Context or Content? “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost has many different interpretations and meanings. The most effective way to understand these is to understand the diction Frost utilizes. His specific word choice and sentences all lead the reader to his meaning. Many critics believe analyzing Frost’s life will add deeper insight into the poem’s theme; however, each has looked too deep and has provided overanalyzed ideas. Although, multiple critics claim that examining Frost’s context is the key to understanding his message, it is the poem’s content and diction that reveal the poem’s deeper, and more valuable meanings.
The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost is a closed-form poem that follows an ABAAB rhyme scheme in the first paragraph without interlocking rhyme in the rest of the three stanzas. Published in 1915, this poem emphasizes powerful statements of choices in literal and figurative terms, providing the poem with a strong tension of saying versus suggesting. Frost, in first-person, writes of the dilemma of which of “two roads diverged”(Frost Line 1) he should choose.
He describes the nature of the roads, wrestles with this decision, finally makes his decision, and ends the poem with a reminiscent evaluation stanza of his decision. Frost, in the first stanza describes a traveler during autumn, in a “…yellow wood,” who comes across a fork in his path and does not know which road to choose. The second stanza explains that the traveler has chosen one road “… perhaps [with] the better claim” (7) which he will take. Frost also describes the two roads as “worn … about the same” (10).
In the third stanza, the traveler decides that he will keep “ … the first for another day” (13) in one line, then, in the next, the narrator states that this would be doubtful. The last stanza depicts the traveler explaining with a “sigh” (16) that he took the road “less traveled”(19) which “… has made all the difference” (20). The first line of the last stanza reads, “I shall be telling this [story] with a sigh” (16). This sentence causes controversy between critics depending on context or content interpretation.
Looking at the poem’s context in relation with Frost’s life, Fleissner and Katherine Kearns interpret this as the evidence to support the idea that Frost changed his subject from Thomas to himself (Fleissner). Contrary, through examination of the content, the word “sigh” here can be associated with a positive or a negative connotation. Robert Faggen interprets this sigh as a “ … regret for a road of lost possibility” which has eliminated other possible outcomes for this traveler (Faggen). The positive perspective could be that the sigh is a relief from choosing the correct “claim” (7).
Comparing the context and content interpretations it is clear that the content indicates a more general relatable meaning of life choices and decisions; whereas Fleissner and Kearns suggest no meaning at all and just state this poem is a representation of Frost’s friend Thomas. Robert Frost’s poetry reveals his adoration to the natural beauty of New England, specifically in the poem “The Road Not Taken. ” He was born on March 26, 1874, and is a well-known poet for his use of rhyme, diction, and use of symbols relating to the simplicity of New England.
Frost received schooling from both Dartmouth and Harvard University. He lived with his family on a farm in Derry, N. H. In 1912, Frost moved to England, and after World War I returned back to the United States, settling back on a farm in Franconia, N. H (Merriam Page 1). “The Road Not Taken” is a great example expressing Frost’s admiration for New England because it is describing the woods during autumn, which New England is known for. Frost’s past lifestyle, living on farms, leads critics to believe Frost’s personality is individualist.
Critics present the theory that through Frost’s personality and career choice this poem reflects individualism. This is expressed through “The Road Not Taken. ” Individualism is defined as “the principle or habit of or belief in independent thought or action”(Dictionary) Frost expresses independent thought when he chose to become a poet in an age when this profession was considered extreme and not common. He did not choose to become a banker, or postman, which were more comfortable ordinary jobs. This, in and of itself, shows his individualistic personality and desire to not be a conformist.
Not considering Frost’s history, there is textual evidence that reveals an individualistic personality. The narrator is not explicitly named, so the reader can assume this is a general message about individualism: not an expression of Frost’s or possibly Thomas’s life. Frost writes that the traveler chooses the “… one less traveled by” which is claimed to have “… made all the difference. ” This explains the traveler choosing to take the path which less have chosen. The traveler does not want to conform and follow the norm; a clear indication of individualism. The ending of “The Road
Not Taken” reveals Frost’s reason for writing this poem. He writes a poem about a decision, and concludes it leaving the analysis of the decision to his readers’ interpretations which ironically parallels the poem’s main point: options are weighed and made differently by every person, which means that there can’t be a universal or absolute right or wrong decision. When Frost uses clever diction he demonstrates that the decision itself is not what is important, as much as the fact that a decision has been made. This is why Frost leaves the poem’s ending to interpretation, because such evaluations do not matter.
Everyone will consider and make decisions differently. Multiple critics mention that Frost’s poem is actually reflecting his friend Edward Thomas’s life and not his own. Frost traveled to visit his close friend Edward Thomas very often. They often went for walks through the woods. “The Road Not Taken” is more about Thomas’s secluded more lonely life (Finger Page 1) than it is about himself. In multiple essays critics explain that when Frost and Thomas took their walks they would come to forks in the woods and have to choose a path.
It is said that Thomas would complain that he could not choose to travel both. It is also stated that Frost himself claims the poem is about Edward Thomas (Fleissner). Fleissner bring up the idea that the subject of the poem starts out as being about Thomas, however, ends being about Frost. He supports this stating that during the period between when Frost wrote the poem and when he decided to publish it, his thoughts change, which we see in the word “sigh” in the last stanza of the poem. What also leads critics to believe Frost wrote “The Road Not Taken” is the fact that Frost was in England during the time he wrote it (source). Thompson, Lawrance, ed. Selected Letters of Robert Frost. New York: Holt, 1964. “Frost, Robert (Lee). ” Merriam Webster’s Encyclopedia of Literature. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1995. Literature Resource Center. Web. 29 Mar. 2011. Finger, Larry. “Frost’s Reading of ‘The Road Not Taken. ‘. ” Robert Frost Review (Fall 1997): 73-76. Rpt. in Poetry Criticism. Ed. Michelle Lee. Vol. 71.
Detroit: Gale, 2006. Literature Resource Center. Web. 29 Mar. 2011. (Katherine)Robert Frost and a Poetics of Appetite. Copyright © 1994 by Cambridge University Press. Reprinted by permission of the author. (Flaggen) Robert Frost and the Challenge of Darwin. Copyright © 1997 by The University of Michigan Dictionary. com Bibliography on Frost (need to get the cite for this from Lit Resource Center) **some sources I still need to site and these souress at the end aren’t completely citied right I have to figure out how they should be done.
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