Discuss the metaphors in "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost has become one of the most recognizable poems in American literature.  It is a poem that speaks to choices, and yet there is a tone of remorse.  It is clear that the reader does not pay close attention to the title; it is not the “The Road Less Traveled.” It is the road that was not chosen that the narrator frets about in the poem.

This poem is about actual and figurative roads: the roads we walk and drive on, and the roads we take through life. As the speaker of this poem discusses, for every road that is taken, there is a road that is not taken.  The roads a person takes can make a significant change in a person’s life.  It is human nature to wonder about the road that was not taken. 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

And sorry I could not travel both

The speaker tells us the woods are yellow, so we can infer that it is autumn. The metaphorical significance is that the woods represent the speaker’s life. In addition, the fork in the road is a metaphor for a choice.  The speaker has come to a point in his life, where he can go no farther without making a decision that takes him down one path and does not allow him to take the other. This is an extended metaphor since the entirety of the poem deals with these choices.

The description of the road is a metaphor for the future.  When the speaker looks down the road but cannot see beyond the undergrowth, the poet is expressing that no one knows what the future will bring.

When he chooses one of the roads, the metaphor extends to the quick decision not really based on anything concrete.  The two roads are basically the same.

When the speaker begins to regret that he cannot take both of the roads, he knows that it is unlikely that he will return this way.  This is a metaphor for a decision that changes everything – once the person has made it he can never go back.

The last verse begins with a repetition of the first line which brings the reader full circle and back to the extended metaphor.  One of the key words here is “sigh.” This is the indication that the speaker’s choice was not as successful as it might have been. 

And then the famous line "and that has made all the difference," solidifies the figurative level of this poem by saying that taking the road that the speaker took, making the choice that he made, has changed his life.

[There are no similes in the poem.]

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Because the "Two roads" in this poem have both literal and figurative meaning (the speaker does seem to be standing at a very real, literal fork in the road, but the fork also represents something figurative: a choice to be made in the life of the speaker) the roads can also be interpreted as symbols.

A metaphor often has only has figurative meaning, but this speaker describes both the physical appearance of the woods in which the roads are located as well as of the two roads themselves: the wood is "yellow," probably because it is fall, and the roads are "worn [...] about the same"; both "equally lay / In leaves no step had trodden black."  In this symbol, then, about the same number of people have taken each road (literal) and made each choice (figurative).  The speaker cannot see where either road eventually leads (literal), just as we cannot know all of the future outcomes of the decisions we make in the present (figurative).  He only knows that, once he chooses a path (both literally and figuratively), he will probably never have the opportunity to see where the other path leads.

Ultimately, however, the speaker plans to tell people that he "took the [road] less traveled," although he has already admitted to us that such a road does not exist.  The second is "just as fair" as the first, just grassier, and they are "worn [...] about the same."  It seems that he wants whomever he tells his story to, "ages and ages" from now to believe that he has made a more unique choice, that he took the path fewer people take and is, thus, braver and stronger than most.  The poem's central symbol, the two roads, illuminate the idea that we want to feel unique, and we want others to see us that way, even when we are not.