person walking through a forest

The Road Not Taken

by Robert Frost

Start Free Trial

What does the road symbolize in "The Road Not Taken"?

Quick answer:

In "The Road Not Taken," the road symbolizes life and the choices that we make. When the road splits into two, the poet is required to make a decision with little knowledge of what lay ahead.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Simply put, this road symbolizes life and the choices we make every day which change and shape our future in ways we have no understanding of.

The poet has come to a point where the road on which he is travelling splits into two, and he is trying to decide which one to take. He seems to stand for a long time deliberating over which road to take and thinking about two things: firstly, he has no idea where either of the roads will take him, and secondly, since he doubts "that [he] should ever come back," he will not have a chance to take the other road at a later stage.

Having stared down one road for quite some time, the poet then "took the other, as just as fair." It seems that both pathways look pretty similar, as Frost says that "the passing there had worn them really about the same." This means that it wasn't a case of there being one clear, easy path and another strewn with branches and foliage that would have been difficult to traverse.

The last two lines of this great poem are probably it's most famous. Despite the fact that Frost seems to contradict his earlier comment about the paths looking much the same, he uses these last lines to bring a moral or philosophical lesson into the poem. Taking "the road less traveled" is implied to have had a positive impact on the poet's life, as it has "made all the difference."

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"The Road Not Taken" represents a choice one must make in their life, perhaps a choice that strikes them as quite significant, as each road will lead to somewhere different. How does one choose when it is impossible to see where each road leads? The speaker is "sorry [he] could not travel both / And be one traveler," and so he spends some time looking at and pondering his options. He notes that the second is "just as fair" as the first, but they do look a bit different. "Though [...] the passing there / Had worn them really about the same." In other words, the roads have been traveled by other passers-by about the same number of times; they are equally worn. So, he picks the "grassy," second road, hoping that he might someday have a chance to see where the other goes, but "doubt[ing] if" he will ever make it back to this same exact spot. Similarly, once we make a choice, that choice leads to other choices that we must make, and so on and so forth, and we can never really go back to who and where we were when we made that initial decision.

In the end, the speaker says that he will tell people in the future that he "took the [road] less traveled" and that this choice "has made all the difference" in his life. However, he has already told us that there is no road less traveled; they are "worn [...] about the same." Why would he lie? Perhaps he does so to make himself look or feel good about making a unique choice. Perhaps he does so to allow his listeners to believe that making a unique or brave choice is possible? We can only speculate.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The road in Frost's "The Road Not Taken" symbolizes the path of life. At so many different points in our lives, we must make choices. The choices may seem to be small ones, to go down one street as opposed to another or to wear a yellow shirt as opposed to a blue one. But the choices can be large ones, which are more the kinds the poem is intended to make us contemplate. We decide to live in one city or another, we decide to marry one person or another, or we decide to become architects or poets.

All of us would like to perhaps sample these different paths in life, but until we have figured out a way to live alternative lives in alternative universes, we understand that making one choice precludes another nearly all of the time. The narrator says,

Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back (lines 13-15).
One choice in path leads to another set of choices, and seldom are we able to wend our way back to a previous path-divergence. Even if we do so, we are changed so much by our life experiences that we cannot have a perfect "do-over."
There is some regret and resignation about this, as the narrator says,
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence (lines 16-17)
But the fact is, we do have to make these choices on our path through life, and the narrator understands that even though he may have regrets, he must make his choices.
Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What do the roads represent in "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost?

"The Road Not Taken" is one of the most recognized poems in American Literature written by a literary giant, Robert Frost.  Frost employs a metaphor based on the two roads.   These roads represent the choices man has to make that determine the outcome of his life. Career, marriage, education--all are selections that one makes as he goes through life.

The first person point of view enables the narrator to speak directly to the reader about the alternatives that he has before him.  When the poem begins, it is fall with the leaves turning yellow.  The man comes to a “Y” in the road.  Indecisive about which way to go, the narrator establishes that he would like to move down both paths; but that is an impossibility. He stands and contemplates the options carefully:

A.  One road has a bend which is hard to see. Both have equal wear and apparently have not been disturbed since the leaves had fallen. He decides that if he comes back to this spot again [which he doubts], that it will be the path he follows.

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth

B. The other road he thinks has more grass and less wear, but then decides the roads are about the same. He does say that the road that he chooses is more fair.

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.

Finally, the man decides that the second road is less traveled. Fewer people have made the choice to proceed the way he chooses.  Why would that make a difference? Perhaps, it has more obstacles to conquer and challenges to surmount.  Whatever his reasoning, the narrator takes the road and feels like that made a real difference in his life.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I--

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.


Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What does the road "less traveled" symbolize in "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost?

"The road less traveled by" could symbolize a more unconventional path through life than the "roads" that others typically take. It could relate, for example, to the way one makes a living. Conventional vocations include business, law, medicine, education, engineering, and manual labor, while a more unconventional vocation could be that of an artist.

Unconventional ways of living could include choosing an itinerant lifestyle as opposed to settling down in a fixed location. Instead of marrying and raising a family, another choice could be opting for being single or childless. The speaker in Frost's poem had the courage to take an unconventional approach to some area of his life, and since he declares that it "has made all the difference," what is implied is that the choice turned out to be a good one for him.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What does the road "less traveled" symbolize in "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost?

In Robert Frost's immensely-popular--though often misinterpreted--poem, "The Road Not Taken," the road "less traveled by" symbolizes a couple of things. First, this phrase symbolizes the desire to make choices for oneself. The narrator openly admits earlier in the poem that the two paths he encounters are equally well-traveled, but he later refers to the one he took as "less traveled." This is because he wants to make it seem as though he made a deliberate choice to be different than those who had come before him. The choice was not significant, but he wants to believe (or others to believe) it was important.

Second, the road "less traveled" symbolizes the possibilities lost by making a decision. The narrator wishes he could travel on both paths, but he must make a choice. He chooses one--on impulse--but continues to think about the opportunities he missed by not choosing the other path.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "The Road Not Taken," what do the two paths symbolize?

"The Road Not Taken" states that the two paths are just that: paths in a "yellow wood," one of which is more grassy and "wants wear." Typically, the symbolism is for choices in life that will have a profound effect on the future. The narrator is faced with two major options, each of which is "really about the same," but one of which he thinks is the more unusual path. Deciding to take the path "less traveled," or the path that most people avoid, the narrator muses that he might regret his decision later on. Since hindsight only comes from experience, the narrator cannot second-guess his choice now; in the future, he might look back "with a sigh" and wish that he was able to take the other path instead. Major decisions in life often lead to regret or second-guessing in hindsight, but at the moment of decision, one can only "look down the path as far" as possible, trying to predict if the decision will be the correct one. Without the power of prophecy, though, the narrator can only make what he thinks is the best decision at the time, no matter what happens in the future.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," what does the second road symbolize?

In "The Road Not Taken" the second road is a metaphor for the choices one has actually made in life: "I doubted if I should ever come back" the poet reflects, "knowing how way leads on to way...."

Often there comes a time in a person's life in which two appealing opportunites are placed before him/her. As one must, a choice is made, then other decisions follow the first until one is committed to a certain way of life.  To return to the initial crossroads is often impossible because of circumstances such as personal relationships, financial obligations, etc.: "And that has made all the difference."

As the author Thomas Wolfe remarked, "You can't go home again."  One cannot return to the original unencumbered, innocent state before one's choice of a "road."


Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost talks about two roads. Are these roads mere roads or do they symbolize some aspect of a person's life?

Robert Frost's poem, "The Road Not Taken," talks of the narrator- possibly Frost himself- standing at a fork in the road in the middle of a wood, and contemplating which path he should take. He looks to one that has been often walked on and has seen a lot of wear. But then he looks to the other, one which is more grassy and fresh looking, that has received much less attention. Torn between the two, he stands there and ponders which path he should take- ultimately landing upon the less-explored territory. Upon reflection, Frost says in his final line "and that has made all the difference." 

Now, looking at this work at face value, it is indeed about a man travelling in the woods and talking about two roads. However, a poem- no matter the author- can never be taken at face value. As readers of poetry, we must always assume that poetry is rife with metaphors, imagery, and hidden themes and meanings begging to be uncovered- and it is our job to uncover them. 

With that said, Robert Frost's roads are not literal "roads," but rather an extended metaphor for the choice that any person must make as to what path they wish to take in life. In this famous poem, Frost explores the proverbial "fork in the road" that everyone faces, in which they must make a life-altering decision about who they are and what they expect out of life and how they will define themselves. In this poem, both the author and the reader find themselves contemplating "should I follow the beaten path? or shall I strike out on my own?" Ultimately, it is the decision between what is comfortable and secure, and what is new and unknown. Frost decides to start down the "path less travelled by," though not without some trepidation. He is aware that once he starts down this path, there may be no going back. He understands that he may regret his decision later, but it nevertheless needs to be made. Whatever path he takes, it will make all the difference in his life- good, bad, or indifferent. It is a common interpretation that Frost is advocating "the road less travelled by" as the better path of the two, indicating that the poem speaks of "not following the crowd," but this is only one interpretation. It can be argued that Frost valued the two paths before him equally- as they both have equal value- but merely had to make a choice. We can see the difficulty at this decision when he says in 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

Frost contemplates these roads for a long time, and weighs his decision carefully- wishing he could take both. In so doing, he gives both equal credit and importance. And though he decides on one road, he says in the final stanza that he, "shall be telling this with a sigh/ Somewhere ages and ages hence," the "sigh" indicating that he may still wonder what would have happened or how his life could have been different if he had only taken the other path. 

Literature- poetry especially- is widely open to interpretation. A work can mean countless different things to many different people, and there is no real "right" answer so long as you can support your argument with the text. This interpretation of Frost's poem is only one of many, but one thing for certain is that the reader must never take a work of poetry at face value. There is almost always a deeper meaning.  

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on