The Road Not Taken Explanation Line By Line

What is the meaning of the poem "The Road Not Taken" line by line? 

Expert Answers
lsumner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken," the speaker is confronted with two roads in a yellow wood. Yellow leaves would represent autumn. We know the speaker is torn between the two roads. He is not sure which road to take. He is sorry he cannot travel both roads. 

"Long [he] stood" trying to decide which road to take. He takes the time to examine both roads, trying to determine which road is the best road. 

Finally, he takes the road he feels is "less traveled by." He insists that the road he has taken has made all the difference in his life. 

Of course, he has regrets and he will be telling his story with a sigh "somewhere ages and ages hence." Since "way leads to on to way," the speaker has doubts of ever having the opportunity to ever take the road he did not take. 

So for now, he will have to be satisfied with the road he has taken. By the end of the poem, the speaker is content, seemingly satisfied. He feels the road he has taken has made all the difference:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 

kbhandari98 | Student

Complete Text

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both 
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 5 

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same, 10 

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back. 15 

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 20 


The speaker stands in the woods, considering a fork in the road. Both ways are equally worn and equally overlaid with un-trodden leaves. The speaker chooses one, telling himself that he will take the other another day. Yet he knows it is unlikely that he will have the opportunity to do so. And he admits that someday in the future he will recreate the scene with a slight twist: He will claim that he took the less-traveled road.


“The Road Not Taken” consists of four stanzas of five lines. The rhyme scheme is ABAAB; the rhymes are strict and masculine, with the notable exception of the last line (we do not usually stress the -ence ofdifference). There are four stressed syllables per line, varying on an iambic tetrameter base.


This has got to be among the best-known, most-often-misunderstood poems on the planet. Several generations of careless readers have turned it into a piece of Hallmark happy-graduation-son, seize-the-future puffery. Cursed with a perfect marriage of form and content, arresting phrase wrought from simple words, and resonant metaphor, it seems as if “The Road Not Taken” gets memorized without really being read. For this it has died the cliché’s un-death of trivial immortality.

But you yourself can resurrect it from zombie-hood by reading it—not with imagination, even, but simply with accuracy. Of the two roads the speaker says “the passing there / Had worn them really about the same.” In fact, both roads “that morning lay / In leaves no step had trodden black.” Meaning:Neither of the roads is less traveled by. These are the facts; we cannot justifiably ignore the reverberations they send through the easy aphorisms of the last two stanzas.

One of the attractions of the poem is its archetypal dilemma, one that we instantly recognize because each of us encounters it innumerable times, both literally and figuratively. Paths in the woods and forks in roads are ancient and deep-seated metaphors for the lifeline, its crises and decisions. Identical forks, in particular, symbolize for us the nexus of free will and fate: We are free to choose, but we do not really know beforehand what we are choosing between. Our route is, thus, determined by an accretion of choice and chance, and it is impossible to separate the two.



callie-reed | Student

In "The Road Not Taken" the narrator is confronted with a decision, metaphorically shown by the diverging roads in the autumn.

It can be interpreted to have multiple meanings.

First, the suggestion that the narrator is a non-conformist and that it is beneficial to travel upon the road less travelled. Here, the significance of the last stanza is emphasised with the "sigh" being one of relief.

However, it can also be said that the narrator is reflecting upon this decision with regret, suggesting instead it is better to follow in the tradition and pathway of your predecessors.

Also, perhaps the narrator is simply saying that the roads are relatively the same (shown in stanzas two and three) and that the continous evaluating and worry that we associate with making decisions is pointless.

From this, the poem may also demonstrate that many people attempt to later justify the decision they once made, claiming one road as "less travelled" and therefore implying they made the decision to stand apart from the crowd while, in fact, the roads may be relatively similar.