Exposition of the Road not Taken
In the classroom and in literary circles, the interpretation of Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” is widely accepted as a mantra for individuality; shedding light on the origins of the poem conveys a different meaning.
Looking more closely at the poem reveals there is a much deeper story. A story of loss of what might have been, and resolving that one can never know what would have resulted had another choice been made. In order to fully grasp the complexity one must understand that Frost did not write this as the person wrestling with making the choice, but rather as an observer of his friend, simply he retelling the experience. “Frost himself called it a “tricky poem—very tricky,” claiming in public readings to have based it on his friend, the Welsh writer Edward Thomas, with whom he would take long walks while living in England, and who, regardless of which path he took, would lament he did not go the other.” (Westerdale, J. 2018). He was in fact making fun of Thomas’ indecisiveness, and alluded to him overthinking the choice.
How it works
Frost being merely the observer, is afforded with the ability of bending the words and attributing his translation of what transpired. He has not struggled with making the decision himself. The tongue in cheek manner in which the poem was written is not conveyed in the words of the poem, leading the reader to depend on his views and experiences to draw a conclusion. So much weight is given to this decision to be made. And why then, the “sigh”? As in “I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence:” (Frost, 1961). Is it a sigh of knowing that something must go undiscovered? It has been stated that ambiguity is attached. The “sigh” is in mocking tone. (Robinson, 2016) It falls on the reader to interpret or apply meaning. If the poem is read as Frost intended, as a mechanism to examine the weight of choosing, consider this. Do we make the observation we have come to the right decision because we need to justify the choice and thereby minimize the importance of the one we didn’t make? The closing line suggests Frost has done so by stating “And that has made all the difference.”
Again ambiguity comes into play, as it is not evident what sort of difference was made. Was it good or bad? It would be fair to say that this poem is anything but a decisive call to action. In fact, Sayyed Rahim Moosavinia and Morteza Shahrakzadeh wrote a an article regarding the theme of ambiguity. In the article, they contend that “The Road Not Taken” is the least understood, most misinterpreted poem by an American poet. At one point or another, it is often mistakenly called “The Road Less Traveled” by most. They quoted Harold Bloom in stating “The ambiguity in Frost and his poem has been discussed in different ways, but the significance of this study is that it looks at this ambiguity as considerable merit which results in an openness to a wealth of interpretive analyses and leaves it ‘to readers to construct divergent meanings’.” (Bloom, 2003, p 272)
Frost’s vivid imagery could easily lead one to believe he is the speaker. He goes into great detail describing the woods and the path. So much so that one could close their eyes and picture a scene of birches turning yellow in the fall, giving way and falling like a blanket of leaves strewn along the paths. Despite the descriptive nature, the structure of “The Road Not Taken” is a simple ABAAB rhyme scheme in Iambic Tetrameter. Though the poem is relatively brief, it is full of literary devices in metaphors, simile, assonance, consonance, personification and parallelism, as is defined in Perrine’s Literature. It is a lyrical style, in that it uses both anapest and dactyl “feet” and narrative in that it is told from the view of an observer. Again, Frost did not actually make this choice, it was his friend who described it to him.
Thinking too hard about a decision to be made can intensify regret and cause anxiety, not allowing the person to enjoy the results of his chosen path. Perhaps this is the purpose of “The Road Not Taken”. A sort of cautionary tale. By many scholarly accounts, it was never intended to be the anthem for taking charge of your destiny.