Literal meaning of "The Road Not Taken"


(1.) Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

There are these two roads. They split. (One goes one way, the other goes a different way.) This happens in a yellow wood, ie, it is autmn when the green leaves turn yellow.

(2.) And sorry I could not travel both (3.)And be one traveler,

The narrarator regrets that he can't go down both roads, because then he'd have to split himself in two and that's impossible.

(4.) long I stood, and looked down one as far as I could (5.)To where it bent in the undergrowth;

He stands at the fork for a long time and examines one of the roads as far as he can. He can't see the end of the road because the road curves away from his line of vision.


(6.) Then took the other,

He takes the "Second Road" (the road that he didn't examine yet, but is going to characterize in the next few lines (ie lines 7 to 9.)

(7.) as just as fair,

This "Second Road" is just as good as the "First Road" that he looked at.

(8.) And having perhaps the better claim, (9.)Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

This "Second Road" may be more deserving of the narrator walking down it. Why? Well, there was grass on this "Second Road" and it seemed to be telling the narrator "I want you to walk on me."

(10.) Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same.

However in reality, both the "First Road" and "Second Road" were equally worn down by people walking down them. So line 9 says the ""Second Road" had grass and would like to be walked on, but line 10 says that grassy "Second Road" was walked on as much as the first road. (so maybe the dirt/pavement on "Second Road" was equally packed down as road one, but "Second Road" had hardy grass growing on it and was a glutton for punishment?)


(11.) And both that morning equally lay (12.)In leaves no step had trodden black.

Both roads were equally NOT walked on that morning. (The yellow leaves on the ground weren't crushed by people walking on them, breaking them up, causing them to decompose.)

(13.) Oh, I kept the first for another day!

He decided to save traveling on the "First Road" (the one he examined to where it bent) for another day [in the future].

(14.) Yet knowing how way leads on to way, (15.)I doubted if I should ever come back.

But he suspects that he'll never follow through on that decisiion. Once he takes the second road, that road will lead to another fork and he'l have to neglect another possible path choice. Hence, because of all the future road choices he knows he'll encounter, he thinks he's unlikely to ever come back and discover what this first road is like.


(16.) I shall be telling this with a sigh (17.)Somewhere ages and ages hence:

When he's much older, he will reminisce about this decision he is making. He'll do it with a sigh (of satisfaction? wistfulness? Regret? All of the above?)

(18.) Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- (19.)I took the one less traveled by,

He will say there were these two diverging roads and he took the less traveled one

(20.) And that has made all the difference.

Taking the less traveled road really changed his life. (For good? For bad? Neither good or bad, just different?)



Personal Meanings of "The Road Not Taken."

This is the type of poem that really seems to express what a lot of people feel. As a result, many people zealously defend their interpretation of the poem as being "the correct interpretation." But there is no correct interpretation. Beyond the literal meaning of the poem above, the poem can have different "correct" personal meanings to different people. If some crazy guy says "What 'The Road Not Taken' means to me is that it is obviously about how Adolf Hitler wet his bed as a kid." That personal meaning might have nothing to do with the literal meaning of the poem, but hey if that's how he interprets it, that's what it means to him. Who is going to say, "No, the poem does not mean that to you?"

So here are several types of people's personal interpretations:

The popular interpretation: It's good to take the road less traveled

"Making all the difference" suggests a "good thing." It's a sigh of contentment. So in the last stanza when the narrator says he took the road less traveled by, that results in a good thing. This personal interpretation tends to emphasize the importance of this last stanze and ignore (?) the previous stanzas where the narrator reveals the roads are about the same.

The Confusioun interpretation: It's bad to take the road less traveled

"Making all the difference" suggests a "bad thing." It's a sigh of regret. Moral of the story: Don't blaze new trails, follow the traditions set down by your predecessors.

The chooser's interpretation: Just to choose a road.

The narrator evaluated his choices and consequences, and then made a decision . He didn't just stand at the fork in the road forever. Sometimes, that's what you got to do.

The revisionist's interpretation: When you're old, you'll think you chose the less traveled road.

Unlike the previous interpretations, this one acknowledges that there needs to be some reconcilation between the "equally traveled" roads described in the second and third stanzas, and the "road less traveled" in the last stanza. This interpretation suggests that when the narrator is old and recollecting this experience, he'll "color the facts" so that he can recall that he took the less traveled road, even though actually the roads were equally traveled in reality.

The Darkwinner's interpretation: The revisionist interpretaion, including narrator characterization

My interpretation is similiar to the revisionist' interpretation, with one added nuance. Some people just chose a road at random and don't worry about it. But other people worry for 3 stanzas about which road to take (when there really isn't much of a difference between them). These are the types of people who will "justify" their decision later saying they took the one less traveled (when in reality the roads were equally traveled). This isn't a good or bad characteristic of these people, the poem just says it happens.

Keep in mind, that's just what the poem means to me, if the poem means something else to you, that's as correct a personal meaning as mine is.


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