What words or phrases appeal to you or seem especially significant in The Road Not Taken?

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andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The Road Not Taken
 
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;
 
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,
 
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.
 
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.

I have highlighted the words and/or phrases which I find the most significant in understanding and appreciating the poem.

Firstly, the title. It is ironic that this should be the title of the poem, since its focus is on the road which has, in fact been taken. This is, however, significant since it indirectly emphasizes the point that the speaker wants to make - that he will always wonder what the outcome would have been if he had taken the alternative route. The argument holds true in both instances, for if he had taken the other route, the question would have been the same. The title and the poem itself speaks of the uncertainty facing us when we have to make a choice - we can never really know whether the choices we have made are the best or even the right ones, or not.

'Yellow wood' - the speaker paints a picture of probably mid-autumn - a time of dramatic change, epitomized especially by leaves changing color. This is a metaphor for the speaker who has reached a point in his life where he has undergone a change and therefore has to make a choice about where he wishes to go. The metaphor is extended throughout the poem for it deals with having to make a choice.

'... looked down one as far as I could ...' What is significant here is that this signifies the speaker's doubt. He is unsure of which direction to go and to find more surety, he wishes to see what the road holds ahead. Unfortunately, there's a turn and he can't see any further, but he has seen at least something. Once again, the metaphor also holds true in real life. We can surmise or make short-term predictions about our choices, but we cannot predict the final outcome as accurately as we would wish to. Somehow, this view later informs the speaker's decision to rather take the other route. It is subtly implied that he did not entirely like what he saw or that because he could not see far enough, he decided to allow destiny to decide his fate. He thus took the other road, which is not much different from the first. It is important to note, however, that he did not look down this particular road. The phrases highlighted in the second stanza supports what I mention above. Although there was not much difference between the roads, the speaker chooses the second alternative for it had a 'better claim' solely because 'it wanted wear'. One may conclude that this road also may have seemed a better option since it would be softer underfoot. Does this imply that the speaker chose the 'softer' option after what he had seen lay ahead (if only for a short distance) on the other path?

Oh, I kept the first for another day! The tone in this line sounds anguished, emphasized by 'oh' and the exclamation mark. It is as if the speaker regrets having made his initial decision. One may contend further that this anguish is supported by 'sigh' in the final stanza. The speaker may also be expressing wistfulness - what if I had taken the alternative route? There is, unfortunately, no turning back once the decision has been made, for the speaker realizes: I doubted if I should ever come back since, once a specific course is taken, it leads onto other different paths.

With a sigh expresses the speaker's contemplation regarding the choice that he has made. Many interpretations suggest that he is sad about having made this choice, but I disagree. The sigh expresses, the what if? aspect of his choice. Would things have been any different if he had taken the other road? There may be a suggestion of regret in that the choice that he had made, literally and figuratively, may not have had the outcome that he thought it would.

Somewhere ages and ages hence: The line suggests the eternal and universal application of the thoughts expressed by the speaker, for, having written this down, readers in the future will also wonder about the decisions they have made. The words of the speaker will hold for eternity. There are suggestions that this line also proclaims the idea of the poet's/speaker's undying spirit may recall this event far into the future, as Emily Dickinson does in her poem, 'Since I could not stop for Death' suggesting the idea of an eternal (spiritual) existence.

And that has made all the difference. I find this line remarkably vague. Is the suggestion that the speaker has made a choice, the difference? - i.e. that he had the courage to make a choice after all. Or is there something else? There is no definitive suggestion (except for 'sigh') of whether the choice was really the right one or not. The poet himself commented that the poem was 'tricky', so maybe he left us with this conundrum to obfuscate the issue even more.

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