person walking through a forest

The Road Not Taken

by Robert Frost

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Figurative Language In The Road Not Taken

What is an example of figurative language from the poem "The Road Not Taken"?

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The two roads in the poem function as a symbol for any decisions that feel significant in our lives. A symbol has both literal and figurative meaning; the speaker literally does come to a fork in the road in the woods where he walks, and those roads also convey figurative choices. Just as we can imagine the immediate effects of our choices, the speaker can see a little ways down each road. They look a little different but "the passing there / Had worn them really about the same." In other words, about the same number of people have traveled each road (or made each choice).

The speaker dreams of coming back to try the first road again, "Yet knowing how way leads on to way," he doubts if he "should ever come back." One road will lead to another, which will lead to another—just like choices; one choice leads to another choice, and another, and it becomes impossible to go back and see what would have happened had we made a different decision.

In the end, the speaker plans to tell people that he "took the [road] less traveled," but he's already told us that the roads were both well-traveled, that they "equally lay / In leaves no step had trodden black" on that particular morning. Why would he plan to lie? Perhaps he mirrors the human desire to believe that our decisions are of critical moment and do make a big difference in our lives. Perhaps he wants to keep that idea alive for whomever he plans to tell this story. Either way, the roads operate as a symbol: they are literal roads that physically exist, but they also refer, figuratively, to choices that we feel are important or significant in our lives.

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This poem is an example of an extended metaphor.

A metaphor is a comparison between two things that are not alike. In this case, a road and life are being compared. In this extended metaphor, the speaker never actually makes a direct comparison between life and the road.  In other words, he does not say life is a road.  Yet the entire poem implies it.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Although there is some argument about the interpretation of this last line, one can argue either way that it is about life.  Frost may be arguing that we should go our own way, or he may be arguing that it does not matter where we go.  Either way, the concept of road as a metaphor for life continues.

In life, as in roads, you have to make decisions.  The traveler came to a fork in the road, as we face choices in life, and once he chose he knew he could never go back.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

In the end, the speaker realizes, once he makes his choice he will have to stick with it.  Choice made, he goes on with his life.  Life is a path, and there is a never-ending amount of decisions that need to be made.  

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