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

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

”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.