Barely a year ago, I wrote an essay on Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken,” a classic and a long-time favorite. The main reason why this is one of those poems that people never shut up about is that it’s difficult – nearly impossible – to successfully conclude whether the speaker regrets choosing one path over the other or if he is glad about it. I believe it’s the latter – perhaps because I’m the type of person who sees a half full glass.
I’m happy to share sections from my essay and hope my thoughts on the poem might interest you.
The speaker is not necessarily Frost himself, but probably an elderly person reminiscing over a moment in his life when a choice decided his fate. Many have found this poem to be about individuality, emphasizing on the fact that the speaker traveled the road no one else has taken before him. The tone is difficult to decipher, thereby creating a challenge in understanding whether the speaker is glad about the decision he made. The sigh shows no indication of the speaker’s feelings. The following line mentions a time long passed, which exceptionally proves that that this person acknowledges that there is no way for him to change his affected circumstances.
Analyzing the poem stanza by stanza, it is possible to see that whatever decision the speaker made; it is a conflict nonetheless. Frost implicates that this traveler ‘stood and looked down’ one of the roads for a long while, attempting to predict what it held before him (line 3 and 4). However, he cannot tell much from where he is standing, because it is impossible to tell once the road turns in a bent. When he gives up his observation, he turns his attention to the other road.
The speaker thinks he might as well pick this one, because it seems grassier and unused. This detail implies some of the speaker’s character: He prefers to stand apart from the crowd and approach matters differently than other people, or maybe even do completely new things. The fact that he spends so much time contemplating proves that he sees himself as innovative in mind, perhaps as far as regarding himself a daring adventurer. Upon closely inspecting the roads, though, the speaker firmly grasps that the grass on both sides appear ‘worn really about the same’ (line 10) so then again, he cannot see the difference.
Furthermore, the speaker notices that on this autumn day, leaves fallen from the trees have fallen on the roads. They cover the grass and lay still and untouched by anyone (“no step had trodden black” ), meaning no one has been there. Once again, the speaker is uncertain how to go about his journey. He considers picking one of the roads for the time being, which brings me to my favorite lines (14 and 15) in the poem:
“Yet knowing how way leads on to way/ I doubted if I should ever come back.”
Without knowing what lies ahead of him on that road, Frost says that the speaker might be incapable of returning to the same spot and choose the other path. When one picks a door to go through, the other doors close and we are offered a new set of doors in order to move forward. The metaphor grows especially strong here as it is said that life is more complex than paths found within a wood. Even so, one can get lost in the wild or forget how they got to where they have arrived.
The sigh in the forth stanza carries a double-meaning. For one, the audience can feel the heavy weight of the ultimate decision. Secondly, it brings the emotion to that choice, which (as said) is ambiguous. I believe it is a sigh of fatigue as well as content, because this traveler has walked on a long journey since he picked a road to travel (“Somewhere ages and ages hence” ), but he still feels happy about it. The reason I find this poem optimistic is because of the very last word: difference. Since I am under the impression that this traveler likes to be unique, he took neither of the roads presented to him; he pick another path entirely, therefore, “the one less traveled by,” and that made all the difference.