Denotation & Connotation in "The Road Not Taken"

The woods and roads are more than they seem in The Road Not Taken.

"​​The Road Not Taken​​"​ was written by American poet Robert Frost in 1920. However, the poem has maintained its popularity since many people can relate to the message in the poem about choosing a different path in life. For most, the poem is an inspirational one that reminds them that even if making a different or unpopular choice is difficult, it can lead to great rewards. However, this message is not directly spelled out in the poem; rather, it is inferred from the ​connotative meaning​ of the words.

The ​denotation​ of a word is its ​actual meaning​,​ while the ​connotation​ of a word is the meaning that is ​implied​.​ Upon breaking up the different parts of Robert Frost’s poem, one can better understand both the denotative and connotative meaning throughout. So, let’s dive in.

The Two Roads

In the first line of "The Road Not Taken," the “two roads diverged” in a wood are more than just roads; they are a good example of an ​extended metaphor​​,​ or a metaphor that is referenced several times throughout a work. The connotation of "road" in the poem is both ​choice and the​ ​journey of life​​.​ Each road represents a different choice the narrator can make, and each choice will lead to a different series of events, or path in life. The narrator is not just choosing a road to cut through the woods, but a path to take through life. The word choice here is strategic; what better way to depict the tough decision of what direction to take your life than two separate roads in front of you?

Yellow Woods

The setting for the poem also holds additional meaning. On the surface, the narrator is simply in a "yellow wood." The yellow implies that it is fall since the leaves are turning. However, the connotation of the wood is that ​it represents life itself, which can be confusing and make the clear choice we need to make hard to see​. The fact that the woods are yellow also connotes that the narrator is nearing the end of life -- or the "autumn" of life. In this way, the yellow woods also serve as ​a reminder of the narrator's mortality,​ increasing the gravity of the decision before them. When we feel like we are running out of time in our lives, our choices have a lot more depending on them and the decision we end up making holds a lot more significance. The setting greatly contributes to the overall meaning of the poem.

Weary Traveler

The poem's narrator is a traveler. While the denotation of the word means simply one who is on a journey, the connotation in the poem is that of ​a person on a journey through life.​ The word "traveler" also connotes weariness. The person has a way to go before being at the final destination and being able to rest. Using the term "traveler" with the choice represented by the roads reinforces the notion that the poem is about ​a person making a choice that will influence the trajectory of his or her life.

The Choice

The traveler's choice of path is about much more than a road going through the woods. The narrator says "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference." The connotation here is that the narrator made a choice that ​may not have been popular or may have been difficult -- a choice that others wouldn't have made -- and that has brought some reward or satisfaction in life.​ The narrator chose to do something different and has had a different life for it.

Frost’s poem has been read and re-read by many for decades, you might even remember analyzing it in a high school English class; the denotation and connotation throughout the work greatly contribute to the overall message, which has become widely familiar to many. The message of going against the grain and making tough decisions based on what is best for oneself strongly resonates with readers, as we are all really on the road of life, making decisions every day that alter our path and allow us to grow as human beings.