The Road Not Taken

The Road Not Taken

Robert Frost

One of the most widely quoted poems ever written, “The Road Not Taken” was completed in 1915 and first published in Frost’s volume Mountain Interval (1916). Taught in high school classrooms across the English-speaking world, it’s become popular as a depiction of rugged individuality, of “straying from the beaten path.”

But is it that simple? Careful reading will show Frost’s intention to convey that whatever path, whatever decision in life, is taken by the listener or reader, it will leave them wondering if the alternative would have been better. There is no right answer and we will always wonder subsequently if there was a better route. The last line of the poem is, of course, ambiguous.

According to critic William Pritchard:

[Frost] characterized himself in that poem particularly as ‘fooling my way along.’ He also said that it was really about his friend (English poet) Edward Thomas, who when they walked together always castigated himself for not having taken another path than the one they took. …. Frost did on occasion warn his … audiences that it was a tricky poem. Yet it became popular … taken to be an inspiring poem, which sounds noble and is really mischievous (Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered, 1984)

The poem comprises four stanzas of five lines each, known as quintains. The rhythm is varied; there is no clear metrical pattern, but strong use of enjambment creates a ‘conversational’ flow that is intimate and seems informal, as if the poet is ‘talking’ to the reader. The rhyme scheme throughout is ABAAB,

Language and Imagery
The voice is that of the poet or narrator, using the first person ‘I’. The language is simple and accessible, though the ideas are more complex than they seem.

The overriding or extended metaphor is that of the road and the journey, representing life and its choices — or lack of them!