English 165W Paper 1.

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Angela Cerbone
14 September 2010
Professor Jacobs
English 165W: Introduction to Poetry
“The Road Not Taken”
By: Robert Frost
“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost follows the train of thought of a traveler who
comes upon a fork in the road and must decide which side he must choose. The reader must;
however, when reading this poem, keep an open mind and not immediately dismiss the poems
message as that simple and shallow. Which is the better road? Is this piece’s metaphor even
about the depth of well-thought out decision making or is it an exercise in poetic imagery taken
too seriously? Frost writes this poem with a regular rhyme scheme in four stanzas of five lines
each. Its flowing form makes a reading easy. There is nothing else to be distracted by. It is left,
then, to our own interpretation, what Frost’s real point was in writing “The Road Not Taken”.
Poetry is measured in metrical feet. For example, a line of poetry if, when combined
with another, forms an end rhyme the result is a couplet. The couplet joined with, say, another
couplet forms a stanza called a quatrain. How these lines and couplets and stanzas combine is
known as the form of a poem. Our tale of the decision making weary traveler has a regular
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iambic pentameter: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood/ And sorry I could not travel both
(Frost 1-2).” The meter is contained in four cinquains that follow the basic pattern ABAAB:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both,
And be one traveler lone I stood,
And looked down one as far as I could,
To where it bent in the undergrowth (1-5).
The rhythm and rhyme that make up the form of this poem focuses on key words that create and
further the metaphor by invoking images and playing with the senses. Putting the stress on words
like “roads” (1) and “yellow” (1) helps Frost get across the feeling of a journeying man stopping
at the apex of a fork in the road on a fall night, without even having to say the words. In stanza
two, when the speaker is comparing the two roads (“Then took the other, as just as fair”(6)) we
understand that the roads look just the same. The crux of the poem – which road do I take?becomes more prominent. The poem, through the powerful imagery, becomes not solely about
making a choice. But how do you make a choice when both options seem the same but will result
in a difference of destination?
This poem is an example of closed verse. It has a fixed form. It is structured, lines rhyme;
as opposed to Free verse wherein there are no “rules.” A poet can still get a point across in the
poetic medium but lack any rhyme or rhythm. It does not actually need any of these poetic
devices that Frost elected to use. Would this poem still mean the same to a reader if it was
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written differently? Or does the care taken to write this poem this way drive home the overall
“meaning” of the piece? Either way Robert Frost has been quoted as saying, “writing free verse
is like playing tennis with the net down,” his form selected for this piece was obviously very
important to him (Stallworthy).
The idea of “choice” is the metaphor that weaves through this poem. Each path on this
road can take the traveler someplace but where does he want to go? This is a common enough
question. The road less traveled by that makes all the difference is symbolic of the less obvious
choice. The “road,” or option, that most people forgo, in order to take the safe well trodden
direction, is not a place where they know what to expect. It is ironic that the speaker believes by
the end of the poem that the less obvious choice was better in the long run. The unknown is
looked at in a positive way as opposed to the “normal” scary manner. But, as has already been
pointed out, the roads look the same. This is pivotal. This is important. The speaker can “see”
each road yields different results. He feels that he will never return to this point again. The
audience, in Frost’s speaker saying “Yet knowing how way leads onto way,/ I doubted if I should
ever come back (14-15),” understands the size and significance of the decision being made.
Where will this— this seemingly easy choice: left or right— lead him?
Our speaker, “The Traveler”, represents anybody making a choice: an on the surface
easy, yes-or-no type of decision. But in a laconic manner Frost conveys the entire process that is
decision making. We work our way through the list of pros and cons with the speaker. Pro: I
have two choices and am not being forced into anything that I do not want to do. Con: The roads
look the same. Pro: Most people take this road. Con: I will never be able to come back to this
point- pressure added. The syntax allows Frost to use few words to get across so many
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conflicting emotions in so little space. Each word, each phrase is crafted to supply for myriad of
ideas in a concise phrase. This poem can be used as a metaphor for anything that needs choosing.
On the other side of this interpretation critics ponder: if the speaker finally decides and
takes the road less traveled by what is the “difference” that is claimed at the end? Is the speaker
even making a choice at all? Some feel it is “ a hopeless contradiction”, according to an article
written in The New England Quarterly. They pose the question: “How does minimal difference
make all the difference?” The same article claims, the critic, Yvor Winters, believes this poem to
be “lazy” and Frost to be “careless” (Savioe). Critic Frank Lentrichia, in an attempt to “save the
poem” writes it off as nothing more than “the powerful image of the choice in life” (Savioe). It is
just a pretty way of telling an anecdote about making a decision, nothing profound is being told;
we are just reading way too much into this. We are tricking ourselves into thinking we have a
choice. Frost himself is known to warned people that it was a “tricky” poem at readings. The
idea of this poem being nothing more than an exercise in poetic imagery is appealing. Not only
does the audience get to enjoy a short story in the form of a poem but then they do not have to
over analyze what they just heard and degrade everything to a mere parlor trick of the English
language. The poem can serve its purpose as entertainment just as easily as it can be interpreted
intellectually in a close reading. It does not need point of sense but it can connect to the reader on
an emotional, sensual level. That is in the readers’ mind they can visualize the path and the
evening sans the deeper meaning of all choices in life having many intertwining similar paths
that can take them someplace else.
“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost has a definite and regular form but a not definite
and regular meaning. The crux of this poem depends on how a reader interprets the piece. On the
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one hand, if it is read closely for content and syntax and phrasing and poetic devices it becomes a
general metaphor for the choice all people have in life. It can be used as a guide on how to come
to one’s own conclusion. On the other hand; however, it can be simple taken as a nice sounding
poem that invokes images of a fork in the road and nothing more. The choice is left to the reader.
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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.
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Works Cited
Frost, Robert “The Road Not Taken,” The Norton Anthology of Poetry, Margaret Ferguson,
Mary Jo Salter, and Jon Stallworthy, New York, Norton 2005. Print. 801.
Stallworthy, Jon “Versification,” The Norton Anthology of Poetry, Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo
Salter, and Jon Stallworthy, New York, Norton 2005. Print.
Savioe, John “A Poet’s Quarrel: Jamesian Pragmatism and Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” The
New England Quarterly Vol. 77, No. 1 (Mar. 2004) 5-11. Web.