What is the basic and symbolic meaning of "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost?

Expert Answers
susan3smith eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This poem is quite often misinterpreted as a poem about nonconformity, but it is in actuality a poem about choice.  The coordinating conjunction "and" is used 8 times, with 5 of those times being at the beginning of the lines.  Coordinating conjunctions join words, phrases, or clauses of equal weight.  Thus, even the language shows the equality of the two roads that diverged in the woods.

In films such as Family Man or Groundhog's Day or Butterfly Effect, we see how a different choice can have drastically different outcomes.  In real life, however, we reach many such junctures in our lives in which we must make a choice--whether it is between two schools or two places to live.  One choice excludes the other choice as "way leads on to way" and we are never again at that same juncture at that time in lives.  But there is no way of knowing whether or not our choice was right or wrong, good or bad, better or worse.  We just know that it made a difference.  What kind of difference--we can not determine.  That is why the language at the end of the poem is so ambiguous.  Is the sigh one of content or regret?

Frost actually wrote this poem for a friend of his whom he used to walk with.  It amused Frost that when they made a choice as to which path to take, the friend always complained that they had taken the wrong one.  Frost sent this poem to his friend, calling it "tricky."  Indeed it is.

Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Frost's "The Road Not Taken" is a complex poem, so I don't know about anything "basic" being associated with it, except the common symbol of a literal road representing the road of life.  That's the standard symbol in the poem--a road represents the road of life--and that's how the speaker uses the road(s) in the poem. 

But that's where anything "basic" ends.  The poem is not a moralistic depiction of a person taking the road less traveled, or anything like that.  The roads are basically the same, the speaker writes.  There's no important difference between the two roads.

The poem is about the speaker wondering what difference taking a different road might have made, or about the speaker pretending to others that the road he took made a difference.  The speaker cannot possibly know what difference one road in life made compared to another--one can't lead two lives. 

But the speaker can see himself, sometime in the future, telling others what a difference taking one road made as opposed to taking another.  He will pretend that he took the less-traveled road.  He will create meaning where there is none--at least none that he knows of. 

The speaker is seeking meaning in the choices he's made, or, more likely, playing on other's need to seek such meaning.  The day he chose one path over another similar path will one day make a good story.

clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This poem has been much discussed and debated over the years.  I think it is important for you to look at the most prominent image in the poem:

"Two roads diverged (this means split or went in different directions) and sorry I could not travel both."

I think if you consider the following questions, you will have an answer to your question.  A traveler is walking along and comes upon two roads going in opposite directions.  He has a decision to make.  What does the traveler decide to do?  And then, how does he feel about that?

Now - put yourself in the shoes of the traveler anbd use this as a bigger picture metaphor for life.  You come to two "roads" in life.  Which one do you choose?  And when you make the same choice as the traveler in the poem, do you feel the same as he did?  Why or why not?

kostaglatov | Student

It has been many years since I last read this poem so I read it again several times too refresh myself .I find now a tone of regret and self deception . Struggle and rationalization are also there. In the first stanza the speaker  stands long at the fork deciding which way to go, Each of us at some time, labor and experience anguish over choice. It appears that one way is less certain, he could see only so far , " to where it bent in the undergrowth"  The second stanza shows the speaker has made a choice and is compelled to justify it by the lines,"and took the other as just as fair, and having perhaps the better claim, because it was grassy and wanted wear". These lines seem to represent a rationalization in the mind of the speaker. This rationalization is emphasized further by his rediculous reason that "it wanted wear", and suggests perhaps this is not the choice the speaker wanted to make, but mayhave been a choice he made because it invloved less uncertainty.  Apparently this road did not have the bend found in the other road. The final lines in the second stanza and the first two lines of the third stanza reveal confusion and or self deception. After saying his road "wanted wear" he states that really they were worn about the same.   The speaker then states that both roads remained untrodden.  So perhaps the roads were no different at all. Perhaps for the speaker a different choice may not have made a difference in his life. The fact is however that the speaker can never know where the other road may have led, and if he experiences doubt , as we all do from time to time, or regret, he can only find solace in convincing himself he made the correct . the courageous choice. So the road is life, the fork is choice, and that choice frequently involves struggle , doubt and regret.