Explain the meaning of the poem "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost. 

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost is one of the best known poems in American literature.    This poem can be viewed literally and figuratively.  Before interpreting the poem, it is important to recognize the title.  This is not about the road that the poet took, but rather about the road that the speaker hoped that he would be able to travel on a later date.

The poem is written in four quatrains with five lines each.  The rhyme scheme follows a definite pattern: ABAAB.  The narration is first person point of view with an unknown narrator.

The tone of the poem involves a quandary. The speaker is unsure of what to do despite making a quick decision about which path to follow. Even at the end of the poem, there is no assurance that the right choice was made.

1st stanza,


The narrator is out in the woods in fall. He comes to a fork in the road. Wishing that he could go down both roads, he stands and looks down one of the paths as far as he can see.  There is wooded undergrowth which deters him from seeing any farther.


The narrator is facing a decision in his life.  He has two choices.  The problem could involve a marriage, a divorce, a career, the military, or an education. He has looked at all of the possibilities, but somethings cannot be foreseen.

2nd stanza


The speaker chooses the other road because he feels that it is just as good, possibly better than the other path. This path had not been traveled as much, having more grass and less wear. Actually, there was little difference between the two paths.

Then took the other as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear…


The speaker makes a choice.  His decision seems to be more selective.  Fewer people may have made this decision.  When he thinks about it, his choices seemed similar.

3rd stanza


On this morning, both of the roads seemed to have little travel on them. He decided that he would take one path: however, he hopes to come back at a different time to try the other road. Yet, time and money and life will probably prevent him from actually returning to the spot again.


When the speaker makes the decision, he realizes that the choices were similar.  He hopes that he will be able to try to the other choice at some time in the future.  In actuality, it is doubtful that life will allow him to return and try the other choice.

4th stanza


Sometime in the future, the speaker will tell the story of the roads.  He will do it with a little regret.  He will tell the story of the two roads in the woods, and he took the one that appeared to be the least traveled.  Because of this choice, his life had been completely altered. 


A long time in the future, the speaker will look back at the time when made the life altering decision.  He will tell the story with a sigh or a little remorse.  He faced a decision in his life.  He chose a path and followed it.  This choice made a huge difference in his life.

Remember the title: It is the road that he did not take that bothers the narrator.  Although never stated, there is some negativity when he looks back at the choice he made.  The poet subtly lets the reader know that more than once the narrator has reflected back on his judgment. This is a poem about “if.” What if---the speaker has never been sure that he made the right selection.