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

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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!

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial