A Poem by Robert Frost (1874-1963)
A Study Guide
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2005Type of Work and Year of Publication
"The Road Not Taken" is a lyric poem with four stanzas of five lines each. (A lyric poem presents the feelings and emotions of the poet rather than telling a story or presenting a witty observation.) The language is simple enough for a child to read, but the meaning is complex enough to foster scholarly debates and long essays. Henry Holt and Company published the poem in 1916 in a collection entitled Mountain Interval, Frost's first book printed in the United States. He had previously published two books in England.
Frost sets the poem on a forest road on an autumn morning. He received inspiration for the poem from the landscape in rural Gloucestershire, England. While living in Great Britain from 1912 to 1915, Frost and his family had rented a cottage, Little Iddens, near Dymock, Gloucestershire, in the summer of 1914.
Another writer, Edward Thomas (1878-1917), was staying with his family at a cottage half a mile away. Thomas was a literary critic, essayist, and nature writer who had favorably reviewed a volume of Frost's poetry and become one of his best friends. During their frequent walks in lanes, forests, and heather fields, they would
discuss poetry and botany, noting the plants and flowers in the region. At the urging of Frost, Thomas began writing poetry and later achieved his greatest fame in this genre. Upon returning from their walks, Thomas often expressed a wish that they had taken an alternate trail or road to view its plants. In response, Frost began writing "The Road Not Taken," but he did not finish it until he and
his family returned to the United States.
Frost and Thomas continued to communicate until Thomas died fighting in World War I. In "The Road Not Taken," the path through the "yellow wood" could be anywhere, but Frost may have been picturing the Gloucestershire wilds when he began putting the poem on paper.
The rhyme scheme of the poem is as follows: (1) abaab, (2) cdccd, (3) efeef, (4) ghggh. All of the end rhymes are masculine—that is, each consists of a single syllable. (You may have noticed that the last word of the poem, difference, has more than one syllable. However, only the last syllable completes the rhyme with hence in line 22. Therefore, masculine rhyme occurs.)
The title of the poem can refer to either road. Here's why: The speaker takes the road "less traveled" (line 19). In other words, he chooses the road not taken by most other travelers. However, when he chooses this less-traveled road, the other road then becomes the road not taken.
.......The speaker chooses to go his own way, taking the “road less traveled” (line 19).
.......Before deciding to take the "road less traveled" (line 19), the speaker takes time to consider the other road. He says, "[L]ong I stood / And looked down one as far as I could" (lines 3-4).
.......The speaker does not have second thoughts after making his decision.
Accepting a Challenge
.......It may be that the road the speaker chooses is less traveled because it presents trials or perils. Such challenges seem to appeal to the speaker.
Robert Frost (1874-1963) was born in San Francisco, California, where he spent his childhood. In 1885, after his father died of tuberculosis, the Frosts moved to Massachusetts. There, Robert graduated from high school, sharing top honors with a student he would later marry, Elinor White.
Frost attended Dartmouth and Harvard, married Miss White in 1895, worked farms, and taught school. In his spare time, he wrote poetry. Disappointed with the scant attention his poems received, he moved with his wife to Great Britain to present his work to readers there. Publishers liked his work and printed his first book of poems, A Boy’s Will, in 1913, and a second poetry collection, North of Boston, in 1914. The latter book was published in the United States in 1915.
Having established his reputation, Frost returned to the United States in 1915 and bought a small farm in Franconia, N.H. To supplement his income from the farm and his poetry, he taught at universities. Between 1916 and 1923, he published two more books of poetry—the second one, New Hampshire, winning the 1923 Pulitzer Prize. He went on to
win three more Pulitzer Prizes and was invited to recite his poem “The Gift Outright” at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in January 1961. Frost died in Boston two years later. One may regard him as among the greatest poets of his generation.
1. Do you think Frost intended the y in yellow (line 1) to suggest the diverging roads?