An Explication of the Theme of Choice in Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken and Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
The two poems written by Robert Frost that are going to be explicated are named “The Road Not Taken,” written in 1916, and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” in 1922. The purpose of the explication of these two poems is to correlate them in order to establish a common theme that they both possess, originating from both of the poems’ individual themes. The theme that I choose to explicate concerns choice, or experiencing a time in life in which a choice has to be made given a set of possible options.
When one is presented with a set of options pertinent to an important choice in life, they explore all of the possible outcomes of the options pertaining to that single choice. This is one of the reasons why it is important to spend time thinking about which option that should be chosen, lest a wrong or unfavorable decision is made. Once the sole option has been decided upon amidst the other options and possible outcomes that are given, a sense of confidence is attained and this instills the ideology into one’s mind that they have made the right choice, and they can now continue unobstructed in life with this positive mindset, knowing they made the right choice, and when it is reflected upon later on in life, the earlier instillation of the ideology—that they made the right choice that time—is still present during the reflection.
The first stanza of Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken portrays a traveler who has encountered a road divergence in which only one of its paths can be taken, in the first line “two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” Being a traveler, he closely examines one of the paths of the divergence, although his exploratory actions as a traveler are explained in the second and third lines of the stanza; “and be one traveler, long I stood… and looked down one as far as I could…” in which he gauges the safety of the path and the possible outcome before coming to a decision for which path he decides to continue on.
Oftentimes in life when a decision for a choice has to be made, people observe the given options in every manner, to see and decide which one would be the best one to make, as the traveler is doing in this case for either of the paths he has the option of taking.
In the second stanza of the poem, the traveler again examines the secondary path and makes his own observations about it in the first line; “then took the other, as just as fair…” in which he concludes that both of the paths are mostly identical.
In the remaining lines of the stanza, he examines how this path of the divergence appears to be slightly more worn (possibly from more people traveling on it) than the other, noted in the second and third lines; “and having perhaps the better claim… because it was grassy and wanted wear…” in which he actually comes to the conclusion that the paths are mostly identical in the fourth and fifth lines of the stanza; “though as for that the passing there… had worn them really about the same.”
It can be inferred that at this point, the traveler is indecisive of which path should be taken, since no decision was actually made at this point in the poem. When deciding upon the choice you want to make with the provided options, examining or observing the characteristics of both options is a key aspect of decision-making.
In the first two lines of the third stanza, it is now known that the time of day is early, that the area still remains as it was previously, and none of the leaves covering both paths have turned black from the constant on-foot traversal of other human beings; “and both that morning equally lay…in leaves no step had trodden black.” It can also be inferred that the traveler is spending a long time thinking about which path he should take, in which the same is done for weighing the options for a choice which has to be made.
In the remaining three lines, the traveler appears to have made a decision, apparently evident in the line “oh, I kept the first for another day!” in which he favors the second path over the first one, and intends to take the first path sometime later or afterwards. The traveler also realizes that they do not want to be exposed to a situation like this anymore, given that they understand the current circumstance; attributable to the phrase “yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.” Essentially, the traveler realizes the path they have chosen in order to arrive to this point (in the poem and in the journey; again, given the current circumstance), and that knowing how things lead to other things [“how way leads on to way”] introduces a doubtable possibility, which would be returning [“I doubted it if I should ever come back”].
In the first two lines of the last stanza, the traveler has finally decided which path they wanted to take in the divergence, and that when they decide to reflect upon this decision they made, later in life, they will say: “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.”
In the very last line of this stanza, the traveler appears to be very content with his decision, and does not hint towards any sign of regression of choice in his words, hence their words “and that has made all the difference.” The aforementioned instillation of confidence is present in the traveler’s words (and mindset) because they do not regret the decision they have made during their reflection upon which choice they decided to make, and could also conclude that the traveler was able to continue in life undoubtedly because they believe and know that the choice they made was the correct one.
In the first three lines of the first stanza within the second poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, the horseman is unaware of whose woods he thinks he is currently situated in, although he knows that ‘his’ house is in the village that is more than likely nearby, by saying “whose woods these are I think I know…his house is in the village though; he will not see me stopping here…to watch his woods fill up with snow.” In the last two lines of this poem, it appears that the horseman knows that he has somewhere else to be rather than the forest, and that ‘he’ would not want the horseman spending the night in the forest (despite its beauty), when the horseman should, or has to be, in town.
The horseman’s horse realizes that they are not in town, and that it would be rather odd to stop suddenly without any real reason; in the second stanza’s first two lines “my little horse must think it queer…to stop without a farmhouse near.” The following two lines indicate the setting within the forest, and the darkness for the time of year it is; “between the woods and frozen lake…the darkest evening of the year.” Perhaps this natural setting and the darkness of the day, with the added ambiance of the forest is a reason why the horseman wants to stay and admire the beauty of the forest, but they have one of the options—of a choice—to stay in the forest.
Within the first two lines of the third stanza, the horse realizes the peculiarity of the situation, because “he gives his harness bells a shake…to ask if there is some mistake,” given they are currently sitting in the middle of a quiet forest, on the darkest night of the year, in moderately snowy conditions and far from the nearby village—that needs to be reached. The ambiance of the forest’s quietness is also denoted in the following two lines of the stanza; “the only other sound’s the sweep…of easy wind and downy flake.”
However, in the first two lines of the last stanza, the horseman realizes something—that despite where they are, they remember that they have kept a promise to someone; “the woods are lovely, dark and deep…but I have promises to keep.” It can be inferred that the horseman is currently in the process of upholding this promise to someone, in which he is venturing the nearby town, through the forest, to do so.
The horseman had an option to remain in the forest that night, but they did not do so because they reminded themselves that they have a long journey to complete before they can actually go to sleep (apparently would be best for them to complete it sooner than later) in the village in the last two lines of the stanza; “and miles to go before I sleep…and miles to go before I sleep.”
When comparing the lines from both sets of stanzas within both poems, the aspect of having a choice is present in both of them. In The Road Not Taken, a choice between which road has to be taken is made, and in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, a choice of whether to continue through the forest to get to the town (to rest, presumably) or remain in it for the night (to adore its natural beauty) is contemplated, however the traveler in The Road Not Taken chooses a path to continue on his journey, and the horseman in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening reminds himself that he has somewhere else to be instead of staying in the forest.
Regardless of the circumstances that may arise during the situation of making a choice in life, you are still presented with the given options, and the options of course to examine or observe the possibilities of what you can do in such a situation, i.e. the traveler in The Road Not Taken having to pick a path based from his observations, or the horseman in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening opting to go to town so they could rest (and complete the journey), rather than resting in the forest amidst its natural beauty (and not knowing what could happen overnight).
However, once a decision is made from the given options, the ensuing circumstances or occurrences may either positively or negatively affect the mindset you have towards the decision you made, especially in hindsight or upon reflecting on what was done at that point in time, i.e. the traveler’s words in reflection of his choice of path he made—written in the last lines of the last stanza of The Road Not Taken; “I shall be telling this with a sigh…and that has made all the difference!”
It is more than likely that Frost wants his readers and audiences to recognize these situations in life through means of expressing them his own poetry, which is perhaps why the handful of steps concerning the aspect of decision-making and its effects—especially in life—are poetically portrayed with his own examples, in different forms, in both of these poems.
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