An Analysis of "The Road Not Taken," by Robert Frost

By Trent Lorcher

The poems of Robert Frost make up an integral part of American Literature. Learn how to do your own poem analysis by reading this example of an analysis of "The Road Not Taken".

How to do a Poem Analysis

Before we get to our example, we'll review the steps on doing a poetry analysis.

  1. Print out the poem. Most poems can be found online. If you have a book you're allowed to write in, then write in it.
  2. Annotate the poemusing the following steps:
    • identify the rhyme scheme
    • identify the meter and any examples of straying from the meter
    • if the poem is difficult, summarize each stanza
    • circle important words, ambiguous words, and words you need to look up
    • circle examples of figurative language
    • write questions
    • write down insights.
  3. Draw conclusions based on the information you gathered while annotating.
  4. Write the poem analysis. The following steps are for how to write a paragraph analysis:
    • The topic sentence should state the poem's theme (one that may not be so obvious).
    • The examples, facts, citations from the poem you're analyzing should support your topic sentence.
    • Provide analysis explaining how your facts support your topic sentence.
  5. Impress your friends and neighbors with a brilliant poem analysis.

The Analysis

Robert Frost. (public domain) 

Of all Robert Frost poems, none are more famous than "The Road Not Taken." My analysis of leads to the following observations and queries:

  1. The rhyme scheme is a b a a b
  2. The poem uses the well known metaphor of a path being compared to life, and a divergent path representing a choice.
  3. Both paths are appealing to the poem's speaker (2).
  4. He can only see so far down the first path and took the other (4-5).
  5. The first path is full of undergrowth; the second is grassy (5,8).
  6. They are both worn just the same (10).
  7. He chooses the second path, yearning to take the first another day, but deep down inside knowing he won't (13-15).
  8. He knows he makes the wrong choice and sighs (16-17).
  9. He lies by saying he "took the one less traveled by" (19).
  10. The last line is ambiguous: is he rationalizing or is he being ironic?

Sample Interpretation

Here is one interpretation of "The Road Not Taken." You have my permission to disagree.

The biggest enemy of success is fear.

Fear causes the speaker in "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost to choose the wrong path, something he realizes when making the choice, yet knows he will rationalize later in life. The speaker claims he "took the one less traveled by" (19)--at best a rationalization, at worst a lie. Both paths were worn "really about the same" (10), and lay equally. The only difference between the two is that one is grassy, implying comfort and ease, and the other contains undergrowth, connotative of roughness and discomfort. It is even possible that they are worn the same at the path entrances only and that many turned around when reaching the undergrowth of the first path.

The speaker understands he shall be telling his life story with a "sigh" (16), having taken the easy path, foregoing adventure and risk. A look at the poem's rhyme scheme brings out this point more clearly. Each stanza follows an a b a a b rhyme scheme, drawing emphasis to the last line of each stanza, a line that already has a natural emphasis. In stanza one, the last line mentions the undergrowth, symbolic of risk and adventure; in stanza two, the paths being worn the same is emphasized calling attention to his lie in the final stanza; the last line of stanza three emphasizes the realization that the speaker will never return; and stanza four hammers home the remorseful realization that his wrong choice has made all the difference.

For an analysis of Robert Frost poems and others, check out the study guide on poetic devices or the study guide on sound devices in poetry.