Myriad Meanings of “The Road Not Taken”: “The Road Not Taken” can be interpreted in different ways. A common interpretation views it as a celebration of nonconformity, as if the speaker of the poem were congratulating himself for taking a “road less traveled” and deemed his decision correct because of its uniqueness. Conversely, the poem can be understood as an expression of regret and sadness over the speaker’s having to choose only one direction. Last, readers can understand the poem as a parody of human indecisiveness through Frost’s use of extended metaphor. Frost instills irony by overusing form, and some readers see in this overuse the humor of decision-making, including the common experiences of indecision and regret over past decisions. First-time readers of “The Road Not Taken” may not see the multiple ways of interpreting it; because of this, it can be considered a difficult poem to decipher. Fittingly, it has been called “America’s most misread poem.”
- For discussion: What contradictions can be found in the text? What appears straightforward at first, but then becomes confusing?
- For discussion: Review the second and third stanzas. What does the speaker seem to be deciding? Is there a better path to take or does the speaker describe them as the same?
- For personal reflection: Think of a time when you had to make a decision. What are the choices you could have made? If “The Road Not Taken” were about your decision, would the meaning of the poem be affirming, discouraging, or in-between?
Music, Cadence, and Structure: Frost is a deeply musical poet. He composed “The Road Not Taken” with an intense concern for the musicality of the poem: its sounds, rhymes, rhythms, and cadences. The sheer music of the poem is one of its chief gifts. It is also one of the poem’s primary avenues of meaning. For example, the ABAAB rhyme scheme, a variation on the traditional ABAB form, makes readers dwell in each stanza for an extra line, conveying a felt sense of the deliberation central to the poem’s themes. Furthermore, the poem’s balladic qualities—namely, its iambic tetrameter—deepen the felt sense of being on a journey. The best way to bring students into such an analysis is through recitation and, for the bolder of heart, memorization. By reading the poem aloud, students will occupy the poem aurally and physically—not only cerebrally. They will experience the subtle richness of Frost’s sonic textures, the play of consonances and assonances as they cascade across the lines. Memorization instills the poem in the mind, allowing students a more intimate understanding of its lines. Moreover, the process of memorization requires sustained attention and multiple readings, preparing students to discuss the poem at a deeper level.
- For discussion: Pay attention to the fourth line of each stanza as you read. What do you notice? Does the fourth line make you read each stanza slower? How does this change the feeling of the poem?
- For discussion: Focus on the last stanza. The third line down is end-stopped with a dash. What does this dash do for the poem? Why is the extra pause here important? Which word does the dash separate, and why?
- For discussion: How does reading the poem out loud alter your understanding of it? What do you notice when you hear or recite the poem, as opposed to merely reading it on the page?
- For discussion: How does memorizing the poem alter your understanding of it? Do you have a deeper knowledge or appreciation for the poem, having committed it to memory?
Visual and Color-Based Imagery in “The Road Not Taken”: Frost’s poem contains several examples of colorful visual imagery, and such images as “yellow wood” can be interpreted in terms of their color, which can heavily influence and evoke feeling. The color yellow in this case may bring a feeling of wistfulness, as yellowed trees are autumnal and thus signal loss and the passage of time. Additionally, the image of the...
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