Robert Frost and his poem “The Road Not Taken"
Robert Frost is an acclaimed American poet and playwright exhibited primarily by the realistic depiction of the American rural life. His poetry is distinguished by the impressive command of American colloquial language and speech which he clearly demonstrates. Exuding from rural life settings in England, His poetry greatly examines the social as well as philosophical themes prevalent in the society. Robert Frost is a force to reckon with in the literary field as he was popularly quoted. He was honored throughout his life: with four Pulitzer prizes. In an Anthology of American Poetry where Robert Frost's poetry is greatly critiqued, it is revealed that pessimistic as well as menacing undertones are exhibited behind the charming rural façade presented by the writer (Parini, 432). More often than not these undertones are either not recognized or analyzed.
This document examines Robert Frost's historical and biographical attributes which primarily shaped his career as a poet and playwright. Analysis of the tricky poem, “The Road Not Taken” will be done.
Biography of Robert Frost
Robert Frost was born in the year 1874 and died in the year 1963 aged 88 years. His father William Prescott Frost was a journalist who primarily influenced his writing career. Frost was brought up in the city but later was aligned to rural life where he greatly attributes his poetry. After attending Dartmouth College, Frost was involved in such jobs as teaching, newspapers delivery and light bulb filament changer in a local factory. Frost admitted that he was never satisfied while undertaking these jobs as he felt his satisfaction lied in being a poet. Robert Frosts first poem was titled “My Butterfly: An Elegy and was published in the New York Independent newspaper (Thompson, 65). Robert Frost enrolled in Harvard University for liberal arts studies but later on quit to take care of his growing family. This is when he as involved in farming at Derry, New Hampshire. He wrote and produced several famous poems like “Tree at my window” as well as “Mending Wall” during this period.
In the year 1912, Robert Frost quit farming and resettled in Great Britain. He published his first poetry book titled, A boy's will in the year 1913 owing to the important acquaintances he has established while in England. Edward Thomas, Ezra Pound as well as T.E Hulme had significant influence in Robert Frost's poetry career (Thomson and Winnick, 125). For instance, Pound was the first American to write a positive review of Roberts's poetry. Immediately after the onset of World War 1, Robert went back to America where he bought a farm and established his career in writing and lecturing. During his teaching stint at Amherst College in Massachusetts, Frost encouraged his students to put in writing the human voice sounds. Robert Frosts home is today maintained as a museum and poetry site referred as “The Frost Place”.
Robert Frost was indeed an academician who received over 40 honorary degrees from different institutions like Princeton, Cambridge, Oxford, Dartmouth College as well as Harvard University. An original collection of Frost documents comprising of manuscript poems, photographs, correspondence, visual as well as audio recordings can be found in Jones Library at Massachusetts at the Special Collections Department. Robert Frost performed the poem “The Gift Outright” during the inauguration of US president John Kennedy in the year 1961. He was indeed the greatest poets of his generation.
Motifs and Symbols used in Robert Frost's poetry
Frost was a popular poet who was highly celebrated by many people due to the unmatched excellence in the American poetry annals. In order to achieve this iconic excellence which made him gain recognition and the status of a living legend, Frost used several motifs and symbols in his poetry. For instance, Youth issues appear prominently in his poems. A boy's will evidently explores the concerns and development of a solitary youth as he looks to answer the questions surrounding his youthful life (Thomson and Winnick, 326). As Frosts poetic language became continually jaded and didactic, his poems reveals youth as a time marred with unchecked freedom which is ultimately lost as a person develops.
Loss of innocence is another motif which Robert Frost greatly delved in especially after World war since he witnessed the physical and psychological wounding of the people. “Birches” and “Desert places” attest to this. Discovery of self especially through nature is another theme which Frost has extensively delved in. Presentation of natural phenomena or subject interacting with a human speaker is a common occurrence in his poetry. Through such interactions with nature as manual labor and typical exploration, Frost gives the readers of his poetry a chance to achieve self knowledge and personal growth. In the poem “After Apple Picking”, the task of harvesting fruit is linked to the understanding of death. Sound of sense which largely emphasizes on poetic diction is positive and proactive thus his poetry can be used in everyday speech. Meter and alliteration feature prominently in Robert Frost's poetry. Trees, birds, birdsongs as well as solitary travelers are amongst the widely replicated symbols in his poetry (Thompson, 234).
Frost has widely used New England as his setting throughout his work. The landscape, culture, attitudes as well as history have greatly dominated his poetry. The natural elements found in the poems are derived from the local color, orchards as well as the small towns found in New England. Speakers undertake such activities as wandering through the dense woods and snow storms, picking apples as well as climbing mountains. Thus the poet got inspiration from the daily activities he undertook.
Analysis of the poem” The road not taken”
Robert Frost's poem “the road not Taken” is credited as the most analyzed, anthologized and quoted poem in the history of American poetry. This poem was published in the year 1916 and is published in the Mountain Interval collection (Frost, 56). The poem exudes two different forms of interpretations: the literal and implied. The literal interpretation promotes individualism as well as non-conformity. The content of the poem reveals a formal as well as moralistic content. The last three lines of the poem are most famous of the poem and form the message of the poem. Frost himself referred to the poem as amongst the tricky poems he has ever written. This trickiness is attributed to the time frame of the poem as well as the different interpretations of the words “sigh” and “difference”. The title itself presents an enigma that if the poem is indeed about the road not taken, does the writer finally take it or does the road refer to the one which most people take and the poet does not take? Another trick which lies in the message is the fact that it does not quite matter the road taken since even when a person looks down to the bend, the actual road to be followed cannot be quite chosen.
Robert claimed that this poem was written as a result of influence Edward Thomas with whom he had walked on several occasions with at the woods (Parini, 432). While walking, the two would come across two paths and after choosing to follow one, Thomas would be left contemplating on what they had missed after forfeiting the other path. While many people have continually used the poem as inspiration to adopt such values as self reliance, a closer reading and implied interpretation proves a different scenario. Frosts intention was to pass across the message that in all life's undertakings choice is inevitable and the true meaning of a person's choice is seen when you have fully lived it. Robert Frost's choice of the title is excellent as it refers to either the road. The persona chose to take the less travelled road thus his choice was that not ken by majority of the travelers. Thereby, since he chose the less travelled road, the other road becomes the one not taken.
Robert Frost is greatly concerned with the form of the poem owing to the high level of regularity exhibited in this poem. Majority of Frosts poems are written in formal style as he is attributed to the saying that writing free verse poetry is equivalent to playing tennis having not put up a net. The poem has four stanzas each comprising of five lines. All the lines have been capitalized and they flush left. The length of the lines is approximately the same with a regular rhyme scheme of ABAAB. Four iambic beats in each line have been exhibited and interesting usage of anapests. A masculine rhyme is evident in the poem due to the last word of the poem, “difference” and “hence” which complete the rhyme scheme.
The first stanza brings into the limelight the situation present. The persona of the poem has been out in the woods walking when he comes across two roads. He spends a considerable amount of time looking far down the roads to the farthest points which he can reach to. He is temped to try both roads an activity which is indeed impossible to undertake. In the second stanza, the persona decided to take the road which was less travelled. Since he had looked at the road which was “bent in the underground”, his decision was to take the other path which had less people and traffic. Nevertheless, the poet continues to say that both roads were similarly worn though the second one which he took seemed to be less travelled. He says they were not the same exactly but “about the same” (Lathem and Frost, 235).
The third stanza is a continuation of the description of the roads. Possible differences existing in the roads are given. For instance the poet noticed that there were freshly fallen leaves on the two roads and the leaves had not been trudged on. The persona claims that he would go back and walk on the first road. Doubts exist regarding whether it will be possible to go back and walk on the first road since in life unexpected occurrences are continually taking place. One thing is constantly leading to another and the time span is indeed short to keep changing the roads. The forth stanza is indeed the key to the trickiness evident in the poem. The persona says that he shall be telling it with a sigh that when the roads diverged he choose to follow the less travelled road and this made all the difference. People who interpret the poem to refer to non conformity see a positive aspect in the difference. Nothing in the poem signals a positive difference experienced by the poet since he has not yet experienced the difference. The non discerning interpretation takes the sigh to mean a nostalgic relief which is not true. The kind of sigh experienced by the persona is not clearly demonstrated by the writer. In case the writer was sighing with relief then he was no doubt happy that he took the road which he took. If the sigh is of regret then the persona is no doubt unhappy about the outcome of the route which he took. It can be concluded that the speaker is not aware of the kind of sigh he has given. The evaluation of the sigh as well as the kind of difference which his choice of the road will be revealed will be made evident in the future. Thus it is true to conclude that the important lesson of the poem is that the choices we choose to make will be made evident in the difference demonstrated on how our future turns out. The time frame in which the poem is written makes all the difference in making the meaning of the poem evident. The persona has to live his choice of the road in order to determine the difference to be exhibited.
In a twist of ironic representation, several themes are exhibited in the poem. In line 19, individualism is revealed as the persona chose made a personal choice on the kind of road he chose to travel in. He cautiously decided on the road to take by taking adequate time to make his decision. In line 3-4, the persona spent a lot of time in deciding the road to take. The persona also committed in following his choice of road and does not have second thoughts regarding it. His commitment is demonstrated in the choice of the less travelled road which may be not a favorite to a majority of the people due to the trials and perils presented.
The most common interpretation bases the poem as inspirational with vital lessons in issues of individualism as well as non-conformism. The title of the poem generally refers to the road which the persona failed to take. The persona's choice to travel on the less travelled road is a clear demonstration of the importance of exuding personal freedom as well as independence when making decisions. The poet wanted to illustrate that once an individual chooses to follow a particular route, no amount of coercion make him turn back. Though paths can be changed at some point of ones life, the past experiences cannot be changed neither can they be erased. The poet seems to demonstrate the need to make the right choices at all times and careful consideration of the choices to make need be undertaken. What the other path in store is unknown and an individual may regret not ever knowing what the road he chose not to follow holds (Lathem and Frost, 235). The exercise of personal freedom makes is worthwhile to have taken the kind of choice take.
Most critics hold that Robert Frosts ”the road less travelled” is an ironic presentation of a persons regret and individual myth making especially when rationalizing the kind of decisions made by a person. The final two lines of the poem are ironic as the choice made by the persona did not cause any substantial difference. Since both paths are almost the same covered with leafs and being equally worn, the future relocation will, revel the less travelled road. The “sigh” is ironic as Robert Frost said that the sigh is a private jest to the people who would think he would live to regret the way Frost had conducted his life. The speaker of the poem anticipates future insincerity through demonstrating that the future might betray the decision which he took. Anticipation of remorse is evident in the poem since it will be impossible to revoke what will be lost in the other path. Indeed, there is no right path.
Robert Frost is a widely read poet owing to the unique approach used in his poems incorporating the language he uses, his broad humor as well as frequent despair. As the poem “the road not taken clearly demonstrates, his work was unique with many twists and turns which enabled him to stand alone due to the independent strength and independence surrounding them. Frosts poems greatly emphasize on good form and use of varied language. Frosts poetry is not only memorable and personally identifiable; it is also idiosyncratic and appeals to all generations.
Frost, Robert. A Boy's Will. I st World Publishing, Fairfield, IA 2004.
Lathem, Edward and Frost, Robert. The poetry of Robert Frost: the collected poems, complete and unabridged. H. Holt, Michigan, U.S.A: 1979
Parini, Jay. Robert Frost: A Life. Henry Holt, Michigan, U.S.A: 2000.
Thompson, Lawrence. Robert Frost. New York, U.S.A: U of Minnesota Press, 1959
Thomson, Lawrence and Winnick, Robert. Robert Frost: The early years, 1874-1915. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966