Analyzing Poetry: ''The Road Not Taken''

Contributor: Dru Cartier. Lesson ID: 13687

What does the most-quoted and most-read poem in American history really mean? Find out as you close-read "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost.

categories

Literary Studies, Writing

subject
English / Language Arts
learning style
Visual
personality style
Otter
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio:

life goes on quote

"The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost is the poem most often quoted at graduations, referenced in speeches, and most anthologized. However, it is actually one of the most misunderstood as well!

book painting

Keep reading to discover more, including how it ties in to his famous quote (above) which he said while being interviewed about his life in 1954.

dark path in woods

Before beginning, take a look at the title of this poem:

"The Road Not Taken"

  • What is implied by this title?

It does not say less taken, or sometimes taken. It flat out says not taken. This places a lot of importance on the road that was not traveled on.

Keep this in mind as you read The Road Not Taken, courtesy of Poetry Foundation.

Now, make initial annotations about the poem using Annotate "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost found under the Downloadable Resources in the right-hand sidebar.

  • What keywords pop out at you?
  • What imagery?
  • Is there a noticeable attitude, mood, or tone?

Summarize each stanza to represent what you think is meant by it.

foggy path

Now that you've read the poem, look back at the Robert Frost quote from the beginning of the lesson:

"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life. It goes on."

With this quote in mind, think about what the overall theme of this poem might be.

Now, listen to the poet himself read his poem to you.

The Road Not Taken - Robert Frost (Powerful Life Poetry) from RedFrost Motivation:

forest morning

To help us analyze this poem, let's take a look at the first stanza.

Without knowing where each path leads (because of the undergrowth and the falling autumn leaves obscuring the path), the narrator laments over being just one traveler who is unable to take both roads.

fall forest path

Now let's look at the second stanza.

  • What first impressions did you note about this stanza on your annotation sheet?

The narrator initially chooses to take the road that looks less worn, therefore "less traveled by."

sunny woods

Before deciding both paths are worn about the same, the narrator thinks there is one that is the "better claim" because it was "grassy and wanted wear."

In the third stanza, the narrator acknowledges that both paths were equal because "no steps had trodden [them] black."

The narrator continues with a declaration that one day he or she would come back and walk the road not taken.

green trees

In the last stanza, the narrator shifts from looking ahead to looking back, recalling the supposed importance of the decision made so long ago.

The narrator appears to recount the experience in a positive, more impactful way by stating he or she took the road less traveled by and that doing so made all the difference in his or her life.

sun through trees

Now, let's reflect back on the poem as a whole.

  • If the theme is "how we define our lives is our choice," then what can we say the narrator's choice was?

Notice that each stanza contradicts itself:

In the first, the narrator says each path "diverged in a yellow wood" but then says "And looked down one as far as I could" implying the narrator could not entirely see for how long they diverged.

In the second stanza, the narrator finally decides on a path but ultimately decides either one would have been fine.

In the third stanza, the narrator swears he or she would come back to the other path (that was not chosen) another day. Yet, the narrator goes on to say he or she doubts that will actually happen.

In the last stanza, the narrator begins with a sigh looking back on the unimportant choice, the 50-50 chance, the either/or decision that was made "ages and ages" ago and decides to say that it did "make all the difference."

Ultimately, the narrator chooses to give life and his or her choices more meaning by stating that decision in the yellow wood all those years ago "has made all the difference."

By choosing to add meaning, the narrator has given more meaning to his or her life. That could be for his or her own sense of satisfaction, but it could also be to inspire whomever the narrator is telling the story to.

It's possible, now, to see just how people have confused the meaning of this poem for so many years; if you don't do a close-read and analyze what is truly being said, then you are likely to miss its true meaning.

With that in mind, head over to the Got It? section and try practicing some of your analyzing skills.

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