Thoughts on The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost is often paraphrased by writers as an appeal to take the road less travelled, an entreaty to the reader to ignore “safe” risk-free options and make a life choice that offers greater risk and greater rewards eg:

the road less travelled

“Everyone chooses one of two roads in life – the old and the young, the rich and the poor, men and women alike. One is the broad, well-traveled road to mediocrity, the other the road to greatness and meaning. The range of possibilities that exists within each of these two destinations is as wide as the diversity of gifts and personalities in the human family. But the contrast between the two destinations is as the night is to the day.”
— Dr. Stephen R. Covey, from The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness

Successful business leadership comes from pushing in new directions, not from sticking to convention.

Effective leadership development should challenge us to the hilt, by breaking down our preconceptions and confronting us with our inner demons and personal foibles.

The answer has everything to do with human nature and nothing to do with logic. We like training that reinforces our existing mindsets and prejudices. While most intelligent people love learning, very few like change. So when it comes to leadership training, people want to learn models and skills that reinforce what they already presume to be true.
– Take the road less travelled by Margot Cairnes, from Charter: Oct 2001 issue

Road Less Travelled
Neerav Bhatt’s footprints on a bush track in the Central Australian Desert region

Professor Ron McCallum reached the pinnacle of law and academia in Australia despite being born totally blind.

“Being disabled made me realise that there is more than one road in life, and that the justice system should look after individuals, especially those who can’t always speak for themselves [he said].

“That’s why I am concerned about workers with less bargaining power, about we disabled, about indigenous Australians, about refugees [he said]”
– A road less travelled to the top, smh.com.au June 12 2006

“There were summers past that I wish never came, and a great heap that are kept alive in my memory..”

“Recently, though, quite a few summers have made marks in my book. Now thanks to my travel companion Alan Osbucan who’s passion for photography made him a sunset chaser, I realized that to enjoy the merry months of angry sun means one has to thread the path least taken.”

“It’s a wonder how a 3-day break can be life-altering: you begin to appreciate simple joys like clean air, cheap food, and mundane stories. Every thing becomes beautiful, even boys jumping into the sea can be a heart-up. You start to embrace hope, as well — that when these boys grow up they would also have a terrific summer like what you and I just had: a summer that brought out the best in us despite no expectations, one that has taught us that the road less travelled was worth taking.”
-A Postscript to Summer, Manila Bulletin Sun May 28, 2006.

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.

Robert Lee Frost (1874 – 1963) is, in the estimation of many, the greatest American poet of the 20th century and one of the greatest poets writing in English in the 20th century. Frost won a Pulitzer Prize in 1924, 1931, 1937, and 1943. His works explore the relationships between individuals and between people and nature. “The Road Not Taken” first appeared in his collection ‘Mountain Interval’ in 1916.

PS Reading this poem prompted me to create a website at www.roadlesstravelled.com.au containing Travel Tales, Reviews and Photos from places around the world off the beaten track written by myself and invited guest writers

26 thoughts on “Thoughts on The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost”

  1. I found this very useful, i hope someone else does too.

    The poem describes the act of making choices within one’s life is solely responsible for the outcomes one produces. Frost speaks of the decisions one encounters as they journey through life and how at several points, one would come to a “fork” where the individual would have to decide which road (or decision) is best for them. At such points, Frost goes further to describe how one would contemplate whether or not the individual would like to take the road that has been traveled more or embark upon their own path. Because life is full of forks and divisions, it is not possible that one can choose one way and decide to turn back for the other. In essence that a life-changing decision is “life-changing,” it is all the same impossible to turn back and take the other road.
    “The Road Not Taken” possesses a solemn tone.

    The poem speaks very much about the decisions one must make should they continue through their life. Frost explains how “two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” and the speaker “taking the other” after “long [he] stood” has “made all the difference.” He acknowledges that the choices he has made and will make will greatly affect his future; therefore it is not a matter to be taken lightly, thus explaining his solemnity in the matter. The speaker realizes that both roads were “equally laying” “just as fair,” which makes them “really about the same.” The fact that there was not a significant difference between the two roads makes it difficult for the speaker to choose which road he would like to take. He understands that the choice is critical and does not treat life like a game, to be jokingly selected. He therefore “looked down as far as [he] could to where it bent in the undergrowth” to figuratively examine how one decision would affect his life. It is reasonable how the speaker would adopt such a solemnity while making such a decision as he would hope to make the best decision and not have any regrets. In the way that a fork in a road symbolizes a decision and a journey symbolizes a quest, the speaker is seeking to continue his life and gain self-knowledge. To the speaker, his pursuit is important, and that supports his taking on of a solemn tone.

    Though it is elaborate, the poem’s diction contributes to highly reflective imagery. The act of speaking in past tense for the majority of the poems develops the symbol of passing time. Frost also selects several words such as “yellow wood,” “long,” “just as fair,” “sigh[ing],” “ages and ages” portray that the speaker has been on the earth for quite a bit of time. A “yellow wood” symbolizes autumn: a time when trees loose their leaves, and life gets ready to die away for winter. It is typically accepted that autumn is a time of aging, and one is approaching winter: the time of death. With both the roads having been worn so much that they were “just as fair,” it must have taken rather some time for both to be worn to the same level. Frost goes further to explain how each road was like the other in the morning. “Morning,” when looked upon literally would define a new day, and from that one would connect figuratively that morning signifies a new beginning and thus a passing of time. As time passes, one would grow tired, hence the “sigh.” In the final verse, the speaker refers to the future where he “shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence.” This is after many years of careful contemplation.

    The whole idea of passing time demonstrates how the decision-making process goes on for one’s entire life. The “two roads diverging” is just one out of many decisions to be made. On one particular road, however, there was a “bent in the undergrowth.” Figuratively speaking, a bend in a road is an obstacle, and in this case, it was an obstacle in one of the choices in the speaker’s life. When one works around an obstacle, it adds to length; this being a length in time. In many ways, them poem has a time motif, where life is a long and intricate situation to go through. By stating how the roads were “grassy and wanted wear,” the speaker is embarking on a new journey. This embarking is just another decision the speaker must make that will inevitably decide for the outcome of his life. Because none of the leaves on the roads were “trodden black,” he is not taking the road others have taken, but making the way for his own life and being the first to make such a decision. The speaker also knows that “way leads onto way,” so even though the speaker has made a decision to travel one road, the decision-making is continuous, and life does not stop for him to retrace his steps and try the other road. The particular choice he made, however, has made “all the difference,” and that signifies that his contemplation has proven him a dramatic change in his life.

    The poem’s language is simple, but the complex syntax connects the punctuation and words to the thesis. Robert Frost wrote this poem in a few different combinations of tertrameter which employs a simple rhyme scheme and the varied effects of these schemes. By writing in such a fashion with the entire poem composed of four sentences, he is able to equate the feeling of many years passing by to the length of the sentences. These sentences are characterized by compound, complex. The very idea of compound and complex sentences is that they are long and elaborate, similar to that of the continuous life-altering decisions made every day. In addition to drawing out the ways how “way leads on to way,” Robert Frosts also inserts punctuation in several places.

    Punctuation itself, especially in poetry, can signify a range of things: a period meaning an end of a thought, a comma showing a pausing moment, a semicolon to connect ideas, and a dash to show large contrast. Acknowledging that, Frost tends to place the commas where he is describing the two roads. The commas, like the words making up the compound and complex sentences, force the audience to read his poem with the intended pauses, obviously to indicate the idea that decision-making is not a quick and easy task to do. The semicolons are also used similarly with the commas; however, they provide a contrast of images as well as the lengthening of the sentence, such as that of the road with the “bent in the undergrowth,” and the other that “was grassy and wanted wear.” It is through these commas and semicolons that Robert Frost extended what would be a simpler sentence into a little more than two full stanzas.

    There is the one colon and dash where it has “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.” The colon specifies the change between the past and the future when the speaker tells of his past decision and how it will affect him versus the future when he will be looking back at his past and how that has affected him. The dash signifies a pause and provided for the repetition of “I.” The repetition carries a hint of pride and pomposity. Though it may not be a likable quality, the speaker is also stating at the same time that because he decided for himself without the influee of others and embarked upon his own journey, he has emerged successful and “made all the difference.” The fact that his decision was the better one sentimentalizes this particular time and will allow him to go on and make the better choices in his future when he meets up on another road. That is crucial to understanding the concept of “The Road Not Taken.”

    Recognizing the value of “The Road Not Taken” can be a difficult thought to let go. Many would always have the urge to head back and travel down the other road instead just to experience what may happen. However, Robert Frost wants readers to realize and accept that life is too full of decisions to retrace every single diversion. He wants readers to be content with the road they have taken and not doubt the other road not taken may be better. To travel every diversion in a road would take more than a lifetime to accomplish, and as long as one is still alive, there will forever be diversions in the roads they take.

    if you found this useful-say hello to a random person tomorrow-it will make their day! Editor, please don’t remove these last two lines!

  2. hi everybody, i’m a thirteen year old who’s been doing an incredibly long review on this poem and i just thought i’d say that comment number three has been immensly
    helpful thanks alot

  3. thanks a lot maria
    my english teacher is very strict i thought ill never get this paraphrase

  4. I’ve always liked the second line of this poem: “And sorry I could not travel both”

    I like to think of it not as greed, but as wanting to experience many options in life. It also makes me think of a bit of indecision, which sometimes I suffer from myself!

  5. You’ve taken me back about 40 years here. I studied The Road Not Taken as school, and that was a long time ago. It’s still as good to read now though 🙂

  6. this is my thoughts on the road not taken…

    The poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost is arguably one of the most famous pieces of literature written in 20th century. The compatibility to the average person’s life is what makes it so appealing. Underneath the fancy wording and complex language lies a humble meaning: a man decides his own path- the road not taken. This relevance in everyday life is what gives the poem meaning and soul. “The Road Not Taken” is truly about inquisitiveness, contemplation, and leadership/individuality. I myself can relate to the modest connotation. We all can connect ourselves to Frost’s words- travel the road not taken.

    Many themes can be ascertained in the passage. Inquisitiveness is one of the main premises. Frost states “…and sorry I could not take both.” This shows that in his travels, he is curious and regrets not being able to seek the other path. He wants to know what could have been. I often find myself wondering what would have happened. I believe in fate and the connection of all things, but what would have caused such repercussions? These deliberations mimic those of the traveler, connecting me to him. Another such connection would be the contemplation involved in choosing the right path. The traveler says “Oh, I kept the first for another day!” He stayed and reflected on his path, choosing wisely and level-headedly. This is the opposite of what I do. I am known for making snap decisions. I barrel ahead blindly until I get into trouble, or I see an obstacle. It may be impractical, but I don’t have enough patience to mull over every detail, and weigh each pro and con. This makes me different form the traveler, but it still binds us. Finally, the last concealed theme in this poem is leadership and individuality. The poem reads “I took the one less traveled by; and that has made all the difference.” The traveler had to posses leadership qualities to make the decision to go where few have gone before. He chooses to make his own path and decide what he wants to do and be by himself. He is like me. I would rather be my own person than always conform to society’s or anyone else’s standards. I am an individualist, and I consider myself a leader. If given the choice, I would choose the road not taken.

    The poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost has unmatched depth, making it easy to relate to the qualms of the traveler. It can be paralleled to even modern-day works such as Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. Bella decides to make her own opinions and thoughts about vampires. She didn’t heed any of the warnings given to her by Jacob, Billy, Jessica, even Edward himself. She chose the road not taken by sticking to what she believed in and not being influenced by the social order- a difficult thing to do. To travel down the road not taken is a big feat, but it can be achieved by the average person- all that is needed is courage. The general public can relate to “The Road Not Taken” because of the contemplation, the curiosity, and the leadership of the traveler. We will all be travelers in the yellow wood one day, and when we reach the fork, it is up to us to journey down the road not taken. You decide- leader or follower. Strong or weak. Good or bad. Light or dark.

    haha… sorry about the super-long comment… i like commenting on stuff. what you actually just read (at least, you BETTER have read it…) was my literary essay on the poem… tell me what you think… THANKS! 😀

  7. This really is, a great site, i tried to search the reviews for the poem cause I’m doing a speech about journey. Anyways, thanks!

  8. Has anyone here thoroughly read this poem? Because smack dab in the middle it says that the roads are the same.

    “Though as for that passing there
    Had worn them really about the same
    And both that morning equally lay”

    In my opinion, it has little to do with individuality and taking risks and more to do with indecision, regret, and a bit of self-inflation.

  9. Comments 3 and 10 Are XTREMELY Helpful. Esp. The Last Para In Comment 3. TY Very Much.

    PS: Im Gonna Try Out Saying Hi To A Random.

  10. I agree with #12. This is about coming to a split where there are two choices. They look the same and the speaker does not know which one to choose. Finally deciding on one, this person will tell himself/herself that it was the road less traveled to lessen the feeling of regret even though the two paths were equal.

  11. why is,, coz I can’t understand, the simple use of words provoke a class study?
    Why is a beautiful work, be it Frost with a pen or Turner with a brush, be scrutinized, be examined in every detail until the work is lost? Isn’t there some-one out there who reads a poem and falls in love? I don’t care if the wood is scary.

  12. I liked d poem very much n it is a very good poem. And many many thanks to u Maria. Ur writing was very useful for me.

  13. These are good inspirational poems. This is what i have learnt from one of these poems;

    Obstacles can be a stepping stone to success and the road to greatness is rough and narrow.

  14. Really nice review especially comment #3. However I disagree on one thing. Most people seem to think (and misquoted) that the author was better off choosing the road less travelled. He never actually said that, he said it had made all the difference (not indicating whether it’s for better or worse). Anyway let’s see it from other point of view.

    Remember, the title of this poem is not “The Road Less Travelled” but rather “The Road Not Taken”. With that in mind, imagine a woman who writes a poem about two men in her life in the similar manner of this poem. The title of the poem is “The Man I didn’t Married” … Who do you think is the focus of the poem? Is it a love letter to her husband? or is it more of a ” what-if ” letter to her lover? Which one is more probable? Saying that at the end he’d better off with the road less travelled, is akin to say that at the end the woman are happier with her husband. Well if I’m her husband, I wouldn’t be happy with the title for sure. With title like that, it’s definitely not about the husband.

    Same with this poem, it’s about the “Road Not Taken” … the life that the author didn’t choose. Some take the “sigh” at the end as a sign of regret, some say it is self-satisfaction. Either way you interpret it, the author didn’t know (and couldn’t have known) whether he’d be better/worse off for taking the other road, only that he would have lived a totally different life. And that’s the point of the poem. Just my 2.05 cents.

  15. Wow this poet has expressed my friends and I. The way we feel about it that it’s like talking with us and about our life we really like this poem. And by the way God bless the poet and the other readers. I never understood what it meant but thank God for my friends they had come and we had work together for this poem and now I understand. My friend Cindy was helping thanks and love you all.

    -Sydney White
    the best of them all.

  16. I really love this poem it helped me through life and when it comes to tough times I know how it is like when we are stuck with two paths and we could not choose we just have to look foward in our future and try our best to choose a path that it is easy for us to take and we cant give up when it comes to these times I love to thanks my teacher Lita Timoteo for giving out these poems in order for us to help us in life………….. and to you that loves to read poem please do not stop reading just keep on reading and dont give up………………lol

  17. I really love this poem! I understood that robert frost was talking about the two roads we have to face in life but I never understood his back-story in which led him to write this poem…… but I now understand that robert frost was talking about the road less traveled by in which led him to be a great poet and a wise man now!

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