In the poem “The Road Not Taken”, Robert Frost provides a look at the choices one has in life, how one comes to decide which choices are better, and what are the consequences of these choices. The speaker in the poem, in a casual yet serious tone, tells of a journey in the woods that brings him to a fork in the road. The traveler is forced to make a decision between the two paths, as he must decide which path to take. Thematically, the poem argues that no matter how small a decision is, that decision will affect a person’s life forever. The diverging roads are symbolic of the choices society is faced with every day of life. Choosing one course will lead the traveler in one direction, while the other will likely move away, toward a completely different journey. This poem is a journey of self-discovery and a gathering of wider meanings and interpretations.
In the poem, the two roads that “diverged in a yellow wood” (1) appear to lead in different directions because the choice to take one or the other seems to make a rational difference. Frost uses this metaphor of the two roads diverging to establish the dilemma of the traveler having to make a choice in the poem and making choices in life itself. Frost creates the feeling of two roads diverging and leading in different directions and making a rational difference by his last line, “And that has made all the difference” (20). On the particular morning, however, when the decision of what path to take is to be made, the roads appear to the traveler to be “really about the same/both that morning equally lay” (10-11). The two roads, equally laid, makes it difficult to understand why choosing a particular road will make all the difference. The traveler finds it hard to decide whether to follow the more chosen path or the less traveled path. In fact, he does not want to choose at all. Therefore, he is “sorry” he “could not travel both/And be one traveler” (2-3).
Life is never a straight path. Decisions always have to be made between what path to travel. A decision is made, and the road is followed, knowing choosing that road over the other and there is no turning back will alter ones life. The traveler in Frost’s poem chooses a path to follow for the future, trying not to look back on the path he left behind, not to live in the past: “Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back” (14-15). The traveler wants to choose his own path and make his own decisions in life, not ones that have already been made for him. He chooses “the one less traveled by” (19), knowing that he will probably not be able to return. But also knowing, if he did return, he would not be the same person by the time he came back because time will take him further into the future thus altering his path in life.
Therefore, the future paths may not present the same choice as they do right now. Also, he will not have the same choices as at this moment. He chooses “the one less traveled by” (19), so that he does not have to return to where the roads diverge and he will be able to make his own decisions but traveling his own path. The traveler is able to make his own decisions and his own mistakes, learn from them, and move forward accordingly. He does not want to travel down a road already laid out for him, knowing what is in store for him.
Self-reliance in “The Road Not Taken” is alluringly embodied in the outcome of the poem from which the entire course of life is anonymously and irreversibly chosen. Some decisions are major, life-altering choices. The decisions we make in life, like the traveler in “The Road Not Taken”, are not to be taken lightly. There is a desire to be adventurous, yet we fear possible regret for ‘what might have been’. Either way, we must live with the choices we make. The literal situation of “The Road Not Taken” concerns a traveler who is faced with a very simple decision. The traveler comes to a crossroads in “a yellow wood” (1). Two paths lay ahead of him, both “just as fair” (6). The traveler desires to take both roads, but knows that he “could not take both” (2), and is disturbed by that realization. He regrets not being able to experience both paths at the same time. However, the traveler has to make a decision about life: the decision of whether to follow everyone else and take the path more traveled by or to be a leader and choose his own direction. The poem is a learning experience:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. (18-20).
This chosen act of self and the entire course of life illustrated in Frost’s poem reminds the reader that life is not always a straight road. Everyone is a traveler on different roads and there is never just one road to take. Nevertheless, when “Two roads diverged in a wood” (18) the choice of which road the traveler will take will make “all the difference” (20). It will make the difference between living a life of freedom and untouched, or a life of following in someone else’s footsteps, doing what is expected.
The road in the poem’s title “The Road Not Taken” is contrasted between the road that is “the one less traveled by” (19). The traveler asserts that the road he takes is “less traveled”.
…the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black. (9-12).
However, these lines make it clear the roads are equally traveled and the road not taken is the one the traveler chooses not to take, not the road less traveled by others. The road less traveled by “was grassy and wanted wear” (8), but at the same time, worn “really about the same” (10). This implies the less traveled road makes travelers turn back because the road was worn the same as the other, yet still wanted more wear. Since the roads were worn “really about the same” (10) the road not taken by others was traveled in some way. The road may not have been traveled fully to the end, however, the travelers begin to travel down it, for as long as one could see, then find it difficult to continue and turned back. The road less traveled by is less completed, not less attempted. The title “The Road Not Taken” has a double meaning. The title refers to the choosing of a road less traveled but also to the regret for the road of lost possibility, eliminations, and changes. The title reminds us that the choices in action and knowledge, that one makes, may exclude those choices of others.
The drama in the poem is found in the traveler making a choice between the two roads. As human beings, we should have the knowledge and strength to be able to make rational, intelligent decisions involving our own lives. On the other hand, this poem suggests our choices are not always made for the right reasons or lead us in the right direction. Frost says we are not able to easily choose our paths. As humans, we want the paths to be given to us without any crossroads. With this poem Frost tries to give the traveler a conscious that needs a place to go, so that the traveler had to choose between either path, and a conscious that may conceal deep regrets, by having second thoughts about the road he is not traveling. He does this by making the traveler think genuinely about what road to take and the consequences each road brings with it. He uses the title “The Road Not Taken” to allow the reader to think which of the two roads Frost truly means is not taken, instead of telling the reader exactly what road the poem is truly about. The title “The Road Not Taken” is broader then using “the road not traveled” or “the road traveled”. The traveler is also telling this poem in the past. The traveler “shall be telling” (16) this story, but only after “ages and ages” (17). We know this because Frost used the word “took” in the last stanza. The change in tense of the verb is signifying that only after the survival of many different experiences can he now tell others about the road he did not take and the difference it made in his life.
“The Road Not Taken” is a poem with an outer meaning as well as a deeper meaning. A traveler is walking in the woods and comes across a fork in the road. The two paths represent the options man has to choose from. Faced with these decisions, man has to weigh his options carefully to make an optimal choice. At the split in the road, the traveler looks far down both the two paths to see what each of the paths will bring.
The traveler’s sight is limited; his eyes can only see the path until it bends into “the undergrowth.” (5). Frost shows man’s attempts to tell which path is better by trying to see what the paths have in store down the road. Both roads diverge into a “yellow wood” (1) and appear to be “about the same” (10) in their purpose.
The first of the two paths is the more common route than the other, less traveled, which was “wanted wear.” (8). Frost presents a classic conflict: the decision between the common, easy path and the exceptional, challenging path. By choosing the already known, easy path in life, many people frequently endure reassurance that the outcome will be predictable. However, people can also go their own way, live their own lives, do their own thing, and take the road less traveled by.