The Road Not Taken - Robert Frost - Line by Line Explanation


Line 1 :                  Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

  • The speaker starts by straightaway describing a fork in the road.
  • This poem was written in 1916, when cars had not become the primary mode of transport.
  • Thus the road mentioned above was probably more of a path. Do not imagine it to be in anyway close to thet roads of today.
  • The poet describes the woods as yellow. Has the autumn season set in? Are the leaves changing colors?
  • By "Diverged" the poet means split. There's a fork in the road.

Lines 2-3:             And sorry I could not travel both

                            And be one traveler, long I stood

  • It seems that the speaker wants travel on both roads at once
  • But since this is impossible to walk down two roads at once, he has no choice but to choose one of them
  • The speaker he is  "sorry" that he can't travel down both the roads. This suggests regret.
  • Imagine that the speaker is standing at the fork trying to choose which path to take.
  • Because he's standing, we can say that he is travelling by foot. 

Lines 4-5              And looked down one as far as I could

                            To where it bent in the undergrowth;

  • The speaker now pears down one road, trying to see where it goes.
  • However he can only see up to where the road takes a bend.
  • Around the bend, the undergrowth (small plants and grass) block his view.
  • Here, it is worth asking a question: Is the speaker at a fork on a road or this just represents a fork in the road of his life,
  • Is trying to see into his future as far as he can?
  • But, he can't really predict the future, as can only see part of the path.
  • Probably he is trying to ascertain what surprises it could hold?

Line 6                    Then took the other, as just as fair,

  • After he has looked down the road for a long time, the speaker chhoses to take the other path.
  • The speaker describes this road to be "as just as fair."
  • He means the road is just as nice as the other one
  • His choosing between two roads can be compared to choosing the path to our future
  • For example: what career choice to make between two or more possible choices - Each is different but potentially equally good.

Lines 7-8              And having perhaps the better claim, 

                            Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

  • Soon enough the speaker seems unsure about his as he now says that the path he gave up was probably better.
  • As he is not sure, he feels it is only "perhaps" better.
  • Then the speaker tells us why he thinks that the path is better
  • It seems as if it hasn't been walked upon much, was grassy and did not look worn.
  • "Wanted," here, means "lacked."

Lines 9-10            Though as for that the passing there

                             Had worn them really about the same,

  • The speaker really seem to be unable to make up his mind!
  • He now changes his mind and admits that maybe they were equal after all.
  • "As for that" refers to the other path.
  • "The passing there" refers to the people passing along that road, probably on foot just like our speaker,
  • The speaker says that the people passing on the other path may have worn it down just as much as the path he had taken.

Lines 11-12         And both that morning equally lay

                            In leaves no step had trodden black.

  • Again the speaker says that the paths are equal
  • But we find out something more about the setting, It is morning time.
  • Hence the speaker is the probably among the first to travel on these paths on that day.
  • The paths are covered with leaves, which haven't been turned black by steps crushing them.

Line 13                  Oh, I kept the first for another day!

  • The speaker seems to now regret his decision of choosing the other path.
  • Is he now justifying his choice of path by saying he'll come back to the one he missed later?
  • This is how people deal with difficult choices; They say "We can always come back and try the other option ater," 
  • The "Oh" at the beginning and the exclamation amrk at the end tell us that the speaker feels strongly about his choices.

Lines 14-15         Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

                            I doubted if I should ever come back.

  • The speaker agrees that his hopes to come back and try the other path may not really be practical.
  • He says how "way leads on to way" – how one road can lead to another, and then another. Then one ends up very far from where you started.
  • That is why he doesn't think he'll ever be able to come back and take that other path.
  • In any life decision, we do justify our decision by thinking we can always come back, try a different option later.
  • But sometimes our decisions take us to other decisions, and yet still others, and it's impossible for us to retrace our steps and arrive back at that original decision.

Lines 16-17         I shall be telling this with a sigh
                           Somewhere ages and ages hence:

  • Now we jump forward in time.
  • We don't know exactly when, but we know that it's “ages and ages hence."
  • So the speaker is probably talking of years, not months.
  • The speaker says that he will still be telling about this decision many years later.
  • He'll be telling it with a sigh, though, which is interesting because sighs can be happy, sad, or merely reflective – and we don't know what kind of sigh this is.
  • So, we know that this choice is probably going to be important for the speaker's future, but he doesn’t know as of now if he's going to be happy about it or not.

Line 18                  Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

  • This line is a repetition of the first line of the poem, with the subtraction of the word "yellow" and the addition of the words "and I."
  • This repetition helps to bring the poem to a conclusion.
  • It reminds us what's important in the poem – the concept of choosing between two different paths.
  • The hesitation of "and I" and the dash makes the end interesting.
  • This lets us know that whatever the speaker is about to say next is important.

Line 19                  I took the one less traveled by,

  • In this line, the speaker sums up his story and tells us that he took the road less traveled by.
  • With the hesitation in the line before, this declaration could be either triumphant – or regretful.
  • Also, remember it wasn't exactly clear that the road our speaker took was the one that was less traveled.
  • He said at first that it looked less worn, but then that the two roads were actually about equal.

Line 20                  And that has made all the difference.

  • At first glance it seems that this line is triumphant
  • The narrator took the path that no one else did, and that is what has made the difference in his life - that made him successful.
  • But he doesn't say that it made him successful – an optimistic reader would want to read the line positively, but it could be read either way.
  • A "difference" could mean success, or utter failure.
  • Remember, the speaker is telling us about what he's going to say in the future.
  • From where he is now, just looking down the path as far as he can see, he can't tell the future
  • He can’t say if it leads him to good or bad.
  • He just knows that his choice is important – that it will make all the difference in his life.