According to the Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms, a metaphor is a figure of speech that associates or compares two distinctly separate things without employing a connective word such as like or as (else, it would be a simile). “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” is the opening line for Robert Frost’s famous poem “The Road Not Taken.” The line also begins what turns out to be a 20 line metaphor which can change with perspective. As with any piece of literature, perspective is important.
However, when comparing things that are not explicitly stated, as is the case of Frost’s metaphor, the point of view makes all the difference. The poem makes very few things clear, and any other inferences are left up to the reader.
The first line, which was mentioned above, sets the scene for the remainder of the poem, and ultimately, the metaphor contained within. Inferences made by the reader begin here and impact the rest of the poem.
Is Frost talking about two distinct roads, such as the common day fork in the road, or perhaps a life choice? Immediately, perspective comes into play and changes the meaning of the metaphor for each individual. If one were to take the poem at face value, Frost is simply comparing one road in the woods to another. It can be important to note that the woods are yellow. The remainder of the lines in the first stanza continues Frost’s metaphor by describing the paths.
Again, perspective is hard at work. Some readers may interpret these lines as a metaphor for the future. Others may view the lines as the decision making process. Perhaps some readers take the poem at face value, and believe that the narrator is simply pondering on which path will take them out of the woods.
In the second stanza, the first line strengthens the metaphor theme by making a choice. This line strengthens the metaphor because the narrator made a choice. He or she clearly compared the two options and chose one over the other. It is at this time that the readers also get to make a choice; which path will they take, and how they will come to that conclusion. The third stanza produces a crisis in the metaphor, one both the narrator and readers will have to overcome. In the poem, the narrator wants to travel both paths, but clearly, cannot. It is not uncommon for individuals to encounter the same issue, and so choices, and ultimately, comparisons, must be made. The final stanza repeats the first line of the poem, and produces a loop bringing the narrator and his audience back to the beginning of Frost’s metaphor. The speaker is coming to the realization that choices can have lasting impacts, and he or she is informing the readers of that as well. Both the readers and Frost’s narrator are on a never ending journey of choices, and that is where the poem ends. Personally, this poem is interpreted as an extended metaphor for life.
Specifically, decision making, the process it involves, and the consequences of each choice. I say this because the poem closely resembles a model of decision making viewed in a critical thinking course I had taken previously. The narrator is presented with two (or more, you don’t always have to take what is presented to you) choices. He or she then considers those options, their benefits and drawbacks, examines their position in a given situation, and their morals, values and goals. Occasionally when making decisions, one may not want to choose one over the other, similar to the narrator in Frost’s poem. Continuing, both the decision maker and the narrator come to the realization that decisions have consequences, and what is done cannot be undone; going back is not an option. The poem concludes by placing the narrator back at the beginning of the story. Due to the fact that life and decisions are not simple, choices must constantly be made, and so Frost’s narrator is faced with even more paths, thus completing the circle of Robert Frost’s extended metaphor disguised in a poem.