person walking through a forest

The Road Not Taken

by Robert Frost
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What do the lines "And both that morning equally lay / In leaves no step had trodden black" mean?

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When the narrator, who is walking through the woods, comes to a fork in the road, he ponders which way to go. He decides on the path that is "grassy and wanted wear," but also notes that each path is about equally worn. 

The lines in question mean that at this point in the morning, nobody has yet travelled on either path where the road forks, because otherwise the leaves on one path or both would be stepped on ("trodden") and have turned darker ("black") from people walking on them. Each path, in other words, has a virginal quality. Whichever path the narrator takes, he will not be following in somebody's footsteps. He has to make his own decision.

As he choses the second path, he says he keeps the first path in mind for "another day." In other words, he rationalizes his difficult choice by saying he will sometime in the future see where the other path leads. But even as he thinks this, he already knows that it is unlikely, once embarked in one direction, that he will then head in another. 

 

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These lines mean that, of the two roads the narrator is considering, neither one is more or less traveled than the other. At that moment, "that morning," when he is trying to decide which one to take, the roads have been "equally" traveled, and he can tell because no one has walked on the leaves to turn them dark with mud or dirt.

Each road symbolizes a choice; the narrator has two choices. The lines, "And both that morning equally lay / In leaves no step had trodden black," repeat the idea -- stated earlier in the poem -- that the roads, though they look a bit different from one another (one is grassier than the other), have been traveled the same number of times (by other people). The narrator has already said that the second road was "just as fair" as the first (6). Moreover, he says that "[...] the passing there / Had worn them really about the same" (9-10).  In other words, when he says, at the end of the poem, that he will later tell people that "[He] took the [road] less traveled [...]," he will be lying (19). There is no road less traveled; they are each traveled the same.

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