Robert Frost Poetry Analysis: The Road Not Taken and Other Poems

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  • 0:03 Robert Frost: A…
  • 1:35 'The Road Not Taken'
  • 2:33 Traditional Elements…
  • 3:44 Contradiction and…
  • 5:28 The Mood of the Poem
  • 6:13 Other Poems
  • 7:08 Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Expert Contributor
Jenna Clayton

Jenna received her BA in English from Iowa State University in 2015, and she has taught at the secondary level for three years.

Robert Frost was a famous American modernist poet. This lesson covers the elements that make Frost's poetry modernist and analyzes his most famous poem, 'The Road Not Taken.'

Robert Frost: A Modernist or Not?

Robert Frost was a well-known American modernist poet. Like other modernist poets, he wrote his poems in ways that were new and different when he was writing, at the beginning of the 20th century. But unlike other modernists, Frost also kept some of the traditional aspects of poetry. You might say he was caught between two movements: the traditional movement and the modernist movement in poetry.

Modernist poetry is different from traditional poetry in several ways: it uses simplified language and often abandons traditional rhyme and meter. In addition, the modernist poets moved away from using images of nature, and they viewed the world with a more pessimistic lens. Finally, the modernists often left their poems vague and open to interpretation by the reader.

Robert Frost wrote in new ways, but still kept some traditional characteristics.
Robert Frost Picture

Like his contemporaries, Frost favored using simplified language in his poems. And he wrote poems that were not always optimistic. He also lets his readers interpret his poems by leaving them a little bit vague. But unlike other modernist poets, Frost stuck to using traditional meter and rhyme. He also lived in the countryside and used mostly natural images in his poems. So Frost was a modernist, and he also wasn't. He was a bit of a rebel from both sides. Let's take a look at one of his most famous poems and see how it and some of his other poetry both exemplify and go against modernist ideals and how life in the countryside influenced the images he used in his writing.

'The Road Not Taken'

Robert Frost's most famous poem is called 'The Road Not Taken.' Let's start by reading the poem.

'The Road Not Taken'

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

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.

Traditional Elements in a Modernist Poem

There are several things in this poem that are usually seen in traditional, not modernist, poetry. First of all, you probably noticed that the poem rhymes. In fact, it follows a traditional rhyme pattern. What do I mean by that? Well, you'll notice that in each stanza there are five lines. The first, third and fourth lines rhyme with each other, and the second and fifth lines rhyme with each other. This type of rhyme pattern is usually summed up as 'ABAAB.' The 'A's represent the lines that rhyme with each other; likewise, the two lines that are labeled 'B' rhyme with each other.

Besides rhyme, the poem has a traditional meter, or rhythm. Each line has a specific number of syllables, and certain syllables are stressed when they are read. Meter is something that Frost liked to use a lot, even when he didn't use rhyme.

This poem follows a traditional, not a modernist, rhyme pattern.
Road Not Taken Traditional Rhyme

A third, and very important, element in this poem that is not normally seen in modernist poetry is its use of natural imagery. The poem is about someone alone in the woods, and all the descriptions are of nature. Though most modernist poets did not spend a lot of time describing nature, Frost lived in a rural setting, and most of his poems focused on nature.

Contradiction and Interpretation in the Poem

So with all those elements of traditional poetry, what makes this poem modern? Well, for one thing, the language is very basic. But the most important modernist elements of this poem have to do with the poem's meaning: there are a lot of things that aren't clear in the poem, and the mood of the poem is not necessarily uplifting. First, let's look at the way Frost makes the poem unclear. In the second stanza, he describes one of the paths as 'grassy and wanted wear.' In other words, fewer people had gone down that path than the other path.

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Additional Activities

Frost Poetry Activities

Journal Prompts

Respond thoroughly to all of these prompts, and remember to write in complete sentences.

  • What are the traditional elements in Frost's "The Road Not Taken?"
  • What are the modern elements in Frost's "The Road Not Taken?"
  • Analyze the overall tone of "The Road Not Taken." Explain your answer and use evidence from the poem to support your answer.

Write a Poem

Frost is known for flirting with both traditional and modern writing styles. First, review the components of traditional poems and modern poems. Your task is to write like Frost. You will write a poem that contains both traditional and modern elements. Decide which traditional and modern elements you want to include. After writing your poem, write a brief description of the traditional and modern elements that you used in your poem. Write your description directly beneath your poem.

Poetic Analysis of "The Road Not Taken"

"The Road Not Taken" is often misinterpreted. Most believe that this is an uplifting poem about being grateful for the path one took in life. However, after a deeper analysis of the poem, one can see that Frost had an entirely different meaning. Write a multi-paragraph analysis of "The Road Not Taken." Determine the author's purpose. What is Frost's message here? What are the themes? You also need to include information on the following: the meaning of the title, analysis of any figurative language or vague words or phrases, the author's tone/attitude, and any shifts in the author's attitude. For this assignment, it is important to critically analyze minor details. Your analysis should clearly explain the true meaning of "The Road Not Taken." Don't forget to include evidence from the poem to support your claims.

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