"The Road Not Taken," a poem by Robert Frost
Kennedy & Gioia, 7th edition, pp. 689
This worksheet is the second one on poetry. Unlike the first poem, this one does not have a narrative formal structure (does not tell a story of sequential events), so the alternate interpretive strategy, which by now you should have studied, is needed. In brief, it consists of looking first at imagery, next at the imagery's tone, and last at how the key image or images may carry a deeper level of meaning through a device such as symbolism or metaphor. To learn these poetic devices, the alternative interpretive strategy, and when to use it, before going further you should read these links in my website (all found within the Writing About Literature page):
Here are two links from You Tube, featuring, shall we say, very different readings of the poem:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2hDljXa2s-I This version, ironically, comes from a TV ad for a Swiss bank. It is "veddy, veddy British."
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2IOL7-K1xE&NR=1 This second version had me belly-laughing. Some guy is doing an excellent imitation of Yoda (from Star Wars) reading Robert Frost. This is nothing less than surrealistic.
The "fudge factor" on this poem is that I am telling you up front that it is not a narrative poem; it is what I call an "internal monologue," basically the speaker of the poem thinking out loud about some single issue and/or event. The questions take you through the alternative poetic interpretive strategy of imagery > tone > figurative language (symbol or metaphor, usually).
As a daily grade, answer these questions:
1. Focus on the poem's first stanza. The person in the poem is standing still, doing something. This is visual imagery. What is he doing? In other words, what is the poem's dominant visual image?
2. Read the rest of the poem, and come back to the first stanza. Note the absence of any mood having to do with rushing, hurrying, and so forth. Think of the opposite of that mindset, and look for evidence of it in the poem. What then is the mood or tone of this poem?
3. Now, consider again the dominant image of the poem, the visual image presented in the first stanza and continued throughout the poem. There is a universally common thing that every person does, over and over again, which is symbolized by this visual image. It might have to do with a job, a girlfriend/boyfriend, a college major, or something as trivial as what color shirt to wear today. What human situation, in very general terms, is symbolized by the visual image in the poem, especially in stanza one? Hint: The man is standing at the fork in the road trying to make a ______________.
4. Now note that the wood mentioned in stanza one is "a yellow wood." Yellow is a universal symbol for caution. Then too, yellow leaves signal that the season is autumn. Often, the seasons are seen as metaphors for the "seasons" of a person's life. If this is so, then the person in the poem may be older, in the "autumn" of his life. So consider this as perhaps a message, and consider the tone you already identified in the poem. I am suggesting that the poem's tone, the symbol of the color yellow, and the hint of it being late in one's life, all combine to send a similar message. This message is actually a major part of the theme of the poem, and it relates to the general human situation you identified in your answer to #2. What is the message sent by these three aspects of the poem (tone, the symbol yellow, and it being the "autumn" of the person's life)? When a person is faced with _______, we should do what?
5. In stanza two, the speaker of the poem takes the fork in the road which has "perhaps the better claim, / Because it was grassy and wanted wear . . ." Then in the last stanza, he reiterates that he "took the one less traveled by" and concludes that it "has made all the difference." All this can be seen as an allusion, which is a reference to something well known to most readers, something outside the poem--often some other famous literary work, or Greek/Roman mythology, or Christian Scripture. In this case, the allusion seems to be to folk wisdom. How many teenagers have had a parent ask them if all they ever do is what their friends do, and never thin for themselves? Mom may ask "So if all your friends just walked off the edge of a cliff, would you follow them then too?" The lesson implied by this allusion to folk wisdom can be seen as a second important part of the theme of the poem. What is this implied lesson? Lastly, put your answer to #4 together with this answer, and make a statement of the poem's theme. Like this, perhaps: When a person is faced with [the situation symbolized in stanza one], we should ______________ and we should also _________________.
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