person walking through a forest

The Road Not Taken

by Robert Frost

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Student Question

Why does Robert Frost use literary techniques in "The Road Not Taken" to reveal journeys?

Quick answer:

Poets use literary techniques to reveal journeys because that is what poets do. Frost uses metaphor to explain decisions made in life.

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You ask why Frost uses "literary techniques to reveal journeys."  You don't ask how he does it or what the results of what he does are, so I will specifically answer the why.  

First, why does he use literary techniques to reveal journeys?  Because that's what poets do.  Metaphor, in a broad sense, is at the heart of most writing, but especially poetry.  Human beings tend to think in metaphorical terms.  Comparison is one basis of our knowledge and how we learn.  Metaphor in poetry allows readers to feel a sense of discovery as we "decode" the metaphor, and readers love to think we are making discoveries. 

Using metaphors gives layers to the ideas poets express.  Metaphors have two parts:  tenor and vehicle.  The tenor is the idea the poet wants to communicate (decisions made in life, for Frost, here), and the vehicle is whatever is used to help explain the tenor (the fork in the road, for Frost).  Frost uses metaphor because it works.  It's a better way to explain.

There are other literary techniques used here, of course, but metaphor dominates the poem.

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I think that you want to analyze the language Frost uses in the poem that helps to convey that freedom and the act of choice can represent its own journey or voyage.  Note in the first stanza, the use of terms such as "traveller" and "travel."  The roads themselves might not represent this journey, as much as the analysis of which path to take. In this instance, the voyage is the process and not the product.  The next two stanzas go through the criteria that helped the speaker make the choice of which one of the two paths to take.  Again, this might reflect how the real journey is the choices made upon them and not anything else.  Freedom and choice are journeys, voyages into the hearts and minds of those who have to make such decisions, and Frost might be trying to explain this through the language selected.

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In the poem "The Road Not Taken," how does Robert Frost use poetic techniques to explore the concept of discovery?

Once one has made a full reading of the poem, it is clear that the primary poetic technique employed throughout the poem is the extended metaphor. An extended metaphor is an analogy that runs throughout the poem and in which the poet makes a comparison to the subject in the poem to something else.

The metaphor in this poem relates to the idea that life is seen as a journey. Frost compares his choice about the two roads he faces in the woods to the choices we make in life. Once a specific choice has been made, there is no turning back and one can only ponder about what the result would have been if one had made an alternative choice, just as the speaker does in the poem. 

In terms of the question regarding the concept of discovery, it is quite clear through the extended metaphor that on ones journey through life, one is faced with many alternatives. It is a matter of choice, and in our poem the speaker chose the road 'less travelled by' which, to him, has 'made all the difference.' We are not quite clear whether the difference was good or bad, since the speaker does not tell us.

Thus poet leaves us with a very clever conundrum in the end, forcing us to wonder and make a choice ourselves about whether the speaker's choice had been a good one or not. In this, he once again emphasises the central theme of the poem: that our journey of discovery is about making choices. The answer to the conundrum has encouraged much debate over the years, one which is still ongoing.

In the first stanza, the poet uses repetition. The poet repeats 'and' at the beginning of three consecutive lines, from line three to line four. 'And' is repeated in lines 7, 11 and in the last line. The repetition reflects the speaker's uncertainty, which is especially accentuated in this instance. In the other lines 'and' is used more as a connective but reminds the reader of its use in lines three to four, which once again, denotes its importance.

The rhyme scheme follows the same pattern throughout the poem: abaab; cdccd; efeef; ghggh. This binds the poem and underscores the extended metaphor and the central theme of the poem. Furthermore, each line consists of nine syllables (except line 15, which has ten) which gives the poem a regular, flowing and steady rhythm. Because this rhythm is broken only once in line fifteen, it gives the poem continuity, affirming once again the continuation of a journey. 

The break in rhythm in line fifteen creates a pause, emphasising not only the  speaker's uncertainty - further informed by the word 'doubted' - but also tells us that the speaker realises that once the choice has been made, there is little chance of coming back.  

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