The Road Not Taken and The Path of Life
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” is a lyrical poem about the decisions that one must make in life. When a man approaches a fork in the road on which he is traveling, he must choose which path to take. The choice that he makes, as with any choices made in life, affects him in a way that “has made all the difference . Thematically, the poem argues that no matter how small a decision is, that decision will affect a person’s life forever.
“The Road Not Taken” is told as a first-person narrative. The narrator is looking back on the decisions that have affected him. The decision that is illustrated in the poem occurred at a much earlier point in the narrator’s life. It would be possible for a reader to be drawn into the poem to such a degree that the reader would become the narrator. Everyone has made decisions, and since it is the purpose of this poem to discuss and address those decisions, it would be easy to look beyond the narrator and see oneself. The word choice used in the poem very effectively portrays the speaker. The language used is very simple, almost as if the narrator is not speaking, but thinking, for the language of thoughts tends to be simple without using words that require a dictionary to define. The simple, almost quiet and seducing tone acts to draw the reader into the poem allowing the reader to become the narrator.
Throughout the poem, Frost uses images that could be interpreted as either quite simple and very specific or incredibly involved and extremely general. For example, by interpreting images such as “Two roads… in a yellow wood,” the “undergrowth,” as well as the rest of the poem very specifically, one would see a simple story: A young man was walking down a road until he came to a point where the road forked. The man had to decide which path to take, one that was very worn, or “one less traveled by.” He decided to take the less traveled path and keep “the first for another day.” Looking back on this situation, the narrator feels his decision has changed his life forever.
On the other hand, Frost could be using the images presented in the poem in a very involved and general way. The paths and the fork may no longer refer to their definitions, but instead as keywords in a description of life. Through the poem, Frost is defining life as a series of decisions. Some of these decisions may, at the time, be thought of as insignificant, while others could be thought of as very significant. Frost argues that a decisions’ significance at the time is not really important, for any choice will change one’s life. Every day, people, including the narrator of the poem, are presented with “Two roads” that diverge “in a yellow wood.” These roads are not concrete or physical, but rather represent choices. The fact that one road is “grassy and wanted wear” while the other was commonly traversed shows the reader that some choices require one to choose something that is not commonly sought or to do something that is not commonly done. The total of these decisions leads people, like the reader, down a new path: a path which the narrator himself created. The narrator comes to the realization that every decision affects him when he says:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The narrator also comes to the realization that once a choice is made, it is almost impossible to change that choice: “Oh, I kept the first for another day! / Yet knowing how way leads on to way, / I doubted if I should ever come back.”
The structure also reinforces the theme of Frost’s poem. The poem is written in four stanzas with five lines per stanza. This form gives the poem a very balanced form. The poem conforms to a set of rules that Frost has presented. The rules define the poem’s stresses, lines, and rhyme scheme. Therefore, the poem fits the rules for closed for poetry. The rhyme scheme for the poem is ABAAB CDCCD EFEEF GHGGH IJIIJ. This pattern creates a very understandable and flowing poem. The reader is carried from line to line, stanza to stanza by the rhyming words at the ends of the lines. Underneath this rhyme scheme lies a strict rule for the syllables in each line as well. The lines alternate between eight and nine syllables. This provides a contrast since rhyming lines do not necessarily contain the same number of syllables. This choice by Frost pulls the reader into the poem, but maintains the thought-like atmosphere as the narrator looks back unto his life at the decisions that he made and their results.
In his perhaps best known poem, Frost recognizes something that everyone should realize. The simple picture of a man deciding which path to follow is suddenly changed into a description of life by the mastery of Frost’s poetic hand. No matter how small a decision appears to be at the time that it is made, that decision will affect a person’s life forever, or as Frost puts it, each and every choice will make “all the difference.”