The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, Poetry Explication Essay
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An explication is an analysis of how a poem creates meaning. Unlike an analysis of a work of fiction,which focuses primarily on incident (i.e. “what happens”), an explication is “a line-by-line commentary on what is going on in a text” (Barnet et al 55). It focuses on “the implication of words…the function of rhymes…the development of contrasts, and the form which the poem takes. In your analysis you should emphasize “how the details make the meaning,” in other words. Consult the checklist for drafting an Explication on page 60 for further direction.
Explication of the Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
The major theme in Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” is choices that people have to make in life. The poem shows that it reaches a time when a human being has to make a choice out of a range of choices or just two choices. The idea of choices is presented in the poem through the use of imagery whereby the tough choices people have to make as humans are represented by two diverging roads. The speaker is on a journey and he happens to reach at a point where two roads diverge. Being a single person, he or she cannot take both the roads. He or she would definitely have to continue travelling using only one of the roads; but which one? Answering this question means the speaker would have to make a choice between the two roads.
As the speaker admits, he or she “could not travel both” (Line 2). The speaker then stood for some time, actually for a long time as indicated in the third line, as he or she pondered about what the right road to follow would be. This shows that in making choices and decisions in life, people always have to take quite some time to contemplate on a number of choices present before them. It also shows that the right choice would only emanate from a decision that is well thought. Rushing into following any one of the two roads could probably lead the speaker to a wrong direction or worse still, he or she could end up in problems or trouble. Another implication here could be that making tough decisions in life involves taking multiple factors into account.
The speaker continues to narrate that he or she looked up to the end of one road. This is indicated in the fourth line, thus, “And looked down one as far as I could”. The sense being driven home by this particular stanza is that in making choices and/or decisions, one should always give due consideration to every single option that would be available. They should consider the probable advantages and disadvantages of pursuing a course of action. In the case of the speaker in the poem, he or she looked along the road till its point of disappearance into some undergrowth. The implication in this case is that he or she exploited all the good things and bad things that could probably happen by making a decision to follow the road. An example of a situation that could throw one into such a dilemma would be the need to make a choice between leaving a current job for a new one and disregarding the new job for the current one. The situation would call for a number of factors to be considered including pay package, fringe benefits, and job security. Rushing into choosing either option would most probably send one into regrets and even depression.
In the second stanza, the poem, again through imagery, shows that there would always be the best option out of a number of available options. There were two roads before the speaker and he or she eventually took one of the roads. The road he or she took was “just as fair” as the other road (Line 6). The only difference between the roads, and perhaps the main one, was that the road the speaker ended up taking had “the better claim” between the two (Line 7). Likewise in normal human life, there are options that are usually better than others. As much as some options may appear to be just the same, there are usually some factors or even only a single factor that do or does create a distinction between them. It is for this reason that not more than one option would be simultaneously successfully pursued in solving a single problem in life. It would be a pure case of using a single stone to hunt two birds and would surely be doomed to fail.
According to line 8, the road the speaker took “was grassy and wanted wear”. This is the reason why the speaker thought of the road as having better tidings than the other one not taken. The same case applies to life situations. One would have many options at hand but there would be that one option that would be the most promising. It would be such an option that one would not regret picking on. Even if not all the good things that one would be thinking about the option would come to pass, they would at least benefit in a way.
The third stanza talks about the nature of choices that could be available before an individual. It indicates that some of the choices that one might need to make might need one to be in a position to take risks. Such are the choices whose outcomes are often not very clear even though some might show the possibilities of good things. For instance, the speaker in the poem states that the two diverging roads that were before him had not been trodden on that morning. They were instead covered in leaves (Line 11 and 12). This gives the impression that the speaker did not have the luck of judging the roads by the signs that one had been used more than the other. He or she was the first person who was going to trod one of them. Following any of the roads would thus be a risk in a sense; though one that would be worth taking. This is the same thing that does happen in life. At times one has to pursue a dream or option that no one of their knowledge had pursued. They would thus have no source of consultations or pieces of advice to rely on upon making the decision to pursue the dream. It would be a pure case of taking a risk with hopes of realizing immense benefits or rewards out of the risk so taken. It should be noted that such a step would call for self-belief and resolve to actualize one’s dream(s).
The nature of choices is further discussed in the last three lines of the third stanza. The speaker stipulates that he or she “kept the first for another day!” (Line 13). This implies that one may decide to pursue one option out of two options with hopes of pursing the other option later. This would especially be so if the option pursued fails to work as expected. In that case, one would drop the option and decide to pick on the other option that they would have initially put pending. However, this happens rarely because as indicated by the speaker, one option pursued often leads to or creates more ways through which one may succeed. This gives little room for one to wholly drop an idea and start pursing a new one altogether. The speaker clearly states that “Yet knowing how way leads on to way”, he or she strongly thought he or she would never retreat (Lines 14 and 15). Through these statements, the speaker is sending the message that after following the road he or she had taken, the road would probably lead to another road that would lead to an even better destination. That is why the prospects of coming back might be very remote.
The argument from the above paragraph is that though a choice may seem to be less promising at the beginning, it would be advisable to pursue it if one considers it the best among a range of available choices. In the process of acting on the choice, the likeliness of one coming across more viable ideas would be high. In this case, all one needs to do is to act on the ideas accordingly in their journey of actualizing their dream. Nonetheless, even when one thinks they have picked on the most probable idea towards success, they should have a backup plan should the idea fail. This is why one needs to have more than one option in pursuing whatever initiatives they set out to achieve. This makes it easy for one to start all over again in case their first attempt grinds to a halt. This may also explain why even organizations have contingency plans to turn to in case of unexpected disasters.
The last stanza explains that choices, if well made, can make one to have good stories to tell in life. This would happen very many years after when an individual who would have had made a choice earlier on in their life would be recalling. “I shall be telling this with a sigh”, the speaker says (Line 16). This shows that he or she has the belief that he or she will live to tell his or her success story owing to the choice he or she made about which road to follow. He or she continues to say that he or she will tell the story “somewhere ages and ages…” (Line 17). This gives the impression that good choices usually have long lasting positive effects on those who make and duly pursue them. The speaker sounds sure that he or she will have a story to tell. Here, it is vivid that he or she expects not to fail out of the choice he or she made. This reflects the way human beings should pursue their dreams or choices. One should never be doubtful with a choice they believe is the right one. Lack of belief most likely hinders one’s efforts in working on the choice in order to make it a success. Successful people usually identify a goal and work hard towards achieving it irrespective of the obstacles they may experience.
In Lines 18 and 19 of the poem, the speaker stipulates, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by.” He or she is telling this story probably to encourage other people. Out of the two roads, he took one that people had not used so much. This is a source of inspiration to people to always try new things. People should not go for things or ideas that have been proven and tested in their life. Instead, they should pursue less common ideas or create new ones altogether. Ideally, working with common things would be successful but not as much as creating one’s own ideas and working on them tirelessly. The speaker took the road that was less trodden “And that has made all the difference”. The implication is that the speaker attributes his or her success to following the road he or she took despite it being less travelled by. People would only make such decisions out of sheer courage and optimism. As it turns out, the decisions would be overly rewarding in the long run.
Frost, Robert. “The road not taken”. Poetry Foundation, 2020, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44272/the-road-not-taken. Accessed 13 June 2020.
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