The Road Not Taken

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;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
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.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Footnotes

  1. "The Road Not Taken" first appeared in 1916 in Robert Frost's third collection of poetry, Mountain Interval. The release of his previous collection, North of Boston, in 1915 had secured Frost's status as an important voice in modern American poetry. "The Road Not Taken" is the opening poem in Mountain Interval, which may partially explain the poem's tremendous popularity and stature.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. The repetition of “I,” accentuated by the long dash and the line break, serves two purposes. It can be read as a moment of hesitation. Facing the “two roads”—a reiteration of the poem’s opening line—the speaker falters when forced to make the final decision. The two “I”s can also be read as a statement about the fluidity of personal identity. As a person moves through time and makes decisions, her identity changes. Thus, the repetition of “I” represents the two different versions of the speaker: one before facing the fork, one after.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. The speaker is resigned to a sense of wistfulness in the future. Even if the speaker will not experience regret outright, the possibilities that lay down the road not taken will forever remain in mind. Another interesting aspect of this statement is that the poem itself seems to be equivalent to the phrase “telling this with a sigh… ages and ages hence,” particularly considering that the poem describes the events in the past tense.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. These lines illustrate the speaker’s irrational confidence in the option to reconsider his decision later, jauntily marked with an exclamation point. This optimism is quickly sobered by the reality that “way leads onto way,” meaning that the future will just offer more branching decisions.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. The image of stepped-on leaves turning black represents the notion that the road less traveled is preferable. Taking the final couplet into consideration as well, the poem is commonly read as a testament to the unconventionally lived life. This reading is complicated, however, by the fact that the paths are the same and the leaves are not in fact “trodden black.”

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. Frost controls the sounds of his words to produce beautiful phrases that, in many cases, trigger a specific effect. In this phrase, the three syllables beginning with l fluctuate from a hard e vowel sound to a hard a sound back to a hard e sound. The effect is a sonic symmetry that reflects the symmetry of the image: two paths equally covered in fall leaves.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. This couplet clues us into the truth of the decision: the two paths are the same. Despite the speaker’s attempts to rationalize the value of one path over the other, it is clear that there is no substantial difference. This moment introduces a strain of irony that undermines the seriousness with which the speaker considers the decision.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. The image of a path bending back behind the brush is a powerful image for the unknowability and unpredictability of the future. The speaker’s dilemma stems from his ignorance of where each path will lead. Although Frost warned in his writings that all metaphors “break down at some point,” this is a moment where the use of metaphor is apt.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. The “yellow” of the woods gives the scene an autumn setting. In this context, the seasons of the year may be read as a metaphor for the seasons of the human life, with autumn symbolizing midlife.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. “The Road Not Taken” employs iambic tetrameter, a metrical scheme that features four beats to the line. This meter gives the poem a sense of propulsion and forward movement, fitting for a poem about a traveler. The rhyme scheme in each of the four stanzas is ABAAB. The third A rhyme, which causes each stanza to lag by one line, gives the poem a sense of deliberation. These moment of hesitation before the resolution of each stanza represent the speaker’s hesitation in choosing a road.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff