What makes the narrator doubt whether he should ever come back in "The Road Not Taken"?

The speaker's doubt about whether he "should ever come back" stems from his knowledge that one "way" leads to another way. The poem is often considered a metaphor for making decisions. By "way," the speaker may refer both to a road and to the consequences of a decision. In the previous line, he expressed enthusiasm for the possibility of returning to the first road. Therefore, the narrator experiences doubt about his future return.

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Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" is generally read as an extended metaphor for making choices in life. So much emphasis is placed on the metaphor that few readers consider the poem even briefly as a literal description of taking a walk in the woods. The line...

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Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" is generally read as an extended metaphor for making choices in life. So much emphasis is placed on the metaphor that few readers consider the poem even briefly as a literal description of taking a walk in the woods. The line "I doubted if I should ever come back" at the end of the penultimate stanza is one of the reasons for this. Notwithstanding Heraclitus's observation that one never steps into the same river twice, the speaker could come back to a literal wood on another day and have approximately the same experience taking the second road that he would have had before.

The same cannot, however, be said of the metaphor. If you have to decide whether to become a doctor or a lawyer, it is very difficult to change your mind in the middle of professional training, and it is even more so when you have started to practice. It is because "way leads on to way" that you will never be at this point in your life again. The speaker is experienced enough to know this, and he will therefore have no idea of what would have happened if he had taken the other path.

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In “The Road Not Taken,” the unnamed first-person speaker expresses doubt about whether they “should ever come back” to the roads’ point of divergence. The poem can be understood literally as the speaker’s reflection on following one road rather than another. Many readers interpret the poem as an extended metaphor, a direct comparison of unlike things for effect. Taking “the one less traveled” is thus interpreted as choosing a less popular option.

The speaker says that they “doubted” that they would return based on their knowledge of how things usually work. They state:

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

The phrase “way leads on to way” means literally that one road takes the traveler to the next road. It is not likely that the road the speaker chooses will lead them back to the other road. Rather, it will probably take them in a different direction. This type of divergence applies to decisions, as it is rare that one gets a second chance in life. However, the speaker is expressing doubt, not certainty. Their attraction to the road not chosen—the one named in the title—is also strong, as shown by their enthusiasm in the previous line:

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

The speaker’s thoughts about this possible future are expanded on in the last stanza. The consequences of their doubt are revealed by the sighing they anticipate doing in the future. Even if the speaker were to return to a specific place, they would no longer be the same person.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence

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The narrator knows how "way leads on to way," and this is why he believes he will not make it back to this particular spot. In the poem, the two roads are symbolic of two choices, and, typically, when we make one decision, that leads to more choices and other decisions, and our next decision leads to new choices and more decisions. The likelihood that one would actually be able to retrace one's steps, so to speak, and somehow return to that one particular decision, having had to make so many since then, is not good. Even if it were possible, would we really want to undo or unmake all the choices we have selected? I doubt it, and so must he. That’s just the way life is.

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