person walking through a forest

The Road Not Taken

by Robert Frost

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Can you provide a line-by-line summary of "The Road Not Taken?"

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In the first five lines of "The Road Not Taken," the speaker arrives at a fork in the road and knows he must pick one road. In the next ten lines, the speaker considers one road and believes it looks less worn, but then he realizes that they are both about the same. In the final five lines, he says that someday, he will reflect and say that taking the less-worn road "has made all the difference."

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Lines 1–5: A lone traveler comes to a fork in the road and is sorry that he cannot travel down both paths. He stands in place for a long time, deciding which path to take and looking as far down one path as he can see.

Lines 6–10: The traveler looks down the other road. At first, he thinks it looks grassier and less worn than the first road, but then he realizes that the two roads are more or less the same.

Lines 11–15: Both roads are equally covered in leaves. The traveler decides to save the first road for another day, but knowing how one event can lead to another, he doubts he will ever return to travel the first road.

Lines 16–20: The traveler says that one day in the distant future, he will look back on that pivotal moment with a sigh and remember how he had a choice between two roads and he chose the one less traveled. He believes that he will look back on that decision and realize that it made a profound difference in his life.

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First five lines:  The narrator comes to a split in the road and wishes he could take both.  He knows he can't and he looks down one road.  Some commentators think the part about the bend in the undergrowth is supposed to make the road sound scary.

Next five lines: The he looks at the other road and thought it was nicer because it was grassier and not as worn down.  But then realized the other one was about the same.  He seems to be saying that everything he thinks about the two roads is really illusion and they're both the same.

Next five lines: Continues the contradiction from the last stanza.  Then decides he'll take the other road some other day but also thinks he'll never come back.

Last five lines: He says that someday he'll look back and he'll say that taking the less-used road has made all the difference.

Overall, seems like he's saying it's all in his head.  The roads are the same but he will convince himself that they were different and that the difference was important.

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The poem begins with the speaker saying that he is in the woods, at a fork in the road: "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood" (line 1).  He feels regret that he cannot, as just one person, take both roads: "And sorry I could not travel both / And be one traveler" (2-3).  So, he says that he stood there for a while "And looked down one as far as [he] could / To where it bent in the undergrowth" (4-5).  He followed the first road with his eyes as far as he could until he bent away into the forest.

Next, he looked at the other road, saying, "Then took the other, as just as fair" (6).  The second road is just as fair, just as pretty as the first, though it might, perhaps, be somewhat more desirable a path ("having perhaps the better claim" (7)) "Because it was grassy and wanted wear" (8).  In other words, the second road is grassier than the first.  However, he says, "Though as for that the passing there / Had worn them really about the same" (9-10).  This means that about the same number of people seem to have taken each road; they are each worn about the same amount (by the passing of feet) as the other.

And on this particular morning of his travels, the two roads "equally lay / In leaves no step had trodden black" (11-12).  No one had yet taken one of these roads today, and the leaves that cover them are untouched by anyone else's feet.  The speaker decides to take the second, grassier road, saying, "Oh, I kept the first for another day!" (13).  And he knows that he'll probably never get a chance to come back and try the first road: "Yet knowing how way leads on to way, / I doubted if I should ever come back" (14-15).  One road will lead to another, will lead to another, and he'll probably never be at this same fork in the road again.

Finally, he considers what he will say, many years from now when he tells this story: "I shall be telling this with a sigh / Somewhere ages and ages hence" (16-17).  He plans to say that "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference" (18-20).  In other words, he will tell people that, when he came to a fork in the road, he took the road that fewer people had taken.  However, we know that this will be a lie because he has already said that about the same number of people have taken each road and that they lay "equally" that morning.  The speaker, then, will lie and tell people that taking the road less traveled has made a big difference in his life, that it has impacted his life in some significant way, but this is not true because there is no road less traveled.

In the poem, the roads are symbolic of any decision that a person might make.  We often have choices, and we like to believe that those choices are unique and that they make a big difference in our lives.  However, this poem implies that such a belief is really only a fantasy, that there are no unique decisions because they've all been taken about the same number of times by others who came before us on these "roads."

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Interpret and analyze "The Road Not Taken."

Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” can be interpreted on both the literal and metaphorical levels. Analysts have long debated which of those aspects should predominate. In addition, Frost’s writing merits close attention.

The poem begins in a straightforward way, simply stating that there were two roads going in two different directions. In the second line, we are introduced to the first-person speaker, who mentions that they were “sorry” they could not take both of them. We gain a clear impression of the speaker’s indecision, as they describe how they stood at a point in the wood and examine the condition of both roads. The indecisiveness is emphasized by the number of ways that they present it, and the way they waffle in their opinion. They say that one is “just as fair” as the other, and after deciding on the one that showed less “wear,” reverses themselves and says that both had been worn “really about the same” and that “both equally lay in leaves” that no one had stepped on.

The idea that the speaker changes their view of the roads’ equality is important because the speaker finally makes a clear distinction:

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

The importance and finality of that difference is further emphasized by the near repetition, in the line just preceding those, of the first line.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

While one can appreciate this poem as a description of a choice to walk down a road, it has potential for broader significance about any important decision that makes “all the difference.” One such decision, for Frost, was becoming a professional poet, which is not a typical occupation.

In terms of formal qualities, the poem has four five-line stanzas, and uses regular ABAAB rhyme scheme in all four, with no repetition among stanzas. The meter is iambic tetrameter.

The poet makes considerable use of assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds. In the first stanza, for example, he often uses O sounds, with several slight variations; these often echo the rhyming words at the lines’ ends. In lines 1 and 2, “roads” has the long O of “both,” and “wood” and “looked” and “could” are matched with “wood,” and “could” appears twice. Numerous other O sounds appear in “sorry,” “not,” “one,” “long,” and “down.” These sounds tend to soften the effect and slow the pace. While subsequent stanzas do not use many of these sounds, when they do, they bring the reader back to that original, questioning set-up. In stanza 3, for example, the last line includes “I doubted if I should ever come….”

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