In "The Road Not Taken," what does the "yellow wood" symbolize?

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parkerlee eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The "yellow wood" could also mean early spring, no? Echoing in my mind is another poem by Frost, "Nothing God Can Stay":

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

In "The Road Not Taken," the leaves trodden underfoot would be there in any season, not just autumn, since it is in a forest.

I had always thought the story was about a critical choice made during one's youth, with the road evidently symbolising one's life and the fork in the road, a moment of decision. The lines "I shall be telling this with a sigh, Somewhere ages and ages hence" implies the speaker is middle-aged and not yet old, with some time yet to go within an ordinary lifespan.

However, the first answer posted here makes sense, too, and I must reconsider my initial interpretation of the poem. Ambiguity, I suppose, is part of the beauty of poetical expression!

Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the poem's first line, Frost describes the wood through which the narrator travels. It is "a yellow wood," which establishes the poem's autumnal setting. He emphasizes the season by then mentioning the fallen leaves which have not been disturbed. By setting the poem in the empty woods in autumn, Frost creates a sense of silence and a tone of melancholy in the poem. Since autumn is followed by winter, it is a season of decay, rather than life and growth. The "yellow wood" can be interpreted as a symbol of the transitory nature of human life that ends in death. The narrator would like to come back to this place, but he knows he will not. He will move forward only, until he reaches the end of his life.

shaunap | Student

I have often considered that the 'yellow woods' refers to the continuance of our decisions and the the knowledge we gain as older people that there is no chance to go back. I think he recognised that younger people think there are ways back but as we age we understand that 'way leads on to way'

unico-hijo13 | Student

I agree with mshrun. Thanks!

ishankmd | Student

I believe that the yellow woods signify that it is autumn and  he is confused on which path he should choose.

Both the paths are equally travelled but on that particular morning no one has taken the second path. Robert Frost has the risk taking ability and he chooses the second path.

We know that the second path was leess travelled becaues of the line "In leaves no steps had trodden black". This shows that these leaves have fallen down a little while before and no one had walked there otherwise they would have turned black.

This poems refers to his life and his choice to go to America rather than stay in England.

traiel | Student

I agree with mshurn and shaunup, with some slight differences, based on the emphasis throughout the poem.

I feel the poem is about Frost being content with a big life decision he has made, both of which were equally valid. I could, for example assume that he is referring to his decision to become a poet (road less travelled), and his contentment and fulfillment when looking back at the decision later on.

The yellow woods, and the whole first paragraph certainly set the mood, which i would say is reflective and light.

Obviously the decision is made before the reflection, and i'd say quite a bit further on down the path for him to consider looking back to that critical choice, and because of the light mood and contentment with it, i'd say it was when he realised he was happy with the decision that he'd made.

Therefore, the yellow woods would certainly set the season of his life in which he made the decision.

Autumn would perhaps suggest that Summer had just gone, and it was a time of ending - say to use my analogy from above, a career change, which perhaps brought the need for a choice, while Spring would suggest a new beginning, perhaps his choice in career.

In any case, my focus for this meander is just to highlight that the whole context is about a quiet, light realisation that he has been fulfilled and is content with the choice he made, and the yellow woods are where he was when the choice was set before him.