What are the symbolic meanings of the fork in the road and the two different paths in the woods?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When they are young many people become enamoured with poetry and other types of creative writing and subsequently or even simultaneously decide that they would like to become poets or creative writers in some other genre themselves. Then when they have traveled down that road a little ways they come up against the sobering realization that such a career is terribly insecure, terribly competitive, and terribly low-paying if it pays them anything at all. Robert Frost was one such person. He made a decision to live simply, not unlike his fellow New Englander, Henry David Thoreau, in order to be able to focus his mind on his poetry. He could have used his keen intelligence, his imaginatiion, and his writing talent to earn a good income as a commercial writer. For instance, he could have gone into advertising, or he could have tried writing mysteries or thrillers. Many creative people make such practical choices. Perhaps they believe they can do both: They can write for pay and write for self-expression and the love of writing. But a wise man said many years ago:

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.      Matthew 6:24

In his valuable book on writing, The Elements of Style, E. B. White (a great humorist and essayist but now best known for Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little) gives the following tough advice:

Many references have been made in this book to 'the reader,' who has been much in the news. It is now necessary to warn you that your concern for the reader must be pure: you must sympathize with the reader's plight (most readers are in trouble about half the time) but never seek to know the reader's wants. Your whole duty as a writer is to please and satisfy yourself, and the true writer always plays to an audience of one. Start sniffing the air, or glancing at the Trend Machine, and you are as good as dead, although you may make a nice living.

The first stanza of Frost's "The Road Not Taken" reads as follows: 

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;
He is speaking about his own life and his own career decision, a decision which shaped his entire life as well as providing much of the material for his poetry. The word "diverged" is significant. He is saying that he knew he could not possibly combine a commercial career with an artistic career, and suggesting that nobody else can do it either. 
mizzwillie eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the famous poem, "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost, the symbolic meaning of the phrases the fork in the road and the two different paths in the woods is that they represent the choices we make in our lives.  Frost writes very simply, but the meaning is not simple.  He is asking the reader to think about the choices we make in life which change the course of our lives and the lives of those around us.   The big choices like which person to marry or which career to follow seem to be the ones which change our lives and of course they do, but the series of small choices, seemingly unimportant, also make us who we are and change the direction of our lives.   The choices we make every day make all the difference in who we turn out to be as people and how we affect the people and the world around us.  For example, I chose to be a teacher, taught for more than 30 years, and worked at regular schools and in prisons, both juvenile and adult.  I made the choice which is different than most teachers to work with difficult students, learning disability students, and mentally ill students because I could work well with them.  My life turned out differently when my own child was diagnosed which means all the work I did with students helped me with him.  My husband and I now help homeless kids ages 16-24, none of which I set out to do when I chose to be an English teacher.  The little decisions to make slides in the front yard in the winter and let all the children play (like 32 one Sunday afternoon) didn't seem very momentous but introduced us to kids in the neighborhood who often came to our house to talk, have my husband fix their sled or eat a cookie.  Frost wants us to think about the choices we make and how they will make all the difference in how your life will turn out.

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The Road Not Taken

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