The Road Not Taken can be seen as a metaphor for the journey of life. Can you explain how?

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jerseygyrl1983 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Poet and journalist David Orr wrote a book several years ago entitled "The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong," in which he analyzed the ways in which Americans often misunderstand "The Road Not Taken," choosing to read it as a paean to non-conformity. It has been used in commercials and television shows, often to emphasize one's willingness to assert individuality.

Given the American tendency to elevate individualism, this is not surprising. It is also tempting to read the poem in this way, considering both the title and the first stanza:

     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....

In the second line, the narrator laments his inability to have it all and confronts the fact that choices involve loss as much as they do gain. The sense of individualism is emphasized by "one traveler." However, consider what happens in the next stanza:

     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....

The other path was "as just as fair," suggesting that there is nothing particularly good or superior about the choice the narrator made. Though it looks slightly less traveled at first, the narrator admits that it really isn't very different from the other. Therefore, the path that seems to "[have] the better claim" is "really about the same" as the other.

He continues:

     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.

The paths are equal, which parallels the sense of their being the same. Because it is "morning," he sees both clearly. He retains memory of the other path but acknowledges that he will probably never return to it ("I doubted if I should ever come back"). This is a reflection on the fact that we often do not get the same opportunity twice, though there is always a possibility, hence his use of the verb "doubted." Once a path is taken, it can be difficult to turn around ("yet knowing how way leads on to way").

In the last stanza, there is a tone of resignation: "I shall be telling this with a sigh" as he imagines how he will reflect on his choice many years later. This seems to be the part of the poem that many people overlook: those moments of wistfulness, when we wonder how our journey could have gone differently. Would it have been better? This line undermines the optimistic reading that people are often inclined to give the poem. However, the final few lines are not so much self-affirming as they are imbued with acceptance.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Robert Frost's poem The Road Not Taken can be seen as a metaphor for the journey of life. The poem speaks to the fact that two roads diverged from the single path Frost is walking on. Frost must make a decision as to which path he is going to take.

Frost contemplates each of the paths. Sorry he "could not take both," Frost examines both roads for a long time. He examines the undergrowth of one path and the grass path which "wanted wear." Frost chooses the grassy path.

He states that later he will take the other path, but is not really sure of he will come upon it again. He knows that he has made a decision which has, in a sense, marked his life until another divergence is found. Regardless, he is happy about his choice because it has "made all the difference."

Therefore, the poem is a metaphor about the journey of life based upon the fact that at times in our lives we are expected to make choices in life about the direction we are to go. Frost's poem speaks about the choice, decisions about the choices, and looking back on the choices without regret. Here, Frost uses the image of the path to represent the choices in life one must make in order to "move" through life.