What is the allegorical significance of the poem "The Road Not Taken"?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Have you ever made a decision, which may have been major or minor, about your life and the way that you want it to go, that has led you into a very different direction? It might have been choosing one college over another, or one Major over another Major, or choosing to try out for a sports team. I am sure you have. All of us in life have to make decisions that have a massive impact on the way that our future lives look, and if you think about it, who we are today and what we are doing and the kind of lives we lead are the result of lots of these separate decisions that we have made through our life.

However, have you ever found yourself wandering what your life would have been like if you had made a different decision on one of those junctures in life's journey? Where would you be now if you had gone to a different college, for example? It is this kind of wondering that concerns this excellent poem by Robert Frost.

Note how the poem presents us with a man walking in the woods and having to choose between two roads:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveller, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Although the speaker would like to be able to travel both roads, he is forced to make a decision and go down one. Both roads look "just as fair" as the other, yet he consoles himself with the idea that he will be able to go back and try the other road:

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

Realistically, the way that life goes on to other choices and other decisions that have to be made, the speaker recognises that he will never be able to take the first path and see where it leads him. This realisation leads to the final stanza of the poem:

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 travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Thus the poems allegorical significance is clear. The "road" is the path of life that we are all on, and the forks in this road are the decisions that we have to make. However, the last stanza of this poem shows how the speaker is haunted by his choice and what could have happened if he had taken the other path, and where he would be now in his life. This is a very profound and haunting poem that makes us think too about our own decisions and how we could be living a very different life if we had taken "the road less travelled."

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