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Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”



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    Every person, in whatever stage of life can relate to going through a journey. Though we might not all have walked the exact same path, each person experiences an internal and physical journey. An internal journey is a reflective journey of the mind and spirit filled with uncertainty, challenges and conflicts. The growth we derive from such journeys can present us with an avenue for self-discovery and self-evaluation, leading us to challenge.

    Furthermore, a physical journey accompanies and ignites the inner journey and is often the catalyst for change in the individual. Robert Frost’s poems “The Road Not Taken,” “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” and “Acquainted with the Night” all portray these journeys, but each with differing means of struggles toward that journey. Frost uses the concurring theme of the connection of man and the natural world in all three poems to emphasize such struggles. Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” both portray weighing of choices in life.

    The former is about youth and experiencing life and the latter is about old age, or more probably, an old spirit wearied by life. In both poems the speaker is in a critical situation where he has to choose between two paths in life. In “The Road Not taken” the speaker chooses the unconventional approach to the decision making process, thus showing his uniqueness and challenging mentality while in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” the speaker seeks a life without any pain and struggle but at the end, he has to comply with social obligation, which reflects his responsibility towards the society.

    On the other hand, in the poem “Acquainted with the Night” Frost focuses on the speaker’s depression and loneliness through a depiction of a late night journey. Instead of struggling with choices, the speaker is idle in being dissatisfied. He has walked beyond the city limits and along every city lane, but has never found anything to comfort him. He is sad, lonely, and distant, but at the same time, nothing seems wrong either. Stuck in a limbo between wrong and right, the speaker seems empty.

    Yet, he has walked at night so much that he cannot have hated it; there’s something about the beauty of the moon and the night that attracts him, though he is left unfulfilled somehow. Brought to a standstill at the presence of a crossroad, the speaker of “The Road Not Taken” is left to contemplate which path to travel. The very first line of the poem begins with “two roads diverged in a yellow wood” (1), the reader sees he is confronted by a choice in nature.

    The speaker then “looked down as far as [he] could to where it bent in the undergrowth” (4-5), even though he is in a peaceful forest making his choice, it is a little intimidating that the bushes and plants of the forest are keeping him from seeing where the path he takes is leading him. Looks like he is stuck; in the natural world and in civilization realizing one cannot always see where his life is going.

    After careful inspection of both routes, the speaker comes to the conclusion that neither path presents a more appealing endeavor ahead but as the speaker ponders his choices, he feels strongly that whatever “road” he takes will be for good. So he must weigh his decision well in order to come up with the best choice and not end up regretting it. Of the two means of travel, the speaker asserts that “the passing there/Had worn them really about the same” (lines 9-10) and “both that morning equally lay/ In leaves no step had trodden black” (lines11-12).

    Lacking an explicit solution to the dilemma, the speaker is left to contemplate any future consequences based on an impending decision of taking one road over the other. Infused with the anticipation of remorse, Frost’s work portrays the universal query supposing a different possible outcome if another route was taken of equal uncertainty. Even the title suggests this impression of doubt, where the road not taken is mentioned with greater precedent than the actual course of travel.

    Lacking the chance to “travel both/ And be one traveler” (lines 2-3), one path must function as the chosen way and the other the other way, both with no indication of which is the better to travel. Therefore, once the chosen way is traveled, the other way holds a haunting reminder of what may have been lost strictly by chance. Thus, “with a sigh” (line 16), the speaker proclaims that he took advantage of the opportunities to the best of his ability as they were presented to him, despite those of chance.

    In effect, taking the chosen path has “made all the difference” (line 20) which shows choosing the harder path gives the speaker the fulfillment he sought. By choosing the harder path, the speaker declares his rebellion against the popular opinion as represented by the other road. He decides not to conform to society and takes up a less popular choice. The act of choosing the road represents his uniqueness and the fact that he is always moving forward, even without stopping. Like “The Road Not Taken”, in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, the speaker has to make a big decision in his life as well.

    He has to choose between isolation and social obligation. At first glance, this poem might denote stopping in the woods to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Different symbols in this poem though reveal that stop in the poem could be referring to death. In this phrase “Between the woods and frozen lake”, the wood becomes a symbol of life where frozen lake signifies death. When the speaker reaches the woods, he finds a world offering perfect, quiet and solitude, existing side by side with the realization that there is also another world, a world of people and social obligation. Both worlds have claim on the poet.

    He stops by the wood on this “darkest evening of the year” to watch them “fill up with snow”, and remains there so long that his “little horse” shakes his “harness belts” to ask if there is “some mistake” (lines 1 to 10). That little horse’s action reminds him of the “promises” he has to keep and the miles he still has to travel (13-16). The speaker wrestles with his choice in the third stanza where he considers whether he should stay in the woods or not. The horse, on the other hand, is his connection to the civilization and life. It is signaling the speaker, by shaking its bells to leave the woods and go back to where he belongs.

    Meanwhile, the speaker is considering going back but at the same time, he sees how nice the “wind” is and how it could blow away all his woes and worries. In the end, the speaker realizes that “dark and deep” wood and “frozen lake” (13-14), which represent death, is not his answer. He has promises to keep. He does actually connect to life and therefore decides to keep journeying on. He has many things to do; many miles go to before he stops. Presumably, the social responsibility proves stronger that the attraction of the isolated woods, which are “lovely” as well as “deep and dark” (13). Acquainted with the Night,” is commonly understood to be a description of the narrator’s repeated journey with depression. The most crucial element of his depression is his complete isolation. Frost emphasizes this by using the first-person term “I” at the beginning of seven of the lines. Even though the watchman has a physical presence in the poem, he does not play a mental or emotional role. Similarly, when the narrator hears the “interrupted cry” from another street, he clarifies that the cry is not meant for him, because there is no one waiting for him at home.

    The narrator’s inability to make eye contact with the people that he meets suggests that his depression has made him incapable of interacting in normal society. While normal people are associated with the day (happiness, sunlight, optimism), the narrator is solely acquainted with the night, and thus can find nothing in common with those around him. The narrator is even unable to use the same sense of time as the other people in the city, instead of using a clock that provides a definitive time for every moment, the narrator relies solely on “one luminary clock” in the sky.

    Ironically, since night is the only time that he emerges from his solitude, the narrator has even less opportunity to meet someone who can pull him from his depression. His acquaintance with the night constructs a cycle of depression that he cannot escape. Frost adds to the uncertainty inherent in the poem by incorporating the present perfect tense, which is used to describe something from the recent past, as well as something from the past that is still ongoing in the present.

    It seems as if the narrator’s depression could be from the recent past because of the phrase: “I have been…” However, the verb tense also suggests that his depression could still be a constant force. The only conclusion given by the poem is that of acceptance. It seems that after the dark journey of searching the streets and the soul, the narrator was forced to realize that there is not an answer that will cure his isolation and detachment from society. The ending rhymes of the last two lines “right” and “night” seem to echo like a sigh of relief as if the narrator is pleased these thoughts are over and are memories.

    Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and “Acquainted with the Night” provides us contrasting and sometimes similar glimpses of life. “The Road Not Taken” is about taking control and living life. “Stopping by Woods on Snowy Evening” entails the desire for rest, perhaps due to the speaker’s feelings of weariness from facing life’s struggles. “Acquainted with the Night” describes the unending isolation and detachment from the world.

    The speaker illustrates an escape beyond the furthest city light and interacts with elements like rain, the moon, and the sky. With the contrast between the dark of the city beyond the lights and the brightness of the moon, the natural world he wants to pursue shines beyond the lights of civilization. Frost explains the tough choices people stand before when traveling the road of life. Sometimes people regret the possibilities of the road not chosen, sometimes people feel proud about the road they have chosen, or they move on in acceptance. Works Cited:

    Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”. (2017, Jan 06). Retrieved from

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