The Road Not Taken

Robert Frost

Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’ is about the choices and opportunities in life. The poem highlights the sensation of regret that accompanies all the roads that a person doesn’t take.


Robert Frost

Nationality: American

Robert Frost is one of the most popular American poets of all time.

His highly accessible work made him famous in his lifetime.

Key Poem Information

Central Message: Choices we make have lasting consequences (although written as a joke for fellow poet Edward Thomas)

Speaker: Robert Frost

Emotions Evoked: Confusion, Hope, Hopelessness, Worry

Poetic Form: Narrative

Time Period: 20th Century

'The Road Not Taken' is a timeless masterpiece that inspires readers to reflect on life's choices and the path they choose to take.

‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost is quite a popular poem; unfortunately, however, its popularity comes mainly from the simple act of misreading. With this poem, Frost has given the world a piece of writing that every individual can relate to, especially when it comes to the concept of choices and opportunities in life.

A majority of the time, this poem is quoted and used with an interpretation that is not exactly “correct”. The popular belief is that Frost meant for this poem to be about hope, success, and defying the odds by choosing a path well, “less traveled by.” On the other hand, if the poem is reviewed, it is quite obvious that it has fairly the opposite connotation.

It is Robert Frost’s first poem in his book “Mountain Interval” (1916). A popular, pleasantly misconstrued poem since its release, its simplicity and way with words demonstrate the skill of Frost’s pen.

The Road Not Taken
Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,And sorry I could not travel bothAnd be one traveler, long I stoodAnd looked down one as far as I couldTo 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 thereHad worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally layIn 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 sighSomewhere 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.
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost


‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost describes how the speaker struggles to choose between two roads diverging in the yellowish woods on an autumn morning.

In the poem, the individual arrives at a critical juncture in his life, arriving at crossroads at last near “a yellow wood.” As per him, the paths are equally well-traversed and yield anonymous outcomes. The individual comforts with a thought about returning, be if his path is unsuitable for him, yet in hindsight, he’s aware of the futility of such thought. Since his current path will bring upon separate paths in itself, disallowing any consequent reversal. The individual concludes on a melancholic note of how different circumstances and outcomes would have been, had it been the “other” path.


Robert Frost’s poetic masterpiece is arguably the most infamously misunderstood poem as of yet. Marrying elements of form and content, arresting artistic phraseology and metaphors, the poem is mostly read without being understood. The archetypal conundrum is the primary attraction of the poem, readers instantly relate to their personal experiences.

Forks and woods are used as metaphorical devices relating to decisions and crises. Similar forks are representative of everlasting struggle against fate and free will. Since humans are free to select as per their will, their fate is unknown to them.

‘The Road Not Taken’ actually steers clear of advising on selecting a definitive path. Frost’s take on this is slightly complicated. The grassy roads and yellow woods represent the present as the individual views from a future perspective. This self-realization is pathetic and ironic in itself. The future self will regret first his decision about taking the road less traveled on. In hindsight, his regret is everlasting in this case point.

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

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;

‘A Road Not Taken’ opens with strong imagery, because of the diction used to depict two physical roads separating from each other in “a yellow wood.” It is observably a forest that is showcasing the colors of autumn.

Line two is hasty to display the theme of regret, by revealing that the individual is “sorry” before he even decides which road to take. We basically find ourselves observing a very important moment, where he has to make a decision that is evidently difficult for him.

Lines three through five, express that the individual is trying to see as far as he can down each road, to help him decide which one he should choose to take.

Let’s thoroughly analyze the lines and their meaning below.

Lines 1–2

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

The first two lines of this stanza introduce the dilemma that every human faces, not once, but multiple times in his or her life; the dilemma of choice. We as people go through many circumstances and experiences in our lives, and one of them is choosing between two (or more) paths.

This is experienced literally: in the roads we take and the routes we walk daily, and figuratively: when we come to points in our lives where we must make decisions for our next steps, based on the opportunities presented to us. And like the character in ‘The Road Not Taken,’ oftentimes, we are disappointed that we cannot hold on to, and experience the consequences of every opportunity that is presented to us. In order to gain some things in life, we must let others go.

Lines 3–5

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

By having the character in the poem examine the roads ahead of him, Frost is emphasizing that we all try our best to guess what lays ahead for us in every opportunity that we are presented in an attempt to find some control and later comfort over our final decisions. We like to take our time in order to make informed decisions so we can justify our choices when the regret of missing out on the other “roads” starts to haunt us.

Stanza Two

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,

In this second stanza, lines six through eight: the individual in ‘The Road Not Taken’ finally makes a decision and chooses a road that he thinks and believes is better, because it looked like not many people had walked on it before.

However, in lines nine and ten, he is quick to add that the other road looked equally used in comparison to the one he chose, so it really was not as less traveled as he was telling himself.

Lines 6–7

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

These lines are important because they clarify the common misunderstanding that one road was less traveled than the other since the character clearly states that both roads were “really about the same.” The diction in this stanza portrays the uncertainty of the character as he tries to justify to himself that his decision is the right one for him; and much like anyone else, he is trying to realistically weigh the outcomes of both roads.

Lines 8–10

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

The important idea to note in these lines is that the character claimed the road he chose was better because it “wanted wear” meaning that it was tempting him. He felt that the road he chose “wanted” to be walked on by him. This underlines the nature of people in general, that we will always choose the path which seems attractive and is of interest to us, even if both paths have the equal potential of getting us to wherever it is we are headed.

That said the word “want” has historically been used to represent a lack of something. For example “the house was in want of repair” so perhaps the suggestion here is that the path is overgrown because it is less travelled.

Either way no matter where we end up, and how informed, tempting, and satisfying our choices are, we will always wonder about the “what ifs” and the “could have beens” of the other opportunities that we left behind.

Stanza Three

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.

In the third stanza, Robert Frost mentions in lines eleven and twelve that at the moment that this individual was making his decision, both paths were nearly identical. No one had stepped through to disturb the leaves on both roads.

Line thirteen is an important point in ‘The Road Not Taken’ as this is when the individual finalizes his decision of leaving the other road, for perhaps another time.

Lines fourteen and fifteen give us a glimpse of his doubts. He honestly confesses to himself that it’s highly unlikely he will come back to travel this other road because he knows as he moves forward he will continue to find other paths taking him further and further away from this point, where he is standing at the moment.

Lines 11–12

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

The lines show us that this character is truly being honest with himself, as he makes the crucial decision of which road to take. His honesty is a reality check as well as a means of making a final decision. He notices that both choices lay equally in front of him and none of these choices have been “trodden black”.

Sometimes in life, when we reach a fork, we are able to make quick decisions based on what we learned from other people’s experiences. These experiences then leave marks in the choices that we have, these marks then form our bias towards or against that path. When we encounter choices in our lives where we find that the leaves are not “trodden black” by what we learned from the people around us, it becomes harder to decide between them, just like the situation of the character in ‘The Road Not Taken’.

Lines 13–15

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

After making his decision, he exclaims that he will leave the first choice for another day. Then he honestly tells himself that if he lets this road go now, there is no coming back. There are many defining decisions in our life that shape our future and sometimes when we select an option in these moments, they change the course of our life and there’s no turning back. That is where the regret of not exploring our other options disturbs us.

Stanza Four

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.

In this last stanza, lines sixteen and seventeen, the individual predicts that one day far into the future, he knows will tell the story of this decision that he is now making.

Lines eighteen and nineteen expose that he intends to lie and claim he took the less-traveled road. In reality, both were equally traveled.

Finally, the last line expresses that the individual is also planning to claim that his choice to take this less traveled road made all the difference, in where he will be standing at the time.

Lines 16–17

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

These lines of the last stanza highlight the nature of our regrets. When it comes to tough decisions in our lives, we always know that no matter what we finally choose, eventually, we will regret not being able to try the possibility that was left uncharted by us.

In this stanza, the character is already imagining the regret he will feel and decides that he will not be honest when he retells the story of his decision, as it will not validate his selection of the road if he showcases his regret by stating that an equal opportunity could have landed him elsewhere in life.

Lines 18–20

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

He decides he will tell people he chose the road that was “less traveled by” to come across as a person who took a chance and succeeded in life. In reality, the character is trying to convince himself that when he shares his life experiences and distorts the truth, it will seem that taking this road “made all the difference”.

This teaches readers that they never know where life will take them, so preplanning what the end of the road looks like for themselves, and building regret is silly especially if they haven’t even started the journey in the first place. Life is about the paths you do choose to walk through, not about “the road not taken.”


Robert Frost has used an interesting style in ‘The Road Not Taken’. He works within the form, but at times, the form works within his style. Using variation and his brand of words, Robert Frost’s poems followed a unique composition. At times, he created forms to suit his poetry.

He has a general tendency to work within and without boundaries, carving memorable, identifiable, and idiosyncratic poetry. In his early years, he perfected the art of “sound of sense”, bringing raw sensory perception to a human mind. The sound of words forms imagery due to the form of words and sound of sense.

Robert Frost has penned the poem in the first-person point of view. So, it’s a lyric poem. It comprises five verses encapsulated in four stanzas. So, there are a total of 20 lines in the text. Let’s have a look at the rhyme scheme and meter of this piece.

Rhyme Scheme

This poem follows a set rhyme scheme. In each quintain, the rhyming convention employed is ABAAB. It means that there are two sets of rhymes. The sound with which the first line ends occurs again in the third and fourth lines. While the second and last lines rhyme together.

For example, let’s have a look at the rhyme scheme of 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;

In the first line, “wood” rhymes with the words, “stood” and “could” present in the third and fourth lines. The second line ends with “both”. For rhyming, the poet chooses the word “undergrowth” in the last line. The same scheme is followed throughout the poem. There are no such exceptions.


Each line of this piece consists of nine syllables. Some lines contain a syllable more or less than the average syllable count. While reading the text, the stress generally falls on the second syllable of each foot. So, the overall poem is composed of iambic tetrameter. It means there are a total of four iambs in every line. However, there are a few metrical variations as well.

Let’s take the first stanza and scan it metrically.

Two roads/ di-verged/ in a yel-/low wood,

And sor-/ry I/ could not tra-/vel both

And be/ one tra-/ve-ler, long/ I stood

And looked/ down one/ as far/ as I could

To where/ it bent/ in the un-/der-growth;

From the scansion of the first stanza, it is clear that Frost also uses a few anapests here and there throughout the poem. There are a total of four feet in each line. As the majority of the feet are composed of iambs, the dominant meter of this piece is the iambic tetrameter.

Literary Devices

Frost uses several literary devices in ‘The Road Not Taken’. To begin with, he uses anaphora in the second, third, and fourth lines of the first stanza. Another important device of this piece is enjambment. It can be seen in the third and fourth lines. Using this device, he maintains the flow in between the lines as well as connects them internally.

Readers can find the use of metonymy in the phrase, “a yellow wood”. It refers to the season, autumn, and its effect on nature. There is a symbol in the usage of the word, “undergrowth”. It stands for the undiscovered regions of the future.

In the second stanza, readers can find the use of irony in this line, “And having perhaps the better claim.” This device is explained further below. Apart from that, Frost uses alliteration in the phrase, “wanted wear”.

The third stanza presents an inversion or hyperbaton in this line, “In leaves no step had trodden black.” The line also contains a synecdoche. In the following line, readers can find a rhetorical exclamation. 

In the last stanza, the poet uses repetition for emphasizing a particular idea. For example, the phrase, “ages and ages” emphasizes the continuity of life’s journey. While the repetition of the word, “I” in the end and beginning of the third and fourth lines are meant for the sake of highlighting the speaker’s hesitation. Such repetition is also known as anadiplosis. Lastly, the poem ends with a paradox.


Frost uses several metaphors in this poem to bring home his innovative ideas. For example, the title of the poem, ‘The Road Not Taken’ contains a metaphor. In it, the “road” is a metaphor for the choice we make.

Moving on to the text, there is another metaphor in the “yellow wood”. In this phrase, the poet implicitly compares the idea of change to the yellowish wood. He compares the speaker of this piece to a traveler who is struck while choosing the best option to carry on his journey.

Likewise, readers can find another metaphor in the last stanza. Here, the road “less traveled by” is a metaphor for the choices less preferred by humans. It refers to unconventional things that pragmatic society doesn’t follow at all. However, some people choose such unconventional options. So, in the speaker’s case, he has not opted for the rarest choice.


The ironic undertone is inexorable. As he writes,

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

The individual anticipates insincerity in his future, looking in retrospect later on. He’s aware that he will be far from correct and even hypocritical at times, looking at his life.

Furthermore, he is fully aware that his future self will ultimately deny his past self’s decision, asserting it strongly. In essence, there’s no definitive true path here. As a result, what lies on the other path may trouble an individual with remnant feelings of guilt afterward.

With ironic undertones throughout, the poem contains hints of remorse due to choosing a path without much knowledge about either. Along the way, the individual wonders about the other path and what’s irrevocably lost in deselecting it.


The use of imagery, in this piece, makes it an interesting read. It helps readers to imagine the plot of this poem. There is no unnecessary information in the text. Frost begins directly with the primary image of the poem that is of the “two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” By using this visual imagery filled with the color of autumn, the poet depicts the place where his speaker is struggling to make a decision.

He further describes that the roads bent in the undergrowth. It means that the speaker cannot see what is there ahead of the road. In this way, Frost paints a beautiful picture of two long roads going in two different directions in the woods.

Readers can find more secondary details, integral to the main image, in the following stanzas. According to the speaker, the roads more or less look the same. Grasses cover them and one of them is less traveled than the other. Besides, some pale leaves are lying on the road. On one road, he can see trodden, black leaves. While he cannot see such leaves on the other road.

Providing this description, Frost tries to depict two ideas through these images. The first idea is of the choice that one can make easily by learning from the experience of others. Secondly, the image of the less trodden road depicts a way that can be less traveled, but it is less discovered by others.

Tone and Mood

To understand the tone and mood of this poem, readers have to look for the words that have emotions associated with them. One such word appears at the very beginning of the second line. The speaker says, “sorry” for not being able to travel on both roads. How does this particular word influence the poem’s tone and mood?

First of all, it tells readers that the speaker is not confident enough to make a decision. Therefore he feels sorry for himself. It reflects his mental state as well as the poem’s mood that is a little bit drifting towards the lethargic state of mind. Besides, the tone is emotive but not direct as it lacks confidence.

Another phrase, “long I stood” prolongs the mood of indecisiveness and confusion. The tone follows the mood and it changes into an introspective one.

In the following stanza, the word “perhaps” in the second line depicts the tone of dilemma. The confused mood of the speaker also confuses the readers. Moving on to the following stanzas, the individual becomes comparably confident yet his tone reflects a sense of grief as he thinks the other road might be better than the one he is about to walk on.


The infamous poem is rich with simplistic literal symbolism. Frost sets up a fictional stage for an individual upon which he sets the direction of his life with irreparable consequences. It’s a metaphor for people juggling with lifelong decisions. Seemingly an obvious poem, ‘The Road Not Taken’ has been subjective, catering to multiple interpretations. According to Robert Frost himself:

You have to be careful of that one; it’s a tricky poem—very tricky.

In this piece, readers have to be aware of the use of symbols. The first dilemma that comes across while reading the text is about the actual symbolic significance of the two roads. These roads do not refer to two different paths. Rather Frost points at two superficially identical roads symbolizing the choices a person has to make. He can only choose any one of them as it is literally impossible to be “one traveler” on both roads. Besides, readers can find another symbol in “a yellow wood”. It refers to the idea of change.


The thematic idea of ‘The Road Not Taken’ intrinsically lies in “carpe diem”, judging by its nuance. In conventional carpe diem poems, readers can find that the speaker is urging one to seize the moment and live in the present. Likewise, in this poem, the poet presents a person who is not sure about what to do. He thinks about the future so he cannot make a decision based on the present scenario.

This piece also taps on several other themes such as choice, uncertainty, indecision, fate, and over-thinking. The main theme of this piece is choice and uncertainty. In this poem, the speaker has to make a choice and he is uncertain about the best one. He thinks what he will choose cannot be suitable for him.

The next theme that can be found is indecision. Readers can find this theme in the lines such as, “Then look at the other, as just as fair,/ And having perhaps the better claim.” Right after these lines, the speaker says both of them are “really about the same.” That’s why he struggles with indecision.

It also seems that the speaker is a fatalist. He relies on it more than the present moment. This mindset creates more confusion in his life. Last but not least is overthinking. This theme is present throughout this piece. Here, the narrator has to make a simple decision. But, he thinks more than what is necessary. It leads to all the confusion not only in his case but also in the case of readers.

Historical Context

Robert Frost‘s ‘The Road Not Taken’ depicts the poet or individual looking in retrospect and contemplating upon past decisions. As per a biographical account by Lawrence Thompson, “Robert Frost: The Years of Triumph”, the poem was based on his Welsh pal named Edward Thomas. According to him, his friend was always regretful of his decision, irrespective of the road taken.

Considering himself as a regional poet, New England has been used as a recurring location in Robert Frost’s poems. He moved to New Hampshire in his early teens. As a result, the rich culture, vivid imagery, history, and landscape are reflected in his published work. Elements such as orchards, forests, fields, and small towns are observed commonly. His narrators are often close to nature, wandering in woods (Read ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’), in snowstorms, and picking apples (Refer to ‘After Apple-Picking’).


What type of poem is ‘The Road Not Taken’?

It is a narrative poem as it tells a story of a speaker who was struggling to choose on a morning. This poem also describes the mindset of the central character in metered verse. Besides, it is told from the first-person point of view. So, it’s a lyric with a set rhyming and metrical scheme.

When was ‘The Road Not Taken’ written?

From 1912 to 1915, Robert Frost lived in England. There he developed a friendship with the poet Edward Thomas. Often they went out for walks. One day, as they were walking they came across two roads diverging in different directions. Thomas was indecisive about which way to take. In 1915, when Frost returned to New Hampshire, he wrote the verses of ‘The Road Not Taken’ recounting this event. He sent the copy to Thomas and it compelled him to get rid of his indecisiveness concerning other things of his life.

Where was ‘The Road Not Taken’ published?

The poem was first published in the August 1915 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. It was later published in Frost’s poetry collection u0022Mountain Intervalu0022 (1916) as its first poem.

Why is the poem called ‘The Road Not Taken’?

The poem is titled, ‘The Road Not Taken’ for an interesting reason. In the poem, the road which is not taken by the speaker is the one that is interestingly similar to the other road he takes. The poet mentions the first road in the title for emphasizing the dominant thought of the speaker’s mind. If there is only one road, there won’t be any problem. As there are two options, he struggles to make a decision and suffers through prolonged indecisiveness. Even if he takes a path (may be suitable for him), still he will be thinking of the other one. We often think in this pattern. So, the poet advises us not to be engrossed in such thoughts.

What does “a yellow wood” symbolize in ‘The Road Not Taken’?

The phrase, u0022a yellow woodu0022 symbolizes the abstract idea, change. It is also a symbol for the season, Autumn. The roads diverged in the woods. So, it means that no matter what road the speaker takes, there will be a change in his life. It is up to him how he reacts to it.

Is ‘The Road Not Taken’ about regret or appreciation?

‘The Road Not Taken’ is about regret. In a superficial reading, it may seem that the poet is appreciating the speaker’s decision. But, analyzing the text thoroughly will reveal that the speaker regrets the choice he makes even before its actual implementation.

Why did the poet doubt if he should ever come back?

The poetic persona doubts if he should ever come back or not. If he takes a road, he has to follow wherever it takes. There will be ways that will lead him to other ways. In the process, he won’t have enough time to return at this juncture and choose u0022the road not takenu0022.

Why did Robert Frost choose the road “less traveled”?

Robert Frost’s speaker chose the road less traveled as he had to make a decision. Otherwise, he would get stuck at that place forever. So for the sake of continuing the journey of life, he took the other road, less traveled by. He might do better on that way or it could prove futile. No matter what happened to him, he had to make a decision.

Similar Poetry

Here is a list of a few poems that similarly showcase the themes present in Robert Frost’s poem, ‘The Road Not Taken’.

You can also read about these raw anxiety poems and the best English language poems ever.

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Omer Asad Poetry Expert
Omer joined the Poem Analysis team back in November 2015. He has a keen eye for poetry and enjoys analysing them, providing his intereptation of poems from the past and present.

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