Imagery in The Road Not Taken

Roads have long been a dominant image in art and music. The concept and image of a “road” and its various incarnations—street, highway, freeway, pathway, path, etc. —has represented limitless potential and opportunity, as well as being the ultimate symbol of freedom. Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” is a metaphor for life and change, pointing towards different possible journeys or pathways available to a person with all the implications of possibility, opportunity (as well as those lost), and even Fate.

The entire poem “The Road Not Taken” is dependent upon its imagery to communicate its general theme. The idea of two different pathways to choose in life and having to decide between them is being personified as two actual different pathways in the woods the narrator must choose between to follow. Both roads are described as being “fair” (6), and both wanting “wear” (8), though one appeared a bit less trodden on than the other.

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The narrator describes these wooded paths in the morning time, and the difficulty of having to choose between them: much like in life, one never knows where the path you are on is going to lead you until you’re already following it, which makes choosing that path so much more difficult because there is so much uncertainty. The narrator is in anguish having to choose, and admits regret over not being able to follow both paths.

Reading the poem, you can picture this scene of a man standing in the woods, bathed in the “yellow” (1) morning light, standing dead-center between two diverging paths like a fork in the road—him trying to peer down both but not able to see very far down, due to both paths bending “in the undergrowth” (5). You can see these paths, both illuminated by the rays of the morning sun, both grassy and lush, one showing slightly more wear from use than the other but neither being trodden on so much as to be dirty (or “trodden black” [12]).

The narrator must make a difficult decision, and despite his longing to be able to investigate where both of them lead, he knows that he, being “one traveler” (3), can only choose one. As he begins down his chosen path, the one “less traveled by” (19), he tells himself that he can always take the other one at another time, knowing full well that he won’t (because life simply doesn’t work that way). The analogy being made here is a fairly simple one, and it is perhaps because of its simplicity that it works so very well. There are two roads in the woods and the traveler must choose, and by choosing a road he is choosing his path in life.

The imagery of the roads furthers the analogy between life’s path and a path in the woods, by pointing out things like how one path didn’t seem to be followed as often (which is often the case with people’s lives), and how both seemed fair but the traveler really couldn’t tell where either of them went or what they looked like from his vantage point (before choosing one). This is really quite a simple, literal and dead-on interpretation of a person having to choose his path in life, without being able to see where it leads and having only the knowledge of one path being slightly less traveled than the other.

There is also the somewhat more subdued emphasis on the narrator having the freedom to make that choice for himself, and to discover for himself by the process of his own trial and error whether that path was right for him. In the end we find out that it was. The moral of this poem is, of course, that the road less traveled “made all the difference” (20), basically to say that, although it can be intimidating, taking the path that others tend to run from, that might be a little more difficult, can be more fulfilling in the end.