Robert Frost’s “choices” in ‘A Road Not Taken’ Essay
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Making a right choice is not always simple and easy. Though it is a task that everyone comes across many times every day, sometimes this “everyday” task becomes very meaningful, and affects a person’s entire life. This is the theme of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”. In the poem, Frost uses a variety of literary devices to bring out this theme, such as metaphor, images, diction, tone, repetition, rhyme scheme and structure.
The most striking use of literary device in this poem is Frost’s use of the extended metaphor.
The entire poem is a metaphor comparing life and its choices to a journey through the woods, and about having to decide what choice to make. It is an apt analogy, because in life, one does move forward, like on a road. Similarly, sometimes life is easy-going without any major difficulties, but sometimes life has big problems—and this is appropriate in the road comparison because roads, too, are sometimes smooth and easy to ride on, while at others, they have potholes and ruts which make it a rough ride.
Also, when the poem begins with “Two roads diverged…” it gives the impression that this is the first fork in the road the speaker has come to. This points to the fact that in every person’s life a time comes when s/he has to make a major choice. The comparison continues throughout the poem where one of the roads is described as “grassy and want[ing] wear”, and “less traveled by” representing an option which people had not often taken up. Similarly, when the speaker says, “Knowing how way leads on to way”, it is appropriate to a real-life setting, where, after making a choice in a certain direction, it is hard to think of “com[ing] back”, just as the poem suggests.
Frost also makes important use of images, especially visual ones, which add to the poem’s influence on its readers. He describes the diverging roads in the “yellow” wood, the “grassy” road which “wanted wear” and the leaves which “no step had trodden black”. With such images as these, the reader is able to visualize with clarity what is being described, and this makes the poem more effective. It further places the poem in a true-to-life setting and makes it easier for the reader to understand and identify with the speaker.
Another literary device which Frost uses in this poem to give it a real-life touch, and emphasize the importance of choices in our life, is his use of diction. The common everyday words that he uses, give the poem a realistic quality, and while this relates it to peoples’ everyday experience, also gives it a serious feel. For example, his choice of words such as “sorry”, “perhaps” and “really about the same” are important in conveying the simple, yet serious matter he is talking about, because he is speaking in a simple, yet serious way.
Along with the diction, tone also plays an important role in the poem. A conversational tone is adopted throughout, and this lends great credibility to the words that are spoken. The conversational tone is a positive one, because though the speaker is talking about the past, he is not nostalgic. The tone serves to reinforce the theme, of making choices and their effects on later life, in a very positive way. The speaker is happy, and realizes that his decision earlier in life is what has influenced his later life. He conveys his satisfaction through his tone, especially in the second stanza and when he says “I shall be telling this with a sigh” (a sigh, most probably, of contentment).
Such a tone is often achieved by repetition—not of a kind in which entire lines are repeated, but in which certain words recur. For example, the word ‘traveler’ occurs in line 3, right after ‘travel’ in line 2. Other examples include ‘way leads on to way’, ‘ages and ages’, and the recurring ‘I’ in the last stanza. Such repetition gives validity to speech, because it seems normal, with a word being spoken again just to emphasize, or starting a sentence, then breaking off, then beginning again. This happens in everyday speech, and thus this technique helps in developing the conversational tone.
The repetition is, however, not only found in the recurrence of words. It is also felt in the steady a, b, a, a, b rhyme scheme, which, though different in each stanza, retains its similar quality throughout. Such deliberate rhyming does not, as it would seem, give artificiality. To the contrary, it serves to re-enhance the smooth, steady pace of the poem and helps bring out the theme even more—the theme of understanding and accepting that our choices greatly affect us.
Frost’s ‘choice’ of a definite structure, as felt through the rhyme scheme is also an important literary device he makes use of. The poem is divided into four distinct stanzas, but there is also another sort of division. The first three stanzas are fused together as one part, with the second and third stanzas joined to the preceding one with the words “Then” and “And” respectively. Stanza 4, however, constitutes the second part of the poem itself. The last stanza is very obviously set apart from the rest of the poem, and this is to emphasize its importance. It is in this stanza that Frost tells about his choice and how “it has made all the difference”, and thus gives us his (implicit) statement about the choices one makes and the effects they have on a person’s life.
The realization that his choice has influenced his life to such an extent, is also apparent in the title Frost has chosen for his poem. “The Road Not Taken”, as the name itself suggests, is about the option which he did not take up, when making a decision. This is evident in the poem too, when he contemplates upon the road that he did not take, “look[ing] down” it as “far as [he] could”, and then suddenly (he abruptly uses the word “Then”) takes the other.
On the whole, the poem conveys the theme of choices bearing a strong effect on a person’s later life, very effectively. Though each line or each stanza might not lead to an immediate understanding of this theme, all the devices Robert Frost uses in his poem contribute to the readers’ appreciation of it. Appreciation is, after all, the first step to understanding, and this appreciation was, after all, brought on by Frost’s “choices”.