“Two roads diverged in a wood,
and I– I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Although published nearly a hundred years ago in 1916, Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” still holds weight in both our hearts and our high school English classes. Many of you have probably read the poem in its entirety, while the rest have at least heard that famous opening line: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” Any way you look at it, it’s clear that Frost has left his mark on the world of poetry.
Born in 1874, Frost spent much of his early life in Massachusetts, moving from San Francisco to New England after his father passed away from tuberculosis. His New England roots can be seen very strongly in many of his works, and his regionalism is a prominent topic of discussion among literary critics. These critics state that he uses diction similar to that of a New Englander, imitating the speech of someone native to the area. His efforts to maintain a conversational style through his poems—a distinct feature of modern poetry—have been criticized by some. This excerpt from “The Death of the Hired Man” shows how Frost’s poetic style makes use of dialogue and spoken word:
“‘When was I ever anything but kind to him?
But I’ll not have the fellow back,” he said.
“I told him so last haying, didn’t I?
‘If he left then,’ I said, ‘that ended it.’
What good is he? Who else will harbour him
At his age for the little he can do?
What help he is there’s no depending on.
Off he goes always when I need him most.’”
Although Frost was well known for writing poems based in New England, he covered many complex themes. His poems often contain levels of ambiguity and psychology, and he will meditate on universal issues that we all struggle with. The idea of searching for answers is a common theme found throughout his works. Frost wanted his poems to be understood and read by all, stating once in an interview that, “If poetry isn’t understanding all, the whole world, then it isn’t worth anything.”
However, Frost wasn’t always the famous poet we know. After leaving school, he worked a series of occupations, including a teacher, a cobbler, and an editor for a newspaper called the Sentinel. In 1894, his first poem titled “My Butterfly” was published in a New York newspaper known as The Independent. This was the start of it all—by 1915, Frost had published two poetry collections, A Boy’s Will and North of Boston.
Frost’s reputation continued to grow through the 1920s, where began to emerge as one of most honored and celebrated poets in America. Throughout the rest of years, he was honored by many important figures. At his inauguration, John F. Kennedy spoke of Frost, stating, “He has bequeathed his nation a body of imperishable verse from which Americans will forever gain joy and understanding.”
In his twilight years, Frost spent his time teaching in Massachusetts and Vermont. While he eventually passed away on January 29th, 1963, his poems have become his legacy to ensure that he is remembered forever. Serving to bridge the gap between 19th century poetry and modern poetry, his works have had a significant impact on the style and content of poems to follow. Not only has Frost inspired his fellow poets, he’s also inspired those who read his works and feel connections with what he has written.
Now, all that’s left to ask is this: if two roads diverge in a yellow road, will you take the one less traveled by?