The poem ‘The Road not taken’ was written by celebrated American poet Robert Frost. In this poem Robert Frost talks about the choices that a person faces in the journey of life, this poem deals with the questions of what might have happened if the traveler had chosen the other road in front of him, had or had not it made any difference in his life. These unanswered questions make the poem all the more ambiguous, riveting and complex. In the ensuing paragraphs a detailed literary analysis of the poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ will be done, in particular the discussion will focus on dissecting the important poetic parameters of form, content, style and irony.
Literary form is broadly referred to as the manner and organization in which the literary work is arranged. Robert Frost has described the psychological chaos a person goes through while making decisions on choosing the path of life in the form of a gentle, free flowing poem.
In doing the analysis of Robert Frost’s poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ some key factors are considered that provide a better insight of how the literary work was developed and what was the hidden meaning behind the written word, if there is any. The key factors that provide a basis for content analysis are Symbolism, Ambiguity and extent of Individualism contained in the poem.
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Symbolism: Symbolism relates to undertaking of a journey. At a deeper level symbolism is artificial, yet it is something we cannot live without. Words as they are written on paper are not important but what ideas, images and shapes the words invoke in the minds of people are more important. The three words in the poem ‘Two roads diverged’ perhaps represent the strongest symbolism used in the poem where on surface it may seem that Frost is talking about a fork in the road, but in reality he is talking about choices people face in their lives. ‘The roads diverged’ is a metaphor describing the turning points in life when people have the opportunity to decide and choose a path in their life, but for every road a person takes he/she has to forgo another road which in actuality is the ‘The road not taken’.
Ambiguity: Another very important theme that is observed in Robert Frost’s poem is the ambiguous nature of what appears on paper and what is actually intended. Robert Frost has written ‘The Road Not Taken’ staying true to the saying that the very nature of literature is Polyvalent, i.e. it can mean different things at different times. Robert Frost’s poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ also contains traces of ambiguity that makes his poem ever so enigmatic. The roads in Frost’s poem do not intertwine but the language does to a great extent until the reader is lost in the autumn yellow wood of the forest wondering if neither path was taken or if both paths were taken (Fagan). “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both” (Frost). Another important consideration that greatly gives rise to ambiguity in Robert Frost’s poem is the preference of word ‘road’ over ‘path’ as one imagines a path to be less travelled and the road to be much more travelled. The use of the word road gives support to the idea that the particular road has been worn for all except the speaker (Fagan).
Individualism: Yehoshua Arieli believes that the term ‘Individualism’ was coined by Saint-Simonians to characterize the condition of human society in the nineteenth century (Brown). Individualism is a pre-dominant feature of all the Robert Frost poems. His sense of individualism is greatly apparent in his work and gives the hints of a person who operates at a totally different level from those around him by ardently exposing the true picture of this very savage and cruel world (Ray). In his poem ‘The Road Not Taken’, Frost depicts his eccentric sense of Individualism when he articulates that, ‘I took the one less traveled by’ (Frost). At this particular point the ‘I’ of ‘I took the one less traveled by’ becomes the most important of the whole poem, emphasizing that here the decision is taken keeping one’s personal consideration in mind by taking the road less frequented upon. The line “and that has made all the difference” (Frost)also plays an important role in depicting that the individualistic decision to take the road less travelled by resulted in something that is greatly different from the routine outcome that would have resulted from following the worn beaten path which everyone follows.
The term Style generally means ‘manner or mode’ whereas the term Literary Style refers to a way of putting thoughts into words and the distinctive method of expression of a particular writer. The style of all the Robert Frost poems including ‘The Road not Taken’ is based on a search for understanding of things that are apparently hidden from the view. Frost takes the medium of simplicity to get across his deeper finer ideals to the people, but while he may be talking about ordinary things the intended meaning of his poems is much different from the written word. This ambiguity gives a sense of mystery to Robert Frost’s work that is difficult to find in ordinary works of literature.
Irony in English literature means saying the opposite of what one actually means to say, though using stylistic indications like tone of voice, gestures to convey the actual meaning. The phrase ‘all the difference’ (Frost) exemplifies Frost’s typical style of irony; this phrase takes a dig at people who always regret not having chosen the other path in their life, when in actuality even choosing that path would not really have made any difference in their life.
The poem ‘The Road not Taken’ can easily be considered as one of the best short poems written by the Robert frost taken into consideration the seemingly easy to understand but the inherent complex meaning of the poem. In this beautifully written poem multi-meaning words and phrases can be found abundantly. Robert Frost believes in communication of profoundly important concepts while talking about ordinary things, this belief is reflected in his poem ‘The Road not Taken’ when he explores the dilemma of making a choice in the journey of life while talking about a traveler who has come to a fork in the road and has chosen one of the roads.
Brown, R. Philip. Authentic Individualism:A Guide for Reclaiming the Best of America’s Heritage. University Press of America, 1996.
In this book the development of the concept of Individualism in western philosophy is discussed. The discussion that starts from the time of Saint-Simonians stretches to a comprehensive discussion of role of individualism in development of American culture, history and society. This book concentrates on tracing the roots of the concept of individualism; discussing what was the concept of individualism for the individual of dark ages moving to a discussion on the medieval mindset followed by a discussion on the concept of individualism in the modern world. In the discussion focusing on the literary parameter of individualism it was important to first understand the concept of individualism itself, this book proved to be the starting point for understanding this important literary parameter.
Fagan, Deirdre. Robert Frost. Infobase Publishing, 2007.
This book is an excellent resource providing quality information on the key aspects of life and work of the great American poet Robert Frost. This book is unique because it contains an extensive collection of each of Robert Frost’s published poems, masques and plays. In addition to gathering all the masterpieces of the literary giant at one place another wonderful thing the book has achieved is that it provides selected information about each of the written work of Robert Frost; information such as the main theme and idea behind the written word are sure to provide excellent information to any student of Robert Frost’s work.
Frost, Robert. Mountain Interval. Henry Holt and Company, 1916.
This book is an authentic source of primary information on many of Robert Frost’s very well known, closely analyzed and moving poems including ‘The Road not Taken’. This book is of particular importance to the students and learners of English poetry in particular who can use this book as a primary source of information containing many of the best anthologized poems of the beloved American poet Robert Frost.
Ray, Ed. Mohit K. Studies In American Literature. Atlantic Publishers & Dist, 2002.
This book contains important discussion on the nature and culture of American poetry. This discussion on American poetry is aided by a dissecting the poetic tendencies and poems of important American poets such as Robert Frost, Arthur Miller, Sylvia Plath, Tennessee Williams, and Philip Roth. This book proved to be a source of information for writing this essay as it contains comprehensive information on life and work of the great American poet Robert Frost. The book contains a very informative discussion on the poetic style of Frost while specially elaborating his eccentric sense of individualism depicted in almost all of his written work.
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