Discuss the figurative interpretation of the poem "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost.

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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"The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost stands as a masterpiece illustrating both the literal and figurative meaning of a poem. The narrator of the poem faces a decision that on the surface seems not so difficult. It is the underlying significance that brings the real meaning of the poem to life.

Literal meaning

The narrator in the poem is walking in the woods on an early autumn morning.  He comes to a fork in the road and has to decide which way to go.  He wishes that he could travel on both roads. When looks down one of the paths, he realizes that he can only see so far before the thick underbrush impedes his view.

In the second stanza, the poet does a cursory look at the roads and quickly chooses one that he first thinks has had less travel than the other one.  After looking at the roads a little more, he sees that there really is not much difference in them because both have been traveled on but not recently.

The third stanza explains that the poet regrets that he cannot go down both roads.  He first states that he will come back another day and go down the other one; however, in reality, it is doubtful that this will happen.

The fourth stanza speaks of the future.  Sometime in the future, the narrator will be telling this story about the fork in the road with a  quiet lament.   The narrator came to a split in the road. He took what he thought was the better road, and this made a big difference in his life.

Figurative meaning

The poet has to make a decision in his life.  The woods are symbolic of the man’s life.  Here the man stands having to decide which path to take in his life.  The reader does not know what the decision concerns: marriage, career, education, or whatever he faces in his life.

The speaker hope that he has made the right selection. It bothers him that he does not know the outcome of his resolution; however, maybe he can try the other choice in the future.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

 The poet realizes that this is not possible.  Later in his life, he will explain how he made this important decision with a touch of melancholy.  Yet, his decision rendered him able to live his life and that made an enormous distinction. Unfortunately, the reader does not know if this has been a good or bad decision.  All that is known is that it made a difference.

The entire poem is an extended metaphor for life and its choices.  The road represents both the road that a person walks on and the path that a person takes in life. The repetitions of the first line of the poem in the last stanza is an anaphora used to emphasize the point of the poem. 

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I---

Thematically, this brings the poem full circle with the idea that the judgment that was made changed his life forever. Wrong turn or not, the roads that are  taken  can end up making significant changes in our lives. And the scary part is that the person will always wonder “What if….”

The last important aspect of the poem to examine is the title. This gives the true feelings of the poet.  It is not titled --the road less traveled or the road I choose.  It is "The Road Not Taken." This highlights that "sigh" that the speaker expresses in the last stanza.  This poem portrays a choice that speaks more of regret than optimism.  Possibly, that difference in the narrator's life was not as good as the reader originally thought.


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