Analyzing Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken"

Teaching a poem and allowing students to make connections between the poem and their lives.
  1. Lyrical poetry, rhyme, meter
  2. Making decisions
Lesson Objectives to Analyze Frost's Poem
  1. Understand the definition of a lyrical poem
  2. Identify the meter and rhyme of a poem
  3. Comprehend how to read a poem for the literal and metaphorical meaning

Lesson Materials Needed

Copy of the poem for students. Overhead with notes and assignment instructions.

Robert Frost (1874–1963). Mountain Interval. 1920.

The Road Not Taken



TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;


Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,


And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.


I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.



Definitions: Lyrical poetry: a. Expressing deep personal emotion or observations: a dancer's lyrical performance; a lyrical passage in his autobiography. b. Highly enthusiastic; rhapsodic: gave a lyrical description of her experiences in the South Seas.
rhyme: Correspondence of terminal sounds of words or of lines of verse. 2. a. A poem or verse having a regular correspondence of sounds, especially at the ends of lines. b. Poetry or verse of this kind. 3. A word that corresponds with another in terminal sound, as behold and cold.
meter: a. The measured arrangement of words in poetry, as by accentual rhythm, syllabic quantity, or the number of syllables in a line. b. A particular arrangement of words in poetry, such as iambic pentameter, determined by the kind and number of metrical units in a line.c. The rhythmic pattern of a stanza, determined by the kind and number of lines.

Introduce the Theme of "The Road Not Taken"Make a list of all the decisions you have to make on a daily basis, no matter how minor. Then list what sorts of things influence you when you make those decisions.
Give students five minutes to write their list, and then have them share what they wrote with a partner. Pick three students to share one decision and its influences with the class.

Notes and an Example to Model Poetry Analysis

Use an overhead as a visual. Have students copy the definitions into their notes for lyrical poetry, rhyme, and meter.
Have students copy down the example lines of poetry into their notes:
I heard a fly buzz when I died;
The stillness round my form
Was like the stillness in the air
Between the heaves of storm.
Then read the two lines with exaggerated emphasis on the accented syllables. Have students mark the meter in their notes and write down the rhyme scheme.

Discuss and Analyze "The Road Not Taken"

  1. Using either a textbook or copy of the poem, read the poem aloud to the students and have them write down what they think the poem is “literally” saying. Give the students two minutes to write before having them share with someone close to them.
  2. Read the poem a second time, and instruct students to identify the rhyme scheme and meter and mark it in their notes.
  3. Ask students to read the poem to themselves and underline three words which connote emotion and identify any symbolism in the poem
  4. Discuss with students the metaphorical meaning of the poem and urge them toward making a connection between the qualities of a lyrical poem and the theme of the poem

Make Connections

Make a list of difficult decisions you are likely to have to make in the next five years (examples: where to go to college, what career to choose).

Follow Through Assignment After Reading "The Road Not Taken"

Write a well-organized paragraph explaining a time you chose to take the “road not taken.” Include details and specific reasons you chose to go the road not taken instead of taking the easy way.

A poetry lesson with a connection students can make in their own lives teaches them to understand the meaning of poetry as well as its importance. During the lesson the meaning of key concepts, models analysis, and facilitates discussion. The students take what they learned and use meta-cognition to connect the poem to their lives by writing about a time they needed to make a hard decision.

Summary

The speaker stands in the woods, considering a fork in the road. Both ways are equally worn and equally overlaid with un-trodden leaves. The speaker chooses one, telling himself that he will take the other another day. Yet he knows it is unlikely that he will have the opportunity to do so. And he admits that someday in the future he will recreate the scene with a slight twist: He will claim that he took the less-traveled road.
**

Form

**"The Road Not Taken" consists of four stanzas of five lines. The rhyme scheme is ABAAB; the rhymes are strict and masculine, with the notable exception of the last line (we do not usually stress the -ence of difference). There are four stressed syllables per line, varying on an iambic tetrameter base.

Commentary

This has got to be among the best-known, most-often-misunderstood poems on the planet. Several generations of careless readers have turned it into a piece of Hallmark happy-graduation-son, seize-the-future puffery. Cursed with a perfect marriage of form and content, arresting phrase wrought from simple words, and resonant metaphor, it seems as if "The Road Not Taken" gets memorized without really being read. For this it has died the cliché's un-death of trivial immortality. But you yourself can resurrect it from zombie-hood by reading it--not with imagination, even, but simply with accuracy. Of the two roads the speaker says "the passing there / Had worn them really about the same." In fact, both roads "that morning lay / In leaves no step had trodden black." Meaning: Neither of the roads is less traveled by. These are the facts; we cannot justifiably ignore the reverberations they send through the easy aphorisms of the last two stanzas. One of the attractions of the poem is its archetypal dilemma, one that we instantly recognize because each of us encounters it innumerable times, both literally and figuratively. Paths in the woods and forks in roads are ancient and deep-seated metaphors for the lifeline, its crises and decisions. Identical forks, in particular, symbolize for us the nexus of free will and fate: We are free to choose, but we do not really know beforehand what we are choosing between. Our route is, thus, determined by an accretion of choice and chance, and it is impossible to separate the two. This poem does not advise. It does not say, "When you come to a fork in the road, study the footprints and take the road less traveled by" (or even, as Yogi Berra enigmatically quipped, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it"). Frost's focus is more complicated. First, there is no less-traveled road in this poem; it isn't even an option. Next, the poem seems more concerned with the question of how the concrete present (yellow woods, grassy roads covered in fallen leaves) will look from a future vantage point.

The ironic tone is inescapable: "I shall be telling this with a sigh / Somewhere ages and ages hence." The speaker anticipates his own future insincerity--his need, later on in life, to rearrange the facts and inject a dose of Lone Ranger into the account. He knows that he will be inaccurate, at best, or hypocritical, at worst, when he holds his life up as an example. In fact, he predicts that his future self will betray this moment of decision as if the betrayal were inevitable. This realization is ironic and poignantly pathetic. But the "sigh" is critical. The speaker will not, in his old age, merely gather the youth about him and say, "Do what I did, kiddies. I stuck to my guns, took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." Rather, he may say this, but he will sigh first; for he won't believe it himself. Somewhere in the back of his mind will remain the image of yellow woods and two equally leafy paths. Ironic as it is, this is also a poem infused with the anticipation of remorse. Its title is not "The Road Less Traveled" but "The Road Not Taken." Even as he makes a choice (a choice he is forced to make if does not want to stand forever in the woods, one for which he has no real guide or definitive basis for decision-making), the speaker knows that he will second-guess himself somewhere down the line--or at the very least he will wonder at what is irrevocably lost: the impossible, unknowable Other Path. But the nature of the decision is such that there is no Right Path--just the chosen path and the other path. What are sighed for ages and ages hence are not so much the wrong decisions as the moments of decision themselves--moments that, one atop the other, mark the passing of a life. This is the more primal strain of remorse. Thus, to add a further level of irony, the theme of the poem may, after all, be "seize the day." But a more nuanced carpe diem, if you please.