One of my favorite poets is Robert Frost. Part of that is an attachment to New England, and some is just my love at the cadence of his poetry. But a little bit comes from a visit to Frost’s home in Ripton, VT in 1961 or ’62 when I was 9 or 10. Mom and Dad visited with Larry Thompson, Frost’s biographer, at the house. I wandered around over stone fences, past apple trees, and eventually settled myself by his pond trying to catch frogs.
One of my favorite poems is “The Road Not Taken.” I assumed Frost was talking about paths in a woods in Vermont. My father told me that Robert Frost said the poem came from a walk in an English forest.
A newly published book on the English poet, Edward Thomas (1878-1917) confirmed that indeed whatever the spark, the poem had its inspiration in England.
In 1912 Robert Frost and his family went to England. He met Edward Thomas, and in their many walks together he encouraged him to write poetry. According to the book, “Now All Roads Lead to France” by Mathew Hollis, Frost urged Thomas to come back to America with him. Thomas felt torn between accompanying Frost, or enlisting the army to fight a war he didn’t approve of but couldn’t ignore.
In June 1915 Frost sent Thomas “The Road Not Taken.” Thomas took it as a rebuke that he didn’t enlist and it prompted him to do so. He joined the Artists Rifles in July 1915. Thomas was killed by a German shell in April 1917.
Frost later wrote that the poem was “about a friend who had gone off to war…a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn’t go the other.”
You can read “The Road Not Taken” here.