In the poem "the road not taken" what is the symbolic value of two roads referred in the poem?

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Symbolically, the two roads represent choices: literal and metaphoric. The roads are identical: this is perhaps the biggest key to the poem. Given that the roads are identical, the narrator cannot choose "the road less traveled by," because there is no "road less traveled." They look the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black. (3rd stanza)

This poem is often misinterpreted as being symbolic of choosing the more difficult or more mysterious path. However, given that the roads appear identical, this can't be the case. In the last stanza, the narrator foresees himself, "ages and ages hence" recounting this significant and poignant moment in his life when he is faced with a decision. As he says with a "sigh," he takes the road "less traveled by." Here, he is speculating that, in the future, he will retell this moment of decision and basically lie about it (saying he took the less traveled road), perhaps to give it more meaning or simply to be at peace with the decision (road) he chose. He "sighs" because he knows he did not take the road "less traveled by"; he just took one of two similar looking roads.

Knowing that he most likely will never return to this spot/moment, his remorse or regret is simply that he can never know where the other path may have led. In the end, the two paths do not represent a difficult road and an easy, more traveled one. They represent choice, free will, and particularly, how CHANCE can play a part in a decision; and also, how the significance of each choice can only be fully recognized or appreciated in hindsight.


Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The symbolic value articulated in the poem is the element of human choice.  Freedom is the overriding element in Frost's poem.  The opening stanza which depicts the speaker being able to gaze out at two divergent roads pits him in the challenging predicament of being poised between equally desirable, but ultimately incompatible courses of action.  Simply put, the speaker cannot take both roads, cannot avert himself from the element of choice that is thrust upon him.  The speaker must, to quote Satre, "Choose!"  There is little to alleviate the agony of such a choice.  Yet, Frost spins this as a positive element, one of distinction and self definition and not one that pins down the speaker.  The speaker studies the road that others did not take and notes its details:  "Because it was grassy and wanted wear."  The speaker understands that taking the path that others did not can "make all the difference."  In the final analysis, the value of individual freedom with what happens as a result becomes a critical and defining element to the poem, a symbolic value praised and hoisted above all.

appletrees eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Frost is referring to choices made in life, specifically, the choice of a more unorthodox lifestyle as compared to a more conventional one. The poet sees two roads and is "sorry he could not travel both"; the past tense that shifts to present at the end makes it clear he is referring to his own life. Choosing a vocation merely to make a living, or to make large amounts of money, is what many people feel compelled to do. Poets by nature do not become wealthy and may not receive the kind of social respect a successful businessperson might. By saying he took the road "less traveled by, and that has made all the difference" Frost makes peace with his choice to be unconventional.