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"The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost - A Biographical Analysis

Updated on June 21, 2010


“The Road Not Taken”

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 Frost---

     “The Road Not Taken”, by “Robert Frost” was first published in 1916, and was included in a collection titled “Mountain Interval” (Wikipedia). Some critics would say that its meaning is pretty straight forward. It describes the process of an individual having to make a decision in life, not knowing at that moment if the decision will be the right one, and surely to second guess the decision sometime later. However, regardless of the decision, it is a decision made, that has played a part in what that individual is today. Is this what Frost intended? I feel that by doing a biographical analysis on “Frost”, we can find his true meaning in this poem. To make this analysis we must look at Frost’s life prior to 1916 for any relativity and validity.

     Toward the end of 1894, living in Lawrence, Massachusetts, Frost had sold his very first poem. Excited, he proposed to a woman named Elinor Miriam White, although they were not married until she finished college. After getting married, Frost’s grandfather had bought them a farm where Frost had continued writing in the early mornings. His farming had proved to be unfulfilling and not very successful. After nine years he decided to go back to teaching English, which he had done briefly before getting married.

     In 1912 the couple moved to Great Britain, then eventually settling in Beaconsfield, just outside London, England (Wikipedia). “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both”, (Frost). If the roads indeed represent choice, then the yellow wood represents life. Could Frost be writing about his decision to move to Great Britain leaving America behind? Frost then writes of sorrow and not being able to travel both roads, could this be fear of future regret? What he will miss by leaving America? “And be one traveler, long I stood” (Frost). This represents his uncertainty of what the future might bring them in Great Britain. Possibly Second Guessing?

     While living in England Frost befriended another poet (Edward Thomas). Together, Frost and Thomas would take long walks in the forest, where Thomas would often complain that they should have taken another path (Wikipedia). Frost and his wife only stayed in England a short time, moving back to America as World War I began in 1915. Upon their arrival, Frost purchased another farm in Franconia, New Hampshire. This is where Frost started his career of writing, teaching and lecturing (Wikipedia).  When we look further at the poem, “And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear (Frost);” This can be represented by the fact, he had moved to Great Britain. “Though as for that, the passing there, Had worn them really about the same, And both that morning equally lay” (Frost). After returning home to America Frost might feel like he is right back where he started, and that possibly he should not have left to begin with. Frost writes further, “Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way” (Frost). I feel this represents that before moving to Great Britain and then to England, Frost thought he could always return home, but knowing after some choices are made it is not always easy undoing them, thus “I doubted if I should ever come back” (Frost). This does not mean he thought he would never return to America, it was only a belief when making the initial decision to move away.

     “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” (Frost). Frost expresses here that he will one day look back on the decision he has made, and then sigh, knowing it has made him the individual he is.

     I feel that analysis of Frosts life, from the time he left high school until the time this poem was published in 1916, shows just how his biographical background influenced this poem. However, “biographical accounts make it clear that Frost did not intend the message of this poem to be taken at face value. His biographer, Laurence Thompson, explained in Robert Frost: The Years of Triumph 1915-1938, that the poet wrote “The Road Not Taken” as a satire of his friend Edward Thomas. Frost was amused by Thomas’ indecisiveness; by the way he would dither over decisions, unable to make up his mind” (Kelly). Robert Frost on his own poetry: "One stanza of 'The Road Not Taken' was written while I was sitting on a sofa in the middle of England: Was found three or four years later, and I couldn't bear not to finish it. I wasn't thinking about myself there, but about a friend who had gone off to war, a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn't go the other. He was hard on himself that way."
Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, 23 Aug. 1953 (Frost, Road Not Taken)


Works Cited:

Frost, Robert. Road Not Taken. 01 06 2010 <http://poetrypages.lemon8.nl/life/roadnottaken/roadnottaken.htm>.

Frost, Robert. "The Road Not Taken." DiYanni, Robert. Literature - Approaches To Fiction, Poetry, and Drama (second edition). New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008. 539-540.

Kelly, David. The Road Not Taken (Criticism). 1997. 01 06 2010 <http://www.answers.com/topic/the-road-not-taken-poem-7>.

Wikipedia. Robert Frost. 26 05 2010. 01 06 2010 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Frost>.

—. The Road Not Taken. 06 06 2010. 06 06 2010 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Road_Not_Taken_%28poem%29>.

© 2010 John C. Evenstar

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    • Billie Kelpin profile image

      Billie Kelpin 11 months ago from Newport Beach

      In 1964, I sat in Ms. Brunhummer's English Lit. class at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. What she did that day has been with me ever since. She let another student and me argue for almost the whole class over Frost's intention in another poem, "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening". I was adamant about the metaphorical meaning of that poem "and miles to go before I sleep" while another student, a young man argued with me that the poem was just a beautiful poem about nature. Mr. Brunhummer let the two of us go on the full class time defending our positions. The bell rang as which point, as I remember, Ms. Brunhummer stopped the rustling of students books, and said, "Wait people, what you just witnessed was something powerful. To Billie, Frost's poem had a deep metaphorical meaning, to Stacey it had beauty merely in it's representation of nature. The message is unique to Billie and unique to Stacey. And that, class, is the definition of "universality" in poetry and why Frost's poems touch us and live on. Frost touches each of us in a very unique and personal way.

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      MOHAMMED 22 months ago

      I LIKE FORST , AND I WILL KEEP THE EXPLANATION FOR ME ... THANKS

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      Dayita 3 years ago

      Such a worthy explanation. Truly, Inspite of what critics think, The Road Not Taken has a deeper meaning, and I believe every person could philosophically define the poem for himself/herself.

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      sharanjeet 3 years ago

      I am still not clear as to what does the word sigh indicate in the last stanza.The sigh is of joy or sorrow.It is difficult to tell my class 9 cbse students whether the poet is regretting his decision n which decision it is

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      Pure Busani Ndlovu 3 years ago

      I have taught this poem to learners and I have always underscored the need to know the biography of Frost

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      Pure Busani Ndlovu 3 years ago

      I have taught this poem to learners and I have always underscored the need to know the biography of Frost

    • profile image

      antoinette 3 years ago

      thanks for the explanation of the meaning,the theme,and the purpose of writing of this poem...

    • profile image

      elizabeth 3 years ago

      thanks for the.........explanation of the poem .........

    • profile image

      Dan3k 4 years ago

      Great Paem

    • profile image

      Shubham jhunjhunwala 4 years ago

      a good poem....!!

    • profile image

      ROSU 4 years ago

      It's a Meaning Full Poem . We Have It In Our Textbook .

      Our Sir Teach It Very Interestingly . It Made me To Read This

      Wonder full Poem. Thank you For Such A Poem.

      THANK YOU

    • profile image

      FIFI 4 years ago

      Its a Meaning full poem . We Have This Poem In Our Text Book.

      Our Sir Teach It Wonder Fully . Thank You For This Poem.

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      Rohan M Santhosh 5 years ago

      my teacher told me that the poem relates with the poet's life

    • profile image

      shubhangi 5 years ago

      thx a lot.............

    • profile image

      Pritha Mitra 5 years ago

      Its really a wonderful poem.... It tells us that whatever decision an individual takes,it isn't necessary that it will always be right....

    • John C. Evenstar profile image
      Author

      John C. Evenstar 5 years ago from Portland

      In fact, this poem has no relation to the loss of anything, it was written about a friend of Frost who could never make up a solid decision. The gentleman was a very indecisive individual. This said, the nice thing about this poem is any individual can interpret it in many ways. That is the beauty of poetry. My suggestion is to tell your instructor what it means to you.

      John C Evenstar

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      oakleyrocks99 5 years ago

      i need help in identifying how the poem relates to a loss of something!!!!???? my teacher told me to make a speech for our teacher leaving and she says this poem relates?????? HOW?????!!!! HELP!!!!!!????

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      great poem

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      ambar raj parmar 5 years ago

      a truly inspirated poem written by a genius

    • profile image

      BOB 5 years ago

      TALENTE SALENTE

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