The Road Not Taken Style, Form, and Literary Elements
by Robert Frost

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Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In his essay “The Constant Symbol,” Frost defined poetry with an interesting series of phrases. Poetry, he wrote, is chiefly “metaphor, saying one thing and meaning another, saying one thing in terms of another, the pleasure of ulteriority.” His achievement in the poem “The Road Not Taken” is to bring these different uses of metaphor into play in a delightfully ironic balancing act. That is to say, the speaker solemnly uses the metaphor of the two roads to say one thing, while Frost humorously uses the speaker as a metaphor to say something very different.

The speaker is a solemn person who earnestly believes in metaphor as a way of “saying one thing in terms of another.” The speaker uses the details, the “terms,” of a situation in nature to “say” something about himself and his life: that he has difficulty making a choice and that he is regretfully certain that he will eventually be unhappy with the choice that he does make. When he first considers the two roads, he sees one as more difficult, perhaps even a bit menacing (“it bent in the undergrowth”), and the other as being more pleasant (“it was grassy and wanted wear”). Even in taking the second path, though, he reconsiders and sees them both as equally worn and equally covered with leaves. Changing his mind again, he believes that in the future he will look back, realize that he did take the “less traveled” road after all, but regret “with a sigh” that that road turned out to have made “all the difference” in making his life unhappy. The speaker believes that in the future he will be haunted by this earlier moment when he made the wrong choice and by the unfulfilled potential of “the road not taken.”

In contrast to the speaker, Frost uses metaphor to “say one thing and mean another.” That is, Frost presents this speaker’s account of his situation with deadpan solemnity, but he uses the speaker as...

(The entire section is 510 words.)