I’m not normally a fan of poetry, it isn’t my forte (although I did achieve a first in my poetry module at uni) but one of the poems I do know is The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. This poem is taught in schools in the UK (I remember a copy of the poem being on wall of my English classroom) and since it a World War One poem and as it is Remembrance Sunday I thought now would be a good time to examine the “misunderstood” poem in more detail.
The Road not Taken by Robert Frost
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;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
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.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
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.
There are four stanzas of five lines with a A B A A B rhyme scheme. The poem tells the story of the narrator standing in a forest debating which path to take in the road ahead. Once he has chosen a path he wonders what would have happened if he had taken the other path.
Out of all the lines in the poem I think the last three are the most famous. I remember having a motivational poster outside my tutor room in school quoting those three lines. (My school really had a thing for Robert Frost) The message people normally take from the poem is You do you, don’t follow the crowd and you’ll be successful. That’s a good message but it wasn’t the message Robert Frost intended.
Robert Frost was friends with another writer called Edward Thomas who was infamous for his indecisiveness. The two would go on walks together and according to Frost, Thomas would debate which way to go when they reached a fork in the road rather than making a decision. Thomas was also a very serious man. Frost wrote the poem to tease his friend but when Thomas received the poem in 1915 he thought his friend was being serious and suggesting he do something with his life. As a result of this Thomas enlisted in the British Army. He died in the trenches in France.
The final three lines are a good metaphor for life but there are reasons the road is less travelled by. It’s dangerous, there are no signs to help you and generally speaking you don’t know what you’re going to encounter. There is also the philosophical question that if everyone followed the road less travelled does it become more travelled? There is some debate if the sigh in the final stanza is one of regret because the narrator should have taken the other road, or of contentment on having taken the right path. I’ll leave you to decide.
What do you think of Robert Frost’s poem? Leave your comments down below and I’ll see you next time.