person walking through a forest

The Road Not Taken

by Robert Frost

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What is the tone of Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken"?

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The tone of the poem "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost is a contemplative one. The speaker is nostalgic as he reflects upon the moment when he stood considering which of two roads to take. However, he makes explicit that he is not regretful. He knew when he made his choice that he would not be able to come back and change it, and he feels that it "has made all the difference."

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Tone depends on context. Frost wrote this poem in 1915 in England to poke fun at the indecisiveness of his friend and walking companion Edward Thomas. The original tone of the poem was humorous and light-hearted.

However, once a work of literature is sent forth into the world, it no longer belongs to the artist. Readers impose their own meanings and interpretations. From early on, readers have heard in this poem a tone of high seriousness,. It has been widely understood as a poem about being true to oneself, even if that means becoming a nonconformist. It has been read as an earnest poem about being willing to follow one's own path in life.

The words of the poem lend themselves to this kind of contemplative reading. The speaker comes to a fork in his path during a walk in the woods. He has to decide which way to go and spends some time thoughtfully pondering his choice. Choosing one fork rather than another causes him to muse on the impact that small decisions can have on a life and his contentment at having taken the less conformist path.

The poem is an example of how the accepted meaning and tone of a work can change from a writer's intent once it falls into the hands of readers.

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The tone of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" is highly contemplative. The speaker is considering the moment at which he stood deciding which of two roads to take. He evidently returns to this moment in his life fairly regularly, telling the tale of his decision to others "with a sigh."

However, although the mood of the speaker at the point of making the decision was evidently a "sorry" one, the tone of the poem overall does not feel regretful or pessimistic. Certainly, the speaker deliberated for a long time about which of the two roads to take. He "doubted" that he would ever be able to come back and walk the other road too, even as he told himself that this might be a possibility.

But the speaker was not deciding between two roads which were not "fair." Both roads looked equally passable, which was why the decision was so difficult for the speaker to make. So, although he may wonder what would have happened if he had chosen the other way, he does not seem to feel that he made an incorrect choice, or that the road he embarked upon has led him into a poor situation. On the contrary, while he may remember this moment as a time of change in his life, he does not remember it sadly. His "sigh" is one of contemplation rather than regret.

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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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Which word best describes the tone of Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken”?

Tone refers the writer's attitude toward his subject. In Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," the word I would use to describe the tone would be "uncertain" or "doubtful." We see this in how the speaker reacts to the decision, represented by the two roads,  that he has to make. 

In the first stanza, the poem's speaker, referring to the two roads, says

. . . long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth.

The speaker is having trouble making up his mind. He's basically standing around in the woods trying to decide what to do next. We see how uncertain he is by the time involved. He had to stand there for a "long" time before he could even think about making up his mind. 

In the second stanza, the word "perhaps" tells the reader that, despite the time it took him to make his decision, he still isn't at all sure he made the right one. 

In the third stanza, when considering whether or not he would ever return to the wood to try the other road, he uses the word "doubted." He isn't sure what he will do in the future regarding this decision.

In the final stanza, the speaker imagines that he will "sigh" in the future when he  thinks about the decision he has made. He already knows that he will be uncomfortable about his choice for the rest of his life. 

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