person walking through a forest

The Road Not Taken

by Robert Frost
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Explain the phrase "bent in the undergrowth" in Frost's "The Road not Taken."

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The speaker of the poem has reached a fork in the road in the middle of the woods.  He considers the truth that he, "one traveler," cannot take both roads in front of him.  The speaker examines one of the roads before him, following it with his eyes as far as he can see, until the road turns slightly into some "undergrowth"—perhaps some tall grasses or small shrubs growing on the forest floor.  

Literally, then, to say that the road "bent in the undergrowth" means that, at a certain point, the speaker can no longer see which direction the road goes.  The undergrowth obscures the road's direction from the speaker's sight.  Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, he cannot see where it leads or where it ends.  Symbolically, if we interpret the fork in the road as a choice the speaker must make in his life, then he cannot see what the outcome of his decision will be.  Just as he cannot see where the road goes after it bends, he cannot (with certainty) predict where his choice will take him.  If we knew the outcomes of our decisions before we made them, that would sure make life a lot easier, would it not?  Alas, that is not how it works.

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 This phrase appears at the end of the first stanza of the poem. It represents the point where the speaker can no longer see where the first road he looks down will lead. We can visualize the speaker, who is standing at a crossroads in the woods, being able to see down this road a bit. Then it bends and is so overgrown that he can't make out where it is heading. He looks at it for a long time. 

This "bent" that obscures where the road leads represents the fact that we can only see into the future to a limited extent. If the fork in the road symbolizes a place where we have to make a choice in life, the poem tells us that to a large extent, we have to make our choice through a leap of faith. We choose one path but are not sure where another path might have taken us. The speaker will decide on the other path, the road less traveled, but will never be entirely certain it was the best route to take.

The poem teaches us that in life we have to make decisions without knowing exactly what the outcome will be--but there is no other way to live unless we want to stand paralyzed forever at a fork in the road. 

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