person walking through a forest

The Road Not Taken

by Robert Frost

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What does the "yellow wood" symbolize in Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken"?

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The “yellow wood” in Robert Frost's “The Road Not Taken” symbolizes the autumn of the speaker's life but also indicates a place of beauty. The color yellow points to energy, happiness, and enlightenment, while the wood may suggest mystery and trial.

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Robert Frost's poem “The Road Not Taken” begins with the line “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” The line sets the scene for the speaker's need to make a choice, to take one path over another, and to select a road that will lead him away from this moment and on to the rest of his life. He will likely never return to this spot, he says later in the poem, so the choice is permanent.

But readers may wonder why Frost chooses a “yellow wood” as his setting. This one little phrase carries a great depth of symbolism and meaning. First, this is an autumn scene, which suggests that the speaker may be in the autumn of his life. He has come a long way already, choosing many different paths and gaining wisdom from his choices, even though he may have made some mistakes. He is an experienced traveler, so he knows that he must make decisions, and he realizes that these decisions have consequences. He also knows that he will not get a chance to make the same choice again.

That said, though, this “yellow wood” is a place of beauty. Imagine the golden trees of autumn and how the sun shines through them, making the whole forest glow. The traveler wants to take both paths to prolong his experience of this beauty, yet he cannot. Again, he must choose one experience over another—both equally lovely on a crisp autumn day yet one pursued and one rejected. We, too, must select some experiences over others, even though they both present the possibility for beauty and joy.

The poet's choice of “yellow” is significant as well. Yellow is the color of energy and happiness. It is associated with light, joy, and warmth, as well as intellect and knowledge. Even though the speaker may be in the autumn of his life, he is still filled with energy. He is still a traveler with places to go and experiences to relish. He can still be happy, joyful, and delighted with his life. He can still be enlightened by his travels and grow in knowledge and wisdom.

Yet the speaker must travel through a wood. While a forest is certainly a place of beauty, and this yellow wood is probably well-lit as the sun shines on its leaves, a wood is still a place of mystery and trial. A forest is a dense, unknown spot, filled with potential dangers even in the midst of its beauty. No one entering a forest quite knows for sure what he or she will encounter. The journey is unknown. The speaker in this poem also does not know where his travels will take him. His path remains a mystery and may be filled with difficulties as well as beauty and joy. This is, after all, exactly what life is like.

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The symbolism of yellow has many possible interpretations in this poem.

As the previous educator mentioned, the narrator is reflecting on the road he did not choose that autumn morning. Yellow and gold are also colors associated with morning and the rising sun. The reference to "a yellow wood" can represent both the autumn leaves and the dappled, golden sunlight falling on the forest floor.

Mornings are usually metaphors for new possibilities and new beginnings. The narrator's ability to choose is associated with a time in which his life offered more than one possibility—each fresh and equally attractive:

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.

Like so many of us, he hoped for the chance to explore the other possibility: "Oh, I kept the first for another day!" But accepted that making one choice excludes the exploration of the other:

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back. 

The narrator predicts that one day, "[s]omewhere ages and ages hence," during his "autumn" years, perhaps, he will remember his choice of the road "less traveled by," though it was "just as fair" as the other. The "difference" lies in the fact that his life would have been altogether different had he chosen the other path on that fateful morning. 

Thus the "yellow wood" represents possibility and a new beginning.

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The “yellow wood” in Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” provides details about its setting and tone. The setting for a number of Frost’s poems, including this one, is the state of New Hampshire. During the New England autumn, the leaves on the trees turn colors, including yellow. In this poem, the “yellow wood” speaks to the time of year and the type of day it is. The traveler comes upon the divergence in the path on an autumn morning when the golden sun is shining through the leaves. Some of the autumn leaves fell off the trees onto the paths below, which speaks to the movement of time.

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

The color yellow is associated with thoughtfulness and intellect. The traveler’s decision weighs heavily upon him; he thinks deeply about which path to take.

Autumn symbolizes the passage of time as the year moves into its barren seasons. Although the traveler says he will keep the unclaimed path for another day, he seems to know he will not be back, and he will look upon the scene retrospectively. Those symbolic “yellow woods” will return to him in the autumn of his life—his golden years.

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Robert Frost was a New England poet. He lived in New Hampshire and that vicinity for most of his life. New England is famous for the remarkable fall colors of its trees. No doubt Frost is indicating that the season is fall, but he is also suggesting that he is writing this poem at a time of life corresponding to fall, as is suggested in the first answer above. This would be late middle age, the time when people tend to look back and wonder about what might have been. Frost was a lover of nature, and most of his poetry shows that love, as it does in the poetry of William Wordsworth.

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The description of the wood as yellow suggests to me that the poem is set in autumn, when the leaves of certain trees, including cottonwoods, aspens, and willows, turn yellow.  There are several reasons Frost might want to use this description. The first association it calls up to a reader of poetry is Shakespeare’s sonnet 73, which begins:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. …

Thus the yellow leaves and autumn imagery suggest to us middle age, and that life decisions made in the past and paths chosen, have a certain finality, as there is no time for the narrator to go back and explore other options. It also evokes an atmosphere of beauty combined with melancholy, for the moment where the leaves turn produces a beauty that is transitory, and heralds the soon-to-arrive winter.

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In "The Road Not Taken," do the colors in the phrases "yellow wood" and "trodden black" have any special significance?

"The Road Not Taken," by Robert Frost, is a gorgeous poem that has many twists and turns. There are not many colors represented in the poem, and so examining the two colors mentioned (yellow and black) is a quick way to identify some of the ideas in the poem.

"Yellow" wood could mean a few things. First, yellow could be telling of the season. It may be fall in the poem and leaves are beginning to turn colors. Yellow could also point to a specific type of plant, and a region that Frost is describing. Birch sometimes yellows, and so Frost could be talking about birch trees.

"Black" describes rotting leaves. In the third stanza, Frost writes "And both that morning equally lay / In leaves no step had trodden black." Leaves that have been stepped on and worked into the ground are black. Frost's narrator claims that both of these trails are equal and that neither has been worn down to being black. This statement will come into conflict with the narrator's final lines, which state the path he chose made all the difference, because in these lines he states the paths are equal. 

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In Frost's "The Road Not Taken," what do the woods symbolize?

The "yellow wood" in this poem represents life. The central metaphor in the poem is that of life as a journey, with the traveler faced continually with questions about which path to take. The wood, then, represents the expanse of what is spread out around the traveler: it is the unknown beyond the known road on which he is already walking. The picture Frost paints is a vivid one, in which we can imagine the trees surrounding the traveler, making it difficult for him to see very much beyond what is visible of each path.

In life, too, we often cannot tell what will be in store for us, no matter which path we choose, because life throws up obstacles that obfuscate the truth of what is happening. Life is not a clear field over which we can see all the way to the horizon. On the contrary, it can sometimes seem like a thick forest in which we have no guidance except to stick to whatever path we have taken. Traveling through this forest can seem treacherous and difficult at times, but it is our only option.

In this poem, the speaker opts to choose one of two very similar roads. Before this point of divergence, he has, we assume, been traveling a road which was his only option. The wood, up until this point, has simply funneled him down the path of least resistance, the only choice available to him in life. While he does not feel any great pull towards one path over the other, choosing the one which "was grassy and wanted wear" is a moment of empowerment for him, one in which he is able to make his own decision about which path to take through the wooded route of life.

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In Frost's "The Road Not Taken," what do the woods symbolize?

In this poem, the narrator comes to a fork in the road, and he must decide which road to take. Both forks run in different directions through a "yellow wood." It's significant that the narrator stands in the woods, rather than on an open plain or a mountaintop, because the woods make it difficult to see. He cannot scan the countryside for miles and miles in every direction, as he could on the open prairies. Not only do the trees trunks themselves obscure his view, but the trees also must cast shadows that darken the woods. 

The woods thus symbolize the difficulty of seeing into the future. The narrator must make a choice based on limited information, since much of what he might like to see is obscured. The narrator will have to rely on faith and intuition as he makes his choice, as we often must do in life. 

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What does the yellow wood represent in "The Road Not Taken"?

The speaker opens the poem by providing some contextual details about the setting, noting that "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood."

If we envision the speaker standing at this fork in the road, considering the choice in front of him, we must also visualize that he stands in the middle of a forest in autumn, when the trees' leaves have turned yellow and will soon be shed. This helps to establish the tone of the poem and serves as a point of symbolism.

In autumn, the flora and fauna of the natural world make their final preparations before the coldness of winter finds them. Thus, autumn has connotations of looming finality. Indeed, it initially appears that this is a significant decision in the speaker’s life because of the setting in this "yellow wood." If this is autumn, winter must follow. In this light, the poem’s speaker feels that he is facing a decision that will determine his future, and so he tries to choose the road with the "better claim." The speaker realizes in this autumnal decision that this choice will impact his own metaphorical winter, and he wants to be able to look back and believe that he made the best choice possible.

It is worth noting that the poem ultimately suggests that the speaker’s decision is not as weighty or meaningful as he thinks it is, but the autumnal setting nonetheless establishes the speaker’s mood of finality.

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In "The Road Not Taken," what does the "yellow wood" symbolize?

The "yellow wood" could also mean early spring, no? Echoing in my mind is another poem by Frost, "Nothing God Can Stay":

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

In "The Road Not Taken," the leaves trodden underfoot would be there in any season, not just autumn, since it is in a forest.

I had always thought the story was about a critical choice made during one's youth, with the road evidently symbolising one's life and the fork in the road, a moment of decision. The lines "I shall be telling this with a sigh, Somewhere ages and ages hence" implies the speaker is middle-aged and not yet old, with some time yet to go within an ordinary lifespan.

However, the first answer posted here makes sense, too, and I must reconsider my initial interpretation of the poem. Ambiguity, I suppose, is part of the beauty of poetical expression!

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In "The Road Not Taken," what does the "yellow wood" symbolize?

In the poem's first line, Frost describes the wood through which the narrator travels. It is "a yellow wood," which establishes the poem's autumnal setting. He emphasizes the season by then mentioning the fallen leaves which have not been disturbed. By setting the poem in the empty woods in autumn, Frost creates a sense of silence and a tone of melancholy in the poem. Since autumn is followed by winter, it is a season of decay, rather than life and growth. The "yellow wood" can be interpreted as a symbol of the transitory nature of human life that ends in death. The narrator would like to come back to this place, but he knows he will not. He will move forward only, until he reaches the end of his life.

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What is the metaphorical meaning of the word "yellow" in "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost?

There are several possible meanings for Robert Frost's use of the word yellow in his poem "The Road Not Taken."  If you look at the poem itself, Frost chooses to open up with that seemingly small, but most likely symbolic adjective:

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.

The literal interpretation of the use of yellow here indicates that the narrator of the poem is strolling along in a forest during the autumn, when all of the leaves change colors.  However, if you look at the overall symbolism of the poem itself--that the forest is life, and the paths we take are the decisions that we make--we can apply a figurative meaning to the fact that the leaves are yellow.  If life is like a forest, then our birth is probably comparable to springtime:  young, fresh, new, green, growing quickly.  By the time the seasons have changed to autumn, in life, that means we are probably a bit older, and from then on, diminishing in vitality and growth. 

Knowing this, it also helps to know a bit of background on Robert Frost.  He did not become well-known for his writing and publications until later in his life--in the autumn of his life.  He wasn't young anymore.  So, if he was writing this poem, making the forest autumn compares to the fact that he himself was in the autumn of his life.  The person traveling this road is not young, but older.

Secondly, when people come to crossroads and deeply contemplate major decisions, as this poem seems to indicate is happening at the time, the decisions we make often have lasting and final impacts.  After autumn, there is winter, where no life, no change, no growth and no redemption occurs.  The decision the narrator is wrestling with could be one of those serious ones that, once made, will "finalize" the course the rest of his life will take.  This is supported in the third stanza where Frost knows that if he takes one path over another, he does so "knowing how way leads on to way" and then says of that decision, "I doubted if I should ever come back."  He indicates that he knew taking one path was a one-way street that wouldn't allow him to come back.  This finality is reflected in the yellow leaves; it is autumn, the season right before the finality of winter.  So that is another possible metaphorical meaning, other than autumn symbolizing the stage of life the narrator is in.

I hope that those thoughts help to get you started; good luck!

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What is suggested by the yellow wood in "The Road Not Taken"?

Interestingly, one of Shakespeare's most famous sonnets, #73, begins with the following lines:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

Shakespeare is painting a picture of late fall or early winter, and it may be that Frost's "yellow wood" is an allusion to this sonnet. At any rate, it would seem that Frost is using yellow leaves for the same purpose, to symbolize a late period in life.

It should also be noted that the speaker, undoubtedly Frost himself, is not approaching these yellow woods but is inside them.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood . . .

He is surrounded by trees as if in a maze. He not only can't see where the roads lead, but he can't even tell where he is. And it is gettiing late. He has to make a decision without having any information to go on.

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What is suggested by the yellow wood in "The Road Not Taken"?

The "yellow wood" could simply be a reflection of Frost's love of nature. He frequently set his poems in natural settings; this could simply be the story of a trip through a wooded area where the trees obscured the view of the road ahead.

Based on the context of the rest of the poem, however, it seems more likely that the "yellow wood" is symbolic of a decision point in the narrator's life. The speaker needs to make a choice about a course of action or a direction to follow, moving forward with his/her life. "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both."

Faced with this need to make a decision, the narrator first wishes to avoid being forced to commit to either option. The traveler studies both parts of the fork, noting the leaves and the grass and the wear each had experienced from previous travelers. The speaker is trying to find out what has happened to others who have chosen one or the other of the possibilities being presented, trying to figure out what would be the consequences of choosing one path over the other.

Finally, the narrator makes his/her choice. There is some regret at not being able to explore both options, but the speaker chooses the less common option. "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by" and, having made the decision, continues on down the path of life.

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