English Literature: Robert Frost - Analysis of The Road Not Taken

Robert Frost - Analysis of The Road Not Taken

This video presents an analysis of Robert Frost's poem The Road Not Taken. Rather than repeat or extend that analysis here I thought I might give some additional background on the basic ideas in the poem, using his other poems as examples. Here's I want to give a more general idea of how the poem fits into Frost's general philosophy and the themes that he often addresses.

The basic idea of the variant of the old adage "carpe diem." However, the poem goes much deeper than the simple statement and analyses why we men so often fail to act. For Frost it is not enough to simply prescribe a course of action for his readers, he believes that it is important for us to understand the reason why for ourselves as illustrated in these lines from Build Soil:

Suppose someone comes near me who in rate
Of speech and thinking is so much my better
I am imposed on, silenced and discouraged.
Do I submit to being supplied by him
As the more economical producer,
More wonderful, more beautiful producer?
No. I unostentatiously move off.

The theme of action is one of Frost's most significant and the poem Build Soil explores this is depth. Here, he explains that the product is not the important thing—rather is it the creation of the product.

Thought product and food product are to me
Nothing compared to the producing of them.

More starkly to the point, the poem quotes these lines:

Let me be the one
To do what is done

Another poem, which explores this theme in a similar manner, is Frost's Two Tramps in Mud Time. The narrator in this poem is chopping wood, when two men approach who want to be hired to chop the wood. The narrator refuses to hire them because he loves the work and wishes to do it for himself. The narrator's thought culminate in four oft-repeated lines, which have become precept themselves:

Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future's sakes.

However, it is in Frost's play A Masque of Mercy where he explores the fear that keeps us from action in greatest detail. Here, we see the theme of The Road Not Taken clearly expressed:

And I can see that the uncertainty
In which we act is a severity,
A cruelty, amounting to injustice

Finally, we have the conclusion of the play presented in the Keeper's epilogue:

My failure is no different from Jonah's.
We both have lacked the courage in the heart
To overcome the fear within the soul
And go ahead with any accomplishment.

Of course, Frost poem also mocks smug intellectuals who claim to be so different and unique. Many of his poems mock many intellectual types in various ways and degrees: Etherealizing, An Importer, and The Cow In Apple Time to name a few.

Probably the most extensive and relevant satire is The Lesson For Today. In this poem, Frost takes on the common notion that the modern age is a dark age and that we are all doomed to be insignificant because of it.

If this uncertain age in which we dwell
Were really as dark as I hear sages tell,
And I convinced that they were really sages,
I should not curse myself with it to hell,

The poem goes on to explore how little we can know about the time in which we act and to mock those who claim to know.

You would not think you knew enough to judge
The age when full upon you. That's my point.
We have today and I could call their name
Who know exactly what is out of joint
To make their verse and their excuses lame.

Again, we have the more plainly stated

We can't appraise the time in which we act.

Finally, Frost addresses mortality and how it makes idea of worrying about whether we are in a dark age futile, since we have so little time. We must live and act within our own time.

But though we all may be inclined to wait
And follow some development of state,
Or see what comes of science and invention,
There is a limit to our time extension.

In short, we have a limited time in which to live and act. If we fail to act of fear, we miss our opportunity. This is the message of The Road Not Taken. The first three stanzas of that poem are intended to illustrate the waste of the narrator's time and life as he repeatedly goes back and forth between the two choices.