person walking through a forest

The Road Not Taken

by Robert Frost

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What do these lines mean: "I kept the first for another day! yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back."

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These lines from the third stanza of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" follow the lines in which the speaker says that he chooses a path that is just "as fair" as another road; a path that is attractive because it shows no indication of people having traveled it.  As he chooses the one path, the speaker reflects that he thinks that he can come back to the other one at another time:  "Oh, I kept the first for another day!"

However, the speaker realizes that once a person chooses a course of action, there are subsequent actions that one  takes, so "way leads on to way," and one is drawn further from the crossroad from where one starts.  Therefore, it is doubtful, if not impossible, that one can return to the original starting point; that opportunity is lost.

Another explanation of the "first for another day" not being returned to is in Thomas Wolfe's novel, "You Can't Go Home Again."  In this novel the main character reflects that once a person has moved away from home and had different experiences from those of his childhood, he "cannot go home again," he cannot return to the innocence or naivete of his youth, he can no longer be the person that he once was.  To paraphrase the rock singer, Bob Seger's words, he is unable to "not know now what he did not know then."  Therefore, the can never save "the first for another day" for the timeliness of this path/choice is gone.

In Frost's poem there seems to be a tone of regret over not taking the first path which may have been one of obligation:  "I shall be telling this with a sigh" and this decision "has made all the difference."

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These lines mean that the man in the poem has decided that he will wait to take the first road on another day, even though he knows that depending on how things go, sometimes we never make it around to doing the things we intend to do, so he takes the second road, knowing that he may never make it back to take the first road that he decided not to take. He lets the reader know later in the poem that his decision to take the second road was a good decision.

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