person walking through a forest

The Road Not Taken

by Robert Frost

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What is the irony in "The Road Not Taken"?

Quick answer:

The irony in the poem “The Road Not Taken” is that although the speaker struggles with his decision over which road to take, the two roads are essentially identical. Moreover, the speaker imagines that he will one day look back and conclude that he made the important choice to take the less-traveled road, but in reality the choice is insignificant.

Expert Answers

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The irony in “The Road Not Taken” is that the speaker admits that he plans to misrepresent his choice between the two roads when he tells the story in the future. Throughout the poem, the speaker provides several clues that although the decision between the two roads feels significant, the roads are similar and have been traveled about the same number of times. Although the roads initially seem different, the speaker acknowledges that

the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

In other words, about the same number of people have passed down each road, wearing the paths the same amount. Further, the two paths

equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.

No one has walked down either road this particular morning, as the leaves atop the roads are freshly fallen and untrodden by others’ footsteps.

However, the speaker says that when he tells the story of his choice “ages and ages hence”—a long time in the future—he is going to say that he

took the [road] less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

He plans to say that one of the roads truly had been less traveled than the other and that he chose that road, but he has already made it clear that there is no road "less traveled by."

There is great irony in this disjunction. At some level, the speaker knows that it is human nature to ascribe great importance to one's life choices, and he thinks he is bound to misrepresent his experience for this reason.

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