Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
of Work and Year of Publication
Road Not Taken" is a lyric
poem with four stanzas of five lines each. (A
lyric poem presents the feelings and emotions of
the poet rather than telling
a story or presenting a witty observation.) The
language is simple enough
for a child to read, but the meaning is complex
enough to foster scholarly
debates and long essays. Henry Holt and Company
published the poem in 1916
in a collection entitled Mountain Interval,
Frost's first book printed
in the United States. He had previously published
two books in England.
and Background Information
sets the poem on a forest road on an autumn
morning. He received inspiration
for the poem from the landscape in rural
Gloucestershire, England. While
living in Great Britain from 1912 to 1915, Frost
and his family had rented
a cottage, Little Iddens, near Dymock, Gloucestershire,
in the summer of 1914.
Another writer, Edward Thomas
(1878-1917), was staying
with his family at a cottage half a mile away.
Thomas was a literary critic,
essayist, and nature writer who had favorably
reviewed a volume of Frost's
poetry and become one of his best friends. During
their frequent walks
in lanes, forests, and heather fields, they would
discuss poetry and botany,
noting the plants and flowers in the region. At
the urging of Frost, Thomas
began writing poetry and later achieved his
greatest fame in this genre.
Upon returning from their walks, Thomas often
expressed a wish that they
had taken an alternate trail or road to view its
plants. In response, Frost
began writing "The Road Not Taken," but he did not
finish it until he and
his family returned to the United States.
Frost and Thomas continued to
communicate until Thomas died fighting in World
War I. In "The Road Not
Taken," the path through the "yellow wood" could
be anywhere, but Frost
may have been picturing the Gloucestershire wilds
when he began putting
the poem on paper.
The Road Not Taken
With Stanza Summaries
roads diverged in a yellow wood,
sorry I could not travel
be one traveler, long
looked down one as far
as I could
where it bent in the
Summary, Stanza 1
the road of life, the
speaker arrives at a point where he must
decide which of two equally appealing
(or equally intimidating) choices is the
better one. He examines one choice
as best he can, but the future prevents
him from seeing where it leads.
took the other, as
just as fair,
having perhaps the better
it was grassy and
as for that the passing
worn them really about
Summary, Stanza 2
speaker selects the road
that appears at first glance to be less
worn and therefore less traveled.
This selection suggests that he has an
independent spirit and does not
wish to follow the crowd. After a moment,
he concludes that both roads
are about equally worn.
both that morning equally
leaves no step had trodden
I kept the first for
knowing how way leads
on to way,
doubted if I should ever
Summary, Stanza 3
cover both roads equally.
No one on this morning has yet taken
either road, for the leaves lie
The speaker remains committed to his
decision to take the road he had
selected, saying that he will save the
other road for another day. He observes,
however, that he probably will never pass
this way again and thus will
never have an opportunity to take the
shall be telling this
with a sigh4
ages and ages
roads diverged in a
wood, and I—
took the one less traveled
that has made all the
Summary, Stanza 4
years to come, the speaker
says, he will be telling others about the
choice he made. While doing so,
he will sigh either with relief that he
made the right choice or with regret
that he made the wrong choice. Whether
right or wrong, the choice will
have had a significant impact on his life.
road beyond the bend may represent the
future or the unknown, neither of
which can be perceived.
Frost uses personification, saying that
the road has a claim.
occurs here also if wanted means
desired. No personification occurs,
however, if wanted means lacked.
can indicate relief or happiness, or it
can indicate regret or sorrow.
The interpretation of its meaning is up
to the reader.
rhyme scheme of the poem is as follows: (1) abaab,
(2) cdccd, (3) efeef,
(4) ghggh. All
of the end rhymes are masculine—that is, each
consists of a single syllable.
(You may have noticed that the last word of the
has more than one syllable. However, only the last
syllable completes the
rhyme with hence in line 22. Therefore,
masculine rhyme occurs.)
Is the Road Not Taken?
of the poem can refer to either road. Here's
why: The speaker takes the road "less traveled"
(line 19). In other words,
he chooses the road not taken by most other
when he chooses this less-traveled road, the other
road then becomes the
speaker chooses to go his own way, taking the “road
less traveled” (line
deciding to take the "road less traveled" (line 19),
the speaker takes
time to consider the other road. He says, "[L]ong I
stood / And looked
down one as far as I could" (lines 3-4).
speaker does not have second thoughts after making
may be that the road the speaker chooses is less
traveled because it presents
trials or perils. Such challenges seem to appeal to
Frost (1874-1963) was born in San Francisco,
California, where he spent
his childhood. In 1885, after his father died of
tuberculosis, the Frosts
moved to Massachusetts. There, Robert graduated from
high school, sharing
top honors with a student he would later marry,
attended Dartmouth and Harvard, married Miss White
in 1895, worked farms,
and taught school. In his spare time, he wrote
poetry. Disappointed with
the scant attention his poems received, he moved
with his wife to Great
Britain to present his work to readers there.
Publishers liked his work
and printed his first book of poems, A Boy’s
Will, in 1913, and
a second poetry collection,
North of Boston, in 1914. The latter
book was published in the United States in
established his reputation, Frost returned to the
United States in 1915
and bought a small farm in Franconia, N.H. To
supplement his income from
the farm and his poetry, he taught at universities.
Between 1916 and 1923,
he published two more books of poetry—the second
one, New Hampshire,
winning the 1923 Pulitzer Prize. He went on to win
three more Pulitzer
Prizes and was invited to recite his poem “The Gift
Outright” at President
John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in January 1961.
Frost died in Boston two
years later. One may regard him as among the
greatest poets of his generation.
Questions and Essay Topics
1. Do you
think Frost intended
the y in yellow (line 1) to suggest
the diverging roads?
2. What is
the speaker when he makes his choice?
4. Write an
a time when you took a less-traveled road.
5. Write an
essay that interprets
the last line of the poem.