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The Road Not Taken
A Poem by Robert Frost (1874-1963)
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Setting
Text, Summaries, Notes
Interpretation
Notes
Rhyme Scheme
Which Is the Road Not Taken?
Themes
Author Information
Study Questions
Essay Topics
Review Another Frost Poem
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Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings... 2005

Type 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. 

Setting and Background Information

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. 
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The Road Not Taken
By Robert Frost
With Stanza Summaries and Endnotes

1
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both 
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;1

Summary, Stanza 1

On the road of life, the speaker arrives at a point where he must decide which of two equally appealing (or equally intimidating) choices is the better one. He examines one choice as best he can, but the future prevents him from seeing where it leads.



2
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,2
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;3
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

Summary, Stanza 2

The speaker selects the road that appears at first glance to be less worn and therefore less traveled. This selection suggests that he has an independent spirit and does not wish to follow the crowd. After a moment, he concludes that both roads are about equally worn.



3
And both that morning equally lay, 
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

Summary, Stanza 3

Leaves cover both roads equally. No one on this morning has yet taken either road, for the leaves lie undisturbed. The speaker remains committed to his decision to take the road he had previously selected, saying that he will save the other road for another day. He observes, however, that he probably will never pass this way again and thus will never have an opportunity to take the other road.



4
I shall be telling this with a sigh4
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Summary, Stanza 4

In years to come, the speaker says, he will be telling others about the choice he made. While doing so, he will sigh either with relief that he made the right choice or with regret that he made the wrong choice. Whether right or wrong, the choice will have had a significant impact on his life.


Notes

1..The road beyond the bend may represent the future or the unknown, neither of which can be perceived.
2..Here, Frost uses personification, saying that the road has a claim.
3..Personification occurs here also if wanted means desired. No personification occurs, however, if wanted means lacked.
4..Sigh can indicate relief or happiness, or it can indicate regret or sorrow. The interpretation of its meaning is up to the reader.

 

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Rhyme Scheme

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.)

Which Is the Road Not Taken?

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


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Themes

Individualism

.......The speaker chooses to go his own way, taking the “road less traveled” (line 19). 

Caution

.......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).

Commitment

.......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. 
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Author Information

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. 
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Study Questions and Essay Topics

1. Do you think Frost intended the y in yellow (line 1) to suggest the diverging roads?
2. What is undergrowth (line 5)?
3. Does curiosity motivate the speaker when he makes his choice?
4. Write an essay about a time when you took a less-traveled road.
5. Write an essay that interprets the last line of the poem.
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