. He also had the intelligence to be able to succeed and make a lot of money in a more practical career. But this would distract his mind from creativity and detract more and more from the amount of time he would be able to devote to writing. The two roads symbolize the two choices he could make at a crucial point in his life. He chose to lead a simple and austere life and devote as much time as possible to his poetry. He himself acknowledged that this was the meaning of his poem, and it is easy to see in many of the poems, such as "Mending Wall," "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," "Two Tramps in Mud Time," "After Apple-Picking," and "Death of the Hired Man," that he was indeed leading a simple life close to nature and close to the soil. This was what so many people loved about his poem. They are always like a breath of cool fresh air. He sounds a great deal like his fellow New Englander Henry David Thoreau. He told a schoolgirl who wrote him a letter asking about the "sigh" in "The Road Not Taken" that he didn't really regret his choice of the road he figuratively took when he decided to become a gentleman farmer, but that he only wanted to tease the critics who claimed that he regretted not achieving more financial success. In his old age, Frost became not only famous but financially secure. He was invited to read one of his poems at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. His writings have won many honors, and he has been an inspiration to many young people.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on