person walking through a forest

The Road Not Taken

by Robert Frost
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"The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost talks about two roads. Are these roads mere roads or do they symbolize some aspect of a person's life?

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Robert Frost's poem, "The Road Not Taken ," talks of the narrator- possibly Frost himself- standing at a fork in the road in the middle of a wood, and contemplating which path he should take. He looks to one that has been often walked on and has seen...

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Robert Frost's poem, "The Road Not Taken," talks of the narrator- possibly Frost himself- standing at a fork in the road in the middle of a wood, and contemplating which path he should take. He looks to one that has been often walked on and has seen a lot of wear. But then he looks to the other, one which is more grassy and fresh looking, that has received much less attention. Torn between the two, he stands there and ponders which path he should take- ultimately landing upon the less-explored territory. Upon reflection, Frost says in his final line "and that has made all the difference." 

Now, looking at this work at face value, it is indeed about a man travelling in the woods and talking about two roads. However, a poem- no matter the author- can never be taken at face value. As readers of poetry, we must always assume that poetry is rife with metaphors, imagery, and hidden themes and meanings begging to be uncovered- and it is our job to uncover them. 

With that said, Robert Frost's roads are not literal "roads," but rather an extended metaphor for the choice that any person must make as to what path they wish to take in life. In this famous poem, Frost explores the proverbial "fork in the road" that everyone faces, in which they must make a life-altering decision about who they are and what they expect out of life and how they will define themselves. In this poem, both the author and the reader find themselves contemplating "should I follow the beaten path? or shall I strike out on my own?" Ultimately, it is the decision between what is comfortable and secure, and what is new and unknown. Frost decides to start down the "path less travelled by," though not without some trepidation. He is aware that once he starts down this path, there may be no going back. He understands that he may regret his decision later, but it nevertheless needs to be made. Whatever path he takes, it will make all the difference in his life- good, bad, or indifferent. It is a common interpretation that Frost is advocating "the road less travelled by" as the better path of the two, indicating that the poem speaks of "not following the crowd," but this is only one interpretation. It can be argued that Frost valued the two paths before him equally- as they both have equal value- but merely had to make a choice. We can see the difficulty at this decision when he says in the first stanza:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
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

Frost contemplates these roads for a long time, and weighs his decision carefully- wishing he could take both. In so doing, he gives both equal credit and importance. And though he decides on one road, he says in the final stanza that he, "shall be telling this with a sigh/ Somewhere ages and ages hence," the "sigh" indicating that he may still wonder what would have happened or how his life could have been different if he had only taken the other path. 

Literature- poetry especially- is widely open to interpretation. A work can mean countless different things to many different people, and there is no real "right" answer so long as you can support your argument with the text. This interpretation of Frost's poem is only one of many, but one thing for certain is that the reader must never take a work of poetry at face value. There is almost always a deeper meaning.  

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