What do apples, mending walls and birch trees have in common? They are all subject material for the resourceful American poet Robert Frost. Dana Gioia writes, "He remains one of the few modern poets in English still read, esteemed and quoted by all types of people from elementary school kids and chaired professors to journalists and politicians." Robert Frost's influence has been profound, and is perhaps felt most keenly in his poem "The Road Not Taken."
Perplexed: Stanza 1
The author creates the picture of a man standing in the forest with the choice of two paths. He looks down both as far as he can, but seems uneasy about which way to go. Some suggest "yellow" wood may stand for "scared," or even the gold color the poet referred to in "Nothing Gold Can Stay." The speaker shows his confusion: "And sorry I could not travel both/And be one traveler, long I stood." People often confuse the speaker of a poem with the author, but in this case, they may be one and the same. This poem is a first-person narrative from a limited point of view. Some scholars think the speaker is Frost himself, who took the path less traveled by being both a poet and a teacher. Others point to specific meetings with people that influenced the poem. Jennifer Bouchard talked of a soldier Frost met who was determined to go to World War II and said, "Frost was moved by this man's awareness that people cannot be in two places at once, nor can they see into the future to determine which choice is the better one."
Decisive: Stanza 2
In the second stanza, the speaker recounts that he took the less worn path, but then also admits they really looked about the same when he says, "Though as for that the passing there/Had worn them really about the same." The use of rhyme scheme is cemented in Stanza 2, which suggests a balance of both subject and poem. Frost uses iambic tetrameter and a set rhyme scheme to express his decisive choice of path in this stanza.
Wistful: Stanza 3
The narrator of the poem seems knowledgeable yet wistful in Stanza 3. He says he could always come back and take the path he didn't first take, but acknowledges that is unlikely by saying, "Yet knowing how way leads on to way,/I doubted if I should ever come back." His conversational tone shows acceptance of the situation, but the wistfulness remains. In this stanza the narrator talks about how pristine the path is, and the extended metaphor makes his choice look inviting.
Satisfied: Stanza 4
In the final stanza, the speaker expresses that he is looking back on the fundamental choice of the paths in the woods, and at first recounts, "I shall be telling this with a sigh." This implies age and wisdom and detachment from the original decision, along with the positive emotion of the sigh. His final line shows that he is content with the path his life has taken. "I took the one less traveled by,/And that has made all the difference." The narrator has made a firm life decision and is sticking with it, much like the metaphor of the path that will always be there as a choice.