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What does "The Road Not Taken" seem to symbolize in Frost's poem?Work closely with the...

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adefang | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 22, 2008 at 5:11 AM via web

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What does "The Road Not Taken" seem to symbolize in Frost's poem?

Work closely with the lines to explain why the road seems to represent something bigger then one particular road the speaker encounters.

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engtchr5 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted October 22, 2008 at 5:56 AM (Answer #2)

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Depending on your interpretation, the "Road Not Taken" can either be the one that the author actually travels, or it can be the one he decided against. Frost tells us that he "...took the road less travelled by, and that has made all the difference." The road was unkempt and not well-worn, indicating that few people had walked upon it.

Your other option is to examine the road that the author left "for another day;" that is, the road more frequently used by most people. Frost describes it as "just as fair" as the road he chooses, but decides against it. The end result of his choice is an interesting life, as he tells us:

"I shall be telling this with a sigh/somewhere ages and ages hence,/I took the road less travelled by,/and that has made all the difference." 

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kschlossmacher | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 22, 2008 at 6:17 AM (Answer #3)

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The road not taken symbolizes the choice to enter the unchartered land. It suggests that in making this choice one is trying to distinguish oneself from the rest of the world by taking the less traveled, less worn road. it is indicative of a person who is ready and willing to take a chance, to face a challange, who possible prefers that to the more traditional or safe ways of those of who have gone before.

It also seems to suggest courage as an important value in how we live our lives. From the poem we know that taking the less traveled road has made all the difference, suggesting that the author's life achieved that sense of difference from the commonality that might be seen on a more traditional walk. The author seems to suggest that this is a real achievement to walk on one's own without guidence, to strike out on the unbeaten path and act couragously for oneself in one's choices.

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cldbentley | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted October 22, 2008 at 6:33 AM (Answer #4)

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The "road not taken" represents the path that the author chose not take in life.  While the speaker did encounter another path that would have been easier to follow due to having been heavily traveled, his decision to take a more unusual route shaped his life.  Having consciously chosen not to follow the crowd, he caused his life to be special.

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timbrady | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted October 22, 2008 at 8:38 AM (Answer #5)

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I think the key to understanding this poem does not lie in the fact that one road is/is not travelled more than another; Frost plays with us a bit here.  Here's the case when he makes his final announcement:

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,        10  

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

He says he took the road less traveled by, but the evidence belies his statement.  What he is telling us comes earlier in the poem: 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

 My reading of this poem is that it's about options ... not good ones, not bad ones, not less travelled ones ... just options.  We have to make choices, and since, as Frost says "I doubted if I should ever come back," these choices are "eternal."  In some ways, our lives are aggregates of all these "roads" we take that prevent us from taking another road.  Some of these choice are good, some not so good.  But they are the stuff our life is made of, and they are what make every day so important.  Frost says he will be telling his story some day with a "sigh" --- the sigh of living in a limit situation and not being able to do all the things we might have liked to, and wondering, "what if" ....

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Michael Foster | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted October 24, 2008 at 5:25 AM (Answer #6)

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To me the roads symbolize, obviously, two choices.  But it's not a choice of bad vs. good, nor even better vs. worse.  Both are valid choices, but one is more "unique" than the other.  The speaker is speculating on the life consequences derived from the choice of the road less travelled.  Why was it less travelled?  Perhaps it was harder, required more of the traveller.

It brings to my mind the lines from Browning's "Rabbi Ben Ezra": "For thence--a paradox/Which comforts while it mocks--/Shall life succeed in that it seems to fail:/What I aspired to be,/And was not, comforts me."  The speaker is happy with his choice and happy with the life that came from that choice, with all its accomanying struggles.  And he seems to be content that the road should stay "less travelled."

Michael Foster

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melony82 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted November 4, 2008 at 11:56 AM (Answer #7)

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It seems to me that it is a metaphor for life.  We are constantly facing choices. 

". . . And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth."

 It is much the same way that people, when forced to make an important decision, try their very best to imagine the outcome of each of the two options.  If I move out of state, then . . . If I stay here, then . . .   We often wish that we could get through these times without having to choose at all, but we must.  And, try as we may, we will never be able to predict the exact outcome of any of those difficult decisions. So, we look into the future as far as we can and based on this incomplete view, we walk down either one path or the other.  Once one is chosen, it cannot be undone, and it will certainly have an effect on our lives.

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epollock | Valedictorian

Posted June 6, 2009 at 8:25 AM (Answer #8)

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Choices in life come up all the time.  What if we had two choices but can only take one? Would you wonder what the other would have been like?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted November 19, 2010 at 4:30 PM (Answer #9)

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The above posts are correct.  This is a poem about choices, living with those choices, and about wondering what might have been if a different choice had been made.  That's the human condition--asking what might have been. 

Lori Steinbach

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