[Edition of 1920.]
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woodsthe young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadnt thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
Id hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more Id hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine,
I said, There arent enough to be worth while.
I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over.
You could look.
But dont expect Im going to let you have them.
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round. The latter he nodded Yes to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyers moderation, That would do.
I thought so too, but wasnt there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north.
He said, A thousand.
A thousand Christmas trees!at what apiece?
He felt some need of softening that to me:
A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.
Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them. Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didnt know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldnt lay one in a letter.
I cant help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.
All out of doors looked darkly in at him
Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars,
That gathers on the pane in empty rooms.
What kept his eyes from giving back the gaze
Was the lamp tilted near them in his hand.
What kept him from remembering what it was
That brought him to that creaking room was age.
He stood with barrels round himat a loss.
And having scared the cellar under him
In clomping there, he scared it once again
In clomping off;and scared the outer night,
Which has its sounds, familiar, like the roar
Of trees and crack of branches, common things,
But nothing so like beating on a box.
A light he was to no one but himself
Where now he sat, concerned with he knew what,
A quiet light, and then not even that.
He consigned to the moon, such as she was,
So late-arising, to the broken moon
As better than the sun in any case
For such a charge, his snow upon the roof,
His icicles along the wall to keep;
And slept. The log that shifted with a jolt
Once in the stove, disturbed him and he shifted,
And eased his heavy breathing, but still slept.
One aged manone mancant fill a house,
A farm, a countryside, or if he can,
Its thus he does it of a winter night.
There's a patch of old snow in a corner
That I should have guessed
Was a blow-away paper the rain
Had brought to rest.
It is speckled with grime as if
Small print overspread it,
The news of a day Ive forgotten
If I ever read it.
She stood against the kitchen sink, and looked
Over the sink out through a dusty window
At weeds the water from the sink made tall.
She wore her cape; her hat was in her hand.
Behind her was confusion in the room,
Of chairs turned upside down to sit like people
In other chairs, and something, come to look,
For every room a house hasparlor, bed-room,
And dining-roomthrown pell-mell in the kitchen.
And now and then a smudged, infernal face
Looked in a door behind her and addressed
Her back. She always answered without turning.
Where will I put this walnut bureau, lady?
Put it on top of something thats on top
Of something else, she laughed. Oh, put it where
You can to-night, and go. Its almost dark;
You must be getting started back to town.
Another blackened face thrust in and looked
And smiled, and when she did not turn, spoke gently,
What are you seeing out the window, lady?
Never was I beladied so before.
Would evidence of having been called lady
More than so many times make me a lady
In common law, I wonder.
But I ask,
What are you seeing out the window, lady?
What Ill be seeing more of in the years
To come as here I stand and go the round
Of many plates with towels many times.
And what is that? You only put me off.
Rank weeds that love the water from the dish-pan
More than some women like the dish-pan, Joe;
A little stretch of mowing-field for you;
Not much of that until I come to woods
That end all. And its scarce enough to call
And yet you think you like it, dear?
Thats what youre so concerned to know! You hope
I like it. Bang goes something big away
Off there upstairs. The very tread of men
As great as those is shattering to the frame
Of such a little house. Once left alone,
You and I, dear, will go with softer steps
Up and down stairs and through the rooms, and none
But sudden winds that snatch them from our hands
Will ever slam the doors.
I think you see
More than you like to own to out that window.
No; for besides the things I tell you of,
I only see the years. They come and go
In alternation with the weeds, the field,
What kind of years?
Why, latter years
Different from early years.
I see them, too.
You didnt count them?
No, the further off
So ran together that I didnt try to.
It can scarce be that they would be in number
Wed care to know, for we are not young now.
And bang goes something else away off there.
It sounds as if it were the men went down,
And every crash meant one less to return
To lighted city streets we, too, have known,
But now are giving up for country darkness.
Come from that window where you see too much for me,
And take a livelier view of things from here.
Theyre going. Watch this husky swarming up
Over the wheel into the sky-high seat,
Lighting his pipe now, squinting down his nose
At the flame burning downward as he sucks it.
See how it makes his nose-side bright, a proof
How dark its getting. Can you tell what time
It is by that? Or by the moon? The new moon!
What shoulder did I see her over? Neither.
A wire she is of silver, as new as we
To everything. Her light wont last us long.
Its something, though, to know were going to have her
Night after night and stronger every night
To see us through our first two weeks. But, Joe,
The stove! Before they go! Knock on the window;
Ask them to help you get it on its feet.
We stand here dreaming. Hurry! Call them back!
Theyre not gone yet.
Weve got to have the stove,
Whatever else we want for. And a light.
Have we a piece of candle if the lamp
And oil are buried out of reach?
The house was full of tramping, and the dark,
Door-filling men burst in and seized the stove.
A cannon-mouth-like hole was in the wall,
To which they set it true by eye; and then
Came up the jointed stovepipe in their hands,
So much too light and airy for their strength
It almost seemed to come ballooning up,
Slipping from clumsy clutches toward the ceiling.
A fit! said one, and banged a stovepipe shoulder.
Its good luck when you move in to begin
With good luck with your stovepipe. Never mind,
Its not so bad in the country, settled down,
When people re getting on in life, Youll like it.
Joe said: You big boys ought to find a farm,
And make good farmers, and leave other fellows
The city work to do. Theres not enough
For everybody as it is in there.
God! one said wildly, and, when no one spoke:
Say that to Jimmy here. He needs a farm.
But Jimmy only made his jaw recede
Fool-like, and rolled his eyes as if to say
He saw himself a farmer. Then there was a French boy
Who said with seriousness that made them laugh,
Ma friend, you aint know what it is youre ask.
He doffed his cap and held it with both hands
Across his chest to make as twere a bow:
Were giving you our chances on de farm.
And then they all turned to with deafening boots
And put each other bodily out of the house.
Goodby to them! We puzzle them. They think
I dont know what they think we see in what
They leave us to: that pasture slope that seems
The back some farm presents us; and your woods
To northward from your window at the sink,
Waiting to steal a step on us whenever
We drop our eyes or turn to other things,
As in the game Ten-step the children play.
Good boys they seemed, and let them love the city.
All they could say was God! when you proposed
Their coming out and making useful farmers.
Did they make something lonesome go through you?
It would take more than them to sicken you
Us of our bargain. But they left us so
As to our fate, like fools past reasoning with.
They almost shook me.
Its all so much
What we have always wanted, I confess
Its seeming bad for a moment makes it seem
Even worse still, and so on down, down, down.
Its nothing; its their leaving us at dusk.
I never bore it well when people went.
The first night after guests have gone, the house
Seems haunted or exposed. I always take
A personal interest in the locking up
At bedtime; but the strangeness soon wears off.
He fetched a dingy lantern from behind
A door. Theres that we didnt lose! And these!
Some matches he unpocketed. For food
The meals weve had no one can take from us.
I wish that everything on earth were just
As certain as the meals weve had. I wish
The meals we havent had were, anyway.
What have you you know where to lay your hands on?
The bread we bought in passing at the store.
Theres butter somewhere, too.
Lets rend the bread.
Ill light the fire for company for you;
Youll not have any other company
Till Ed begins to get out on a Sunday
To look us over and give us his idea
Of what wants pruning, shingling, breaking up.
Hell know what he would do if he were we,
And all at once. Hell plan for us and plan
To help us, but hell take it out in planning.
Well, you can set the table with the loaf.
Lets see you find your loaf. Ill light the fire.
I like chairs occupying other chairs
Not offering a lady
There again, Joe!
Im drunk-nonsensical tired out;
Dont mind a word I say. Its a days work
To empty one house of all household goods
And fill another with em fifteen miles away,
Although you do no more than dump them down.
Dumped down in paradise we are and happy.
Its all so much what I have always wanted,
I cant believe its what you wanted, too.
Shouldnt you like to know?
Id like to know
If it is what you wanted, then how much
You wanted it for me.
A troubled conscience!
You dont want me to tell if I dont know.
I dont want to find out what cant be known.
But who first said the word to come?
Its who first thought the thought. Youre searching, Joe,
For things that dont exist; I mean beginnings.
Ends and beginningsthere are no such things.
There are only middles.
What is this?
Our sitting here by lantern-light together
Amid the wreckage of a former home?
You wont deny the lantern isnt new.
The stove is not, and you are not to me,
Nor I to you.
Perhaps you never were?
It would take me forever to recite
All thats not new in where we find ourselves.
New is a word for fools in towns who think
Style upon style in dress and thought at last
Must get somewhere. Ive heard you say as much.
No, this is no beginning.
Then an end?
End is a gloomy word.
Is it too late
To drag you out for just a good-night call
On the old peach trees on the knoll to grope
By starlight in the grass for a last peach
The neighbors may not have taken as their right
When the house wasnt lived in? Ive been looking:
I doubt if they have left us many grapes.
Before we set ourselves to right the house,
The first thing in the morning, out we go
To go the round of apple, cherry, peach,
Pine, alder, pasture, mowing, well, and brook.
All of a farm it is.
I know this much:
Im going to put you in your bed, if first
I have to make you build it. Come, the light.
When there was no more lantern in the kitchen,
The fire got out through crannies in the stove
And danced in yellow wrigglers on the ceiling,
As much at home as if theyd always danced there.
When I was just as far as I could walk
From here to-day,
There was an hour
When leaning with my head against a flower
I heard you talk.
Dont say I didnt, for I heard you say
You spoke from that flower on the window sill
Do you remember what it was you said?
First tell me what it was you thought you heard.
Having found the flower and driven a bee away,
I leaned my head,
And holding by the stalk,
I listened and I thought I caught the word
What was it? Did you call me by my name?
Or did you say
Someone said ComeI heard it as I bowed.
I may have thought as much, but not aloud.
Well, so I came.
As I went down the hill along the wall
There was a gate I had leaned at for the view
And had just turned from when I first saw you
As you came up the hill. We met. But all
We did that day was mingle great and small
Footprints in summer dust as if we drew
The figure of our being less than two
But more than one as yet. Your parasol
Pointed the decimal off with one deep thrust.
And all the time we talked you seemed to see
Something down there to smile at in the dust.
(Oh, it was without prejudice to me!)
Afterward I went past what you had passed
Before we met and you what I had passed.
By June our brooks run out of song and speed.
Sought for much after that, it will be found
Either to have gone groping underground
(And taken with it all the Hyla breed
That shouted in the mist a month ago,
Like ghost of sleigh-bells in a ghost of snow)
Or flourished and come up in jewel-weed,
Weak foliage that is blown upon and bent
Even against the way its waters went.
Its bed is left a faded paper sheet
Of dead leaves stuck together by the heat
A brook to none but who remember long.
This as it will be seen is other far
Than with brooks taken otherwhere in song.
We love the things we love for what they are.
There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.
Love has earth to which she clings
With hills and circling arms about
Wall within wall to shut fear out.
But Thought has need of no such things,
For Thought has a pair of dauntless wings.
On snow and sand and turf, I see
Where Love has left a printed trace
With straining in the worlds embrace.
And such is Love and glad to be.
But Thought has shaken his ankles free.
Thought cleaves the interstellar gloom
And sits in Sirius disc all night,
Till day makes him retrace his flight,
With smell of burning on every plume,
Back past the sun to an earthly room.
His gains in heaven are what they are.
Yet some say Love by being thrall
And simply staying possesses all
In several beauty that Thought fares far
To find fused in another star.
When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boys been swinging them.
But swinging doesnt bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the suns warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
Youd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
(Now am I free to be poetical?)
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his fathers trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
Its when Im weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twigs having lashed across it open.
Id like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earths the right place for love:
I dont know where its likely to go better.
Id like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
I walked down alone Sunday after church
To the place where John has been cutting trees
To see for myself about the birch
He said I could have to bush my peas.
The sun in the new-cut narrow gap
Was hot enough for the first of May,
And stifling hot with the odor of sap
From stumps still bleeding their life away.
The frogs that were peeping a thousand shrill
Wherever the ground was low and wet,
The minute they heard my step went still
To watch me and see what I came to get.
Birch boughs enough piled everywhere!
All fresh and sound from the recent axe.
Time someone came with cart and pair
And got them off the wild flowers backs.
They might be good for garden things
To curl a little finger round,
The same as you seize cats-cradle strings,
And lift themselves up off the ground.
Small good to anything growing wild,
They were crooking many a trillium
That had budded before the boughs were piled
And since it was coming up had to come.
You come to fetch me from my work to-night
When suppers on the table, and well see
If I can leave off burying the white
Soft petals fallen from the apple tree.
(Soft petals, yes, but not so barren quite,
Mingled with these, smooth bean and wrinkled pea;)
And go along with you ere you lose sight
Of what you came for and become like me,
Slave to a springtime passion for the earth.
How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed
On through the watching for that early birth
When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed,
The sturdy seedling with arched body comes
Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs.
When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I dont stand still and look around
On all the hills I havent hoed,
And shout from where I am, What is it?
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.
Something inspires the only cow of late
To make no more of a wall than an open gate,
And think no more of wall-builders than fools.
Her face is flecked with pomace and she drools
A cider syrup. Having tasted fruit,
She scores a pasture withering to the root.
She runs from tree to tree where lie and sweeten
The windfalls spiked with stubble and worm-eaten.
She leaves them bitten when she has to fly.
She bellows on a knoll against the sky.
Her udder shrivels and the milk goes dry.
Once on the kind of day called weather breeder,
When the heat slowly hazes and the sun
By its own power seems to be undone,
I was half boring through, half climbing through
A swamp of cedar. Choked with oil of cedar
And scurf of plants, and weary and over-heated,
And sorry I ever left the road I knew,
I paused and rested on a sort of hook
That had me by the coat as good as seated,
And since there was no other way to look,
Looked up toward heaven, and there against the blue,
Stood over me a resurrected tree,
A tree that had been down and raised again
A barkless spectre. He had halted too,
As if for fear of treading upon me.
I saw the strange position of his hands
Up at his shoulders, dragging yellow strands
Of wire with something in it from men to men.
You here? I said. Where arent you nowadays
And whats the news you carryif you know?
And tell me where youre off forMontreal?
Me? Im not off for anywhere at all.
Sometimes I wander out of beaten ways
Half looking for the orchid Calypso.
The battle rent a cobweb diamond-strung
And cut a flower beside a ground birds nest
Before it stained a single human breast.
The stricken flower bent double and so hung.
And still the bird revisited her young.
A butterfly its fall had dispossessed
A moment sought in air his flower of rest,
Then lightly stooped to it and fluttering clung.
On the bare upland pasture there had spread
Oernight twixt mullein stalks a wheel of thread
And straining cables wet with silver dew.
A sudden passing bullet shook it dry.
The indwelling spider ran to greet the fly,
But finding nothing, sullenly withdrew.
One ought not to have to care
So much as you and I
Care when the birds come round the house
To seem to say good-bye;
Or care so much when they come back
With whatever it is they sing;
The truth being we are as much
Too glad for the one thing
As we are too sad for the other here
With birds that fill their breasts
But with each other and themselves
And their built or driven nests.
AlwaysI tell you this they learned
Always at night when they returned
To the lonely house from far away
To lamps unlighted and fire gone gray,
They learned to rattle the lock and key
To give whatever might chance to be
Warning and time to be off in flight:
And preferring the out- to the in-door night,
They learned to leave the house-door wide
Until they had lit the lamp inside.
I didnt like the way he went away.
That smile! It never came of being gay.
Still he smileddid you see him?I was sure!
Perhaps because we gave him only bread
And the wretch knew from that that we were poor.
Perhaps because he let us give instead
Of seizing from us as he might have seized.
Perhaps he mocked at us for being wed,
Or being very young (and he was pleased
To have a vision of us old and dead).
I wonder how far down the road hes got.
Hes watching from the woods as like as not.
THE OFT-REPEATED DREAM
She had no saying dark enough
For the dark pine that kept
Forever trying the window-latch
Of the room where they slept.
The tireless but ineffectual hands
That with every futile pass
Made the great tree seem as a little bird
Before the mystery of glass!
It never had been inside the room,
And only one of the two
Was afraid in an oft-repeated dream
Of what the tree might do.
It was too lonely for her there,
And too wild,
And since there were but two of them,
And no child,
And work was little in the house,
She was free,
And followed where he furrowed field,
Or felled tree.
She rested on a log and tossed
The fresh chips,
With a song only to herself
On her lips.
And once she went to break a bough
Of black alder.
She strayed so far she scarcely heard
When he called her
And didnt answerdidnt speak
She stood, and then she ran and hid
In the fern.
He never found her, though he looked
And he asked at her mothers house
Was she there.
Sudden and swift and light as that
The ties gave,
And he learned of finalities
Besides the grave.
Oh, lets go up the hill and scare ourselves,
As reckless as the best of them to-night,
By setting fire to all the brush we piled
With pitchy hands to wait for rain or snow.
Oh, lets not wait for rain to make it safe.
The pile is ours: we dragged it bough on bough
Down dark converging paths between the pines.
Lets not care what we do with it to-night.
Divide it? No! But burn it as one pile
The way we piled it. And lets be the talk
Of people brought to windows by a light
Thrown from somewhere against their wall-paper.
Rouse them all, both the free and not so free
With saying what theyd like to do to us
For what theyd better wait till we have done.
Lets all but bring to life this old volcano,
If that is what the mountain ever was
And scare ourselves. Let wild fire loose we will .
And scare you too? the children said together.
Why wouldnt it scare me to have a fire
Begin in smudge with ropy smoke and know
That still, if I repent, I may recall it,
But in a moment not: a little spurt
Of burning fatness, and then nothing but
The fire itself can put it out, and that
By burning out, and before it burns out
It will have roared first and mixed sparks with stars,
And sweeping round it with a flaming sword,
Made the dim trees stand back in wider circle
Done so much and I know not how much more
I mean it shall not do if I can bind it.
Well if it doesnt with its draft bring on
A wind to blow in earnest from some quarter,
As once it did with me upon an April.
The breezes were so spent with winter blowing
They seemed to fail the bluebirds under them
Short of the perch their languid flight was toward;
And my flame made a pinnacle to heaven
As I walked once round it in possession.
But the wind out of doorsyou know the saying.
There came a gust. You used to think the trees
Made wind by fanning since you never knew
It blow but that you saw the trees in motion.
Something or someone watching made that gust.
It put the flame tip-down and dabbed the grass
Of over-winter with the least tip-touch
Your tongue gives salt or sugar in your hand.
The place it reached to blackened instantly.
The black was all there was by day-light,
That and the merest curl of cigarette smoke
And a flame slender as the hepaticas,
Blood-root, and violets so soon to be now.
But the black spread like black death on the ground,
And I think the sky darkened with a cloud
Like winter and evening coming on together.
There were enough things to be thought of then.
Where the field stretches toward the north
And setting sun to Hyla brook, I gave it
To flames without twice thinking, where it verges
Upon the road, to flames too, though in fear
They might find fuel there, in withered brake,
Grass its full length, old silver golden-rod,
And alder and grape vine entanglement,
To leap the dusty deadline. For my own
I took what front there was beside. I knelt
And thrust hands in and held my face away.
Fight such a fire by rubbing not by beating.
A board is the best weapon if you have it.
I had my coat. And oh, I knew, I knew,
And said out loud, I couldnt bide the smother
And heat so close in; but the thought of all
The woods and town on fire by me, and all
The town turned out to fight for methat held me.
I trusted the brook barrier, but feared
The road would fail; and on that side the fire
Died not without a noise of crackling wood
Of something more than tinder-grass and weed
That brought me to my feet to hold it back
By leaning back myself, as if the reins
Were round my neck and I was at the plough.
I won! But Im sure no one ever spread
Another color over a tenth the space
That I spread coal-black over in the time
It took me. Neighbors coming home from town
Couldnt believe that so much black had come there
While they had backs turned, that it hadnt been there
When they had passed an hour or so before
Going the other way and they not seen it.
They looked about for someone to have done it.
But there was no one. I was somewhere wondering
Where all my weariness had gone and why
I walked so light on air in heavy shoes
In spite of a scorched Fourth-of-July feeling.
Why wouldnt I be scared remembering that?
If it scares you, what will it do to us?
Scare you. But if you shrink from being scared,
What would you say to war if it should come?
Thats what for reasons I should like to know
If you can comfort me by any answer.
Oh, but wars not for childrenits for men.
Now we are digging almost down to China.
My dears, my dears, you thought thatwe all thought it.
So your mistake was ours. Havent you heard, though,
About the ships where war has found them out
At sea, about the towns where war has come
Through opening clouds at night with droning speed
Further oerhead than all but stars and angels,
And children in the ships and in the towns?
Havent you heard what we have lived to learn?
Nothing so newsomething we had forgotten:
War is for everyone, for children too.
I wasnt going to tell you and I mustnt.
The best way is to come up hill with me
And have our fire and laugh and be afraid.
A neighbor of mine in the village
Likes to tell how one spring
When she was a girl on the farm, she did
A childlike thing.
One day she asked her father
To give her a garden plot
To plant and tend and reap herself,
And he said, Why not?
In casting about for a corner
He thought of an idle bit
Of walled-off ground where a shop had stood,
And he said, Just it.
And he said, That ought to make you
An ideal one-girl farm,
And give you a chance to put some strength
On your slim-jim arm.
It was not enough of a garden,
Her father said, to plough;
So she had to work it all by hand,
But she dont mind now.
She wheeled the dung in the wheelbarrow
Along a stretch of road;
But she always ran away and left
Her not-nice load.
And hid from anyone passing.
And then she begged the seed.
She says she thinks she planted one
Of all things but weed.
A hill each of potatoes,
Radishes, lettuce, peas,
Tomatoes, beets, beans, pumpkins, corn,
And even fruit trees
And yes, she has long mistrusted
That a cider apple tree
In bearing there to-day is hers,
Or at least may be.
Her crop was a miscellany
When all was said and done,
A little bit of everything,
A great deal of none.
Now when she sees in the village
How village things go,
Just when it seems to come in right,
She says, I know!
Its as when I was a farmer
Oh, never by way of advice!
And she never sins by telling the tale
To the same person twice.
You were forever finding some new play.
So when I saw you down on hands and knees
In the meadow, busy with the new-cut hay,
Trying, I thought, to set it up on end,
I went to show you how to make it stay,
If that was your idea, against the breeze,
And, if you asked me, even help pretend
To make it root again and grow afresh.
But twas no make-believe with you to-day,
Nor was the grass itself your real concern,
Though I found your hand full of wilted fern,
Steel-bright June-grass, and blackening heads of clover.
Twas a nest full of young birds on the ground
The cutter-bar had just gone champing over
(Miraculously without tasting flesh)
And left defenseless to the heat and light.
You wanted to restore them to their right
Of something interposed between their sight
And too much world at oncecould means be found.
The way the nest-full every time we stirred
Stood up to us as to a mother-bird
Whose coming home has been too long deferred,
Made me ask would the mother-bird return
And care for them in such a change of scene
And might our meddling make her more afraid.
That was a thing we could not wait to learn.
We saw the risk we took in doing good,
But dared not spare to do the best we could
Though harm should come of it; so built the screen
You had begun, and gave them back their shade.
All this to prove we cared. Why is there then
No more to tell? We turned to other things.
I havent any memoryhave you?
Of ever coming to the place again
To see if the birds lived the first night through,
And so at last to learn to use their wings.
The buzz-saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,
Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.
And from there those that lifted eyes could count
Five mountain ranges one behind the other
Under the sunset far into Vermont.
And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,
As it ran light, or had to bear a load.
And nothing happened: day was all but done.
Call it a day, I wish they might have said
To please the boy by giving him the half hour
That a boy counts so much when saved from work.
His sister stood beside them in her apron
To tell them Supper. At the word, the saw,
As if to prove saws knew what supper meant,
Leaped out at the boys hand, or seemed to leap
He must have given the hand. However it was,
Neither refused the meeting. But the hand!
The boys first outcry was a rueful laugh,
As he swung toward them holding up the hand
Half in appeal, but half as if to keep
The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all
Since he was old enough to know, big boy
Doing a mans work, though a child at heart
He saw all spoiled. Dont let him cut my hand off
The doctor, when he comes. Dont let him, sister!
So. But the hand was gone already.
The doctor put him in the dark of ether.
He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath.
And thenthe watcher at his pulse took fright.
No one believed. They listened at his heart.
Littlelessnothing!and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.
Brown lived at such a lofty farm
That everyone for miles could see
His lantern when he did his chores
In winter after half-past three.
And many must have seen him make
His wild descent from there one night,
Cross lots, cross walls, cross everything,
Describing rings of lantern light.
Between the house and barn the gale
Got him by something he had on
And blew him out on the icy crust
That cased the world, and he was gone!
Walls were all buried, trees were few:
He saw no stay unless he stove
A hole in somewhere with his heel.
But though repeatedly he strove
And stamped and said things to himself,
And sometimes something seemed to yield,
He gained no foothold, but pursued
His journey down from field to field.
Sometimes he came with arms outspread
Like wings, revolving in the scene
Upon his longer axis, and
With no small dignity of mien.
Faster or slower as he chanced,
Sitting or standing as he chose,
According as he feared to risk
His neck, or thought to spare his clothes,
He never let the lantern drop.
And some exclaimed who saw afar
The figures he described with it,
I wonder what those signals are
Brown makes at such an hour of night!
Hes celebrating something strange.
I wonder if hes sold his farm,
Or been made Master of the Grange.
He reeled, he lurched, he bobbed, he checked;
He fell and made the lantern rattle
(But saved the light from going out.)
So half-way down he fought the battle
Incredulous of his own bad luck.
And then becoming reconciled
To everything, he gave it up
And came down like a coasting child.
WellIbe that was all he said,
As standing in the river road,
He looked back up the slippery slope
(Two miles it was) to his abode.
Sometimes as an authority
On motor-cars, Im asked if I
Should say our stock was petered out,
And this is my sincere reply:
Yankees are what they always were.
Dont think Brown ever gave up hope
Of getting home again because
He couldnt climb that slippery slope;
Or even thought of standing there
Until the January thaw
Should take the polish off the crust.
He bowed with grace to natural law,
And then went round it on his feet,
After the manner of our stock;
Not much concerned for those to whom,
At that particular time oclock,
It must have looked as if the course
He steered was really straight away
From that which he was headed for
Not much concerned for them, I say:
No more so than became a man
And politician at odd seasons.
Ive kept Brown standing in the cold
While I invested him with reasons;
But now he snapped his eyes three times;
Then shook his lantern, saying, Iles
Bout out! and took the long way home
By road, a matter of several miles.
There overtook me and drew me in
To his down-hill, early-morning stride,
And set me five miles on my road
Better than if he had had me ride,
A man with a swinging bag for load
And half the bag wound round his hand.
We talked like barking above the din
Of water we walked along beside.
And for my telling him where Id been
And where I lived in mountain land
To be coming home the way I was,
He told me a little about himself.
He came from higher up in the pass
Where the grist of the new-beginning brooks
Is blocks split off the mountain mass
And hopeless grist enough it looks
Ever to grind to soil for grass.
(The way it is will do for moss.)
There he had built his stolen shack.
It had to be a stolen shack
Because of the fears of fire and loss
That trouble the sleep of lumber folk:
Visions of half the world burned black
And the sun shrunken yellow in smoke.
We know who when they come to town
Bring berries under the wagon seat,
Or a basket of eggs between their feet;
What this man brought in a cotton sack
Was gum, the gum of the mountain spruce.
He showed me lumps of the scented stuff
Like uncut jewels, dull and rough.
It comes to market golden brown;
But turns to pink between the teeth.
I told him this is a pleasant life
To set your breast to the bark of trees
That all your days are dim beneath,
And reaching up with a little knife,
To loose the resin and take it down
And bring it to market when you please.
Here come the line-gang pioneering by.
They throw a forest down less cut than broken.
They plant dead trees for living, and the dead
They string together with a living thread.
They string an instrument against the sky
Wherein words whether beaten out or spoken
Will run as hushed as when they were a thought.
But in no hush they string it: they go past
With shouts afar to pull the cable taut,
To hold it hard until they make it fast,
To ease awaythey have it. With a laugh,
An oath of towns that set the wild at naught
They bring the telephone and telegraph.
He is said to have been the last Red Man
In Acton. And the Miller is said to have laughed
If you like to call such a sound a laugh.
But he gave no one else a laughers license.
For he turned suddenly grave as if to say,
Whose business,if I take it on myself,
Whose businessbut why talk round the barn?
When its just that I hold with getting a thing done with.
You cant get back and see it as he saw it.
Its too long a story to go into now.
Youd have to have been there and lived it.
Then you wouldnt have looked on it as just a matter
Of who began it between the two races.
Some guttural exclamation of surprise
The Red Man gave in poking about the mill
Over the great big thumping shuffling mill-stone
Disgusted the Miller physically as coming
From one who had no right to be heard from.
Come, John, he said, you want to see the wheel pit?
He took him down below a cramping rafter,
And showed him, through a manhole in the floor,
The water in desperate straits like frantic fish,
Salmon and sturgeon, lashing with their tails.
Then he shut down the trap door with a ring in it
That jangled even above the general noise,
And came up stairs aloneand gave that laugh,
And said something to a man with a meal-sack
That the man with the meal-sack didnt catchthen.
Oh, yes, he showed John the wheel pit all right.
The three stood listening to a fresh access
Of wind that caught against the house a moment,
Gulped snow, and then blew free againthe Coles
Dressed, but dishevelled from some hours of sleep,
Meserve belittled in the great skin coat he wore.
Meserve was first to speak. He pointed backward
Over his shoulder with his pipe-stem, saying,
You can just see it glancing off the roof
Making a great scroll upward toward the sky,
Long enough for recording all our names on.
I think Ill just call up my wife and tell her
Im hereso farand starting on again.
Ill call her softly so that if shes wise
And gone to sleep, she neednt wake to answer.
Three times he barely stirred the bell, then listened.
Why, Lett, still up? Lett, Im at Coles. Im late.
I called you up to say Good-night from here
Before I went to say Good-morning there.
I thought I would. I know, but, LettI know
I could, but whats the sense? The rest wont be
So bad. Give me an hour for it. Ho, ho,
Three hours to here! But that was all up hill;
The rest is down. Why no, no, not a wallow:
They kept their heads and took their time to it
Like darlings, both of them. Theyre in the barn.
My dear, Im coming just the same. I didnt
Call you to ask you to invite me home.
He lingered for some word she wouldnt say,
Said it at last himself, Good-night, and then,
Getting no answer, closed the telephone.
The three stood in the lamplight round the table
With lowered eyes a moment till he said,
Ill just see how the horses are.
Both the Coles said together. Mrs. Cole
Added: You can judge better after seeing.
I want you here with me, Fred. Leave him here,
Brother Meserve. You know to find your way
Out through the shed.
I guess I know my way,
I guess I know where I can find my name
Carved in the shed to tell me who I am
If it dont tell me where I am. I used
You tend your horses and come back.
Fred Cole, youre going to let him!
Well, arent you?
How can you help yourself?
I called him Brother.
Why did I call him that?
Its right enough.
Thats all you ever heard him called round here.
He seems to have lost off his Christian name.
Christian enough I should call that myself.
He took no notice, did he? Well, at least
I didnt use it out of love of him,
The dear knows. I detest the thought of him
With his ten children under ten years old.
I hate his wretched little Racker Sect,
Alls ever I heard of it, which isnt much.
But thats not sayingLook, Fred Cole, its twelve,
Isnt it, now? Hes been here half an hour.
He says he left the village store at nine.
Three hours to do four milesa mile an hour
Or not much better. Why, it doesnt seem
As if a man could move that slow and move.
Try to think what he did with all that time.
And three miles more to go!
Dont let him go.
Stick to him, Helen. Make him answer you.
That sort of man talks straight on all his life
From the last thing he said himself, stone deaf
To anything anyone else may say.
I should have thought, though, you could make him hear you.
What is he doing out a night like this?
Why cant he stay at home?
He had to preach.
Its no night to be out.
He may be small,
He may be good, but one things sure, hes tough.
And strong of stale tobacco.
Hell pull through.
You only say so. Not another house
Or shelter to put into from this place
To theirs. Im going to call his wife again.
Wait and he may. Lets see what he will do.
Lets see if he will think of her again.
But then I doubt hes thinking of himself
He doesnt look on it as anything.
He shant gothere!
It is a night, my dear.
One thing: he didnt drag God into it.
He dont consider it a case for God.
You think so, do you? You dont know the kind.
Hes getting up a miracle this minute.
Privatelyto himself, right now, hes thinking
Hell make a case of it if he succeeds,
But keep still if he fails.
Keep still all over.
Hell be deaddead and buried.
Such a trouble!
Not but Ive every reason not to care
What happens to him if it only takes
Some of the sanctimonious conceit
Out of one of those pious scalawags.
Nonsense to that! You want to see him safe.
You like the runt.
Dont you a little?
I dont like what hes doing, which is what
You like, and like him for.
Oh, yes you do.
You like your fun as well as anyone;
Only you women have to put these airs on
To impress men. Youve got us so ashamed
Of being men we cant look at a good fight
Between two boys and not feel bound to stop it.
Let the man freeze an ear or two, I say.
Hes here. I leave him all to you. Go in
And save his life. All right, come in, Meserve.
Sit down, sit down. How did you find the horses?
And ready for some more? My wife here
Says it wont do. Youve got to give it up.
Wont you to please me? Please! If I say please?
Mr. Meserve, Ill leave it to your wife.
What did your wife say on the telephone?
Meserve seemed to heed nothing but the lamp
Or something not far from it on the table.
By straightening out and lifting a forefinger,
He pointed with his hand from where it lay
Like a white crumpled spider on his knee:
That leaf there in your open book! It moved
Just then, I thought. Its stood erect like that,
There on the table, ever since I came,
Trying to turn itself backward or forward,
Ive had my eye on it to make out which;
If forward, then its with a friends impatience
You see I knowto get you on to things
It wants to see how you will take, if backward
Its from regret for something you have passed
And failed to see the good of. Never mind,
Things must expect to come in front of us
A many timesI dont say just how many
That varies with the thingsbefore we see them.
One of the lies would make it out that nothing
Ever presents itself before us twice.
Where would we be at last if that were so?
Our very life depends on everythings
Recurring till we answer from within.
The thousandth time may prove the charm. That leaf!
It cant turn either way. It needs the winds help.
But the wind didnt move it if it moved.
It moved itself. The winds at naught in here.
It couldnt stir so sensitively poised
A thing as that. It couldnt reach the lamp
To get a puff of black smoke from the flame,
Or blow a rumple in the collies coat.
You make a little foursquare block of air,
Quiet and light and warm, in spite of all
The illimitable dark and cold and storm,
And by so doing give these three, lamp, dog,
And book-leaf, that keep near you, their repose;
Though for all anyone can tell, repose
May be the thing you havent, yet you give it.
So false it is that what we havent we cant give;
So false, that what we always say is true.
Ill have to turn the leaf if no one else will.
It wont lie down. Then let it stand. Who cares?
I shouldnt want to hurry you, Meserve,
But if youre going Say youll stay, you know?
But let me raise this curtain on a scene,
And show you how its piling up against you.
You see the snow-white through the white of frost?
Ask Helen how far up the sash its climbed
Since last we read the gage.
It looks as if
Some pallid thing had squashed its features flat
And its eyes shut with overeagerness
To see what people found so interesting
In one another, and had gone to sleep
Of its own stupid lack of understanding,
Or broken its white neck of mushroom stuff
Short off, and died against the window-pane.
Brother Meserve, take care, youll scare yourself
More than you will us with such nightmare talk.
Its you it matters to, because its you
Who have to go out into it alone.
Let him talk, Helen, and perhaps hell stay.
Before you drop the curtainIm reminded:
You recollect the boy who came out here
To breathe the air one winterhad a room
Down at the Averys? Well, one sunny morning
After a downy storm, he passed our place
And found me banking up the house with snow.
And I was burrowing in deep for warmth,
Piling it well above the window-sills.
The snow against the window caught his eye.
Hey, thats a pretty thoughtthose were his words.
So you can think its six feet deep outside,
While you sit warm and read up balanced rations.
You cant get too much winter in the winter.
Those were his words. And he went home and all
But banked the daylight out of Averys windows.
Now you and I would go to no such length.
At the same time you cant deny it makes
It not a mite worse, sitting here, we three,
Playing our fancy, to have the snowline run
So high across the pane outside. There where
There is a sort of tunnel in the frost
More like a tunnel than a holeway down
At the far end of it you see a stir
And quiver like the frayed edge of the drift
Blown in the wind. I like thatI like that.
Well, now I leave you, people.
We thought you were deciding not to go
The ways you found to say the praise of comfort
And being where you are. You want to stay.
Ill own its cold for such a fall of snow.
This house is frozen brittle, all except
This room you sit in. If you think the wind
Sounds further off, its not because its dying;
Youre further under in the snowthats all
And feel it less. Hear the soft bombs of dust
It bursts against us at the chimney mouth,
And at the eaves. I like it from inside
More than I shall out in it. But the horses
Are rested and its time to say good-night,
And let you get to bed again. Good-night,
Sorry I had to break in on your sleep.
Lucky for you you did. Lucky for you
You had us for a half-way station
To stop at. If you were the kind of man
Paid heed to women, youd take my advice
And for your familys sake stay where you are.
But what good is my saying it over and over?
Youve done more than you had a right to think
You could donow. You know the risk you take
In going on.
Our snow-storms as a rule
Arent looked on as man-killers, and although
Id rather be the beast that sleeps the sleep
Under it all, his door sealed up and lost,
Than the man fighting it to keep above it,
Yet think of the small birds at roost and not
In nests. Shall I be counted less than they are?
Their bulk in water would be frozen rock
In no time out to-night. And yet to-morrow
They will come budding boughs from tree to tree
Flirting their wings and saying Chickadee,
As if not knowing what you meant by the word storm.
But why when no one wants you to go on?
Your wifeshe doesnt want you to. We dont,
And you yourself dont want to. Who else is there?
Save us from being cornered by a woman.
Well, theresShe told Fred afterward that in
The pause right there, she thought the dreaded word
Was coming, God. But no, he only said
Well, theresthe storm. That says I must go on.
That wants me as a war might if it came.
Ask any man.
He threw her that as something
To last her till he got outside the door.
He had Cole with him to the barn to see him off.
When Cole returned he found his wife still standing
Beside the table near the open book,
Not reading it.
Well, what kind of a man
Do you call that? she said.
He had the gift
Of words, or is it tongues, I ought to say?
Was ever such a man for seeing likeness?
Or disregarding peoples civil questions
What? Weve found out in one hour more about him
Than we had seeing him pass by in the road
A thousand times. If thats the way he preaches!
You didnt think youd keep him after all.
Oh, Im not blaming you. He didnt leave you
Much say in the matter, and Im just as glad
Were not in for a night of him. No sleep
If he had stayed. The least thing set him going.
Its quiet as an empty church without him.
But how much better off are we as it is?
Well have to sit here till we know hes safe.
Yes, I suppose youll want to, but I shouldnt.
He knows what he can do, or he wouldnt try.
Get into bed I say, and get some rest.
He wont come back, and if he telephones,
It wont be for an hour or two.
We cant be any help by sitting here
And living his fight through with him, I suppose.
Cole had been telephoning in the dark.
Mrs. Coles voice came from an inner room:
Did she call you or you call her?
Youd better dress: you wont go back to bed.
We must have been asleep: its three and after.
Had she been ringing long? Ill get my wrapper.
I want to speak to her.
All she said was,
He hadnt come and had he really started.
She knew he had, poor thing, two hours ago.
He had the shovel. Hell have made a fight.
Why did I ever let him leave this house!
Dont begin that. You did the best you could
To keep himthough perhaps you didnt quite
Conceal a wish to see him show the spunk
To disobey you. Much his wifell thank you.
Fred, after all I said! You shant make out
That it was any way but what it was.
Did she let on by any word she said
She didnt thank me?
When I told her Gone,
Well then, she said, and Well thenlike a threat.
And then her voice came scraping slow: Oh, you,
Why did you let him go?
Asked why we let him?
You let me there. Ill ask her why she let him.
She didnt dare to speak when he was here.
Their numberstwenty-one? The thing wont work.
Someones receivers down. The handle stumbles.
The stubborn thing, the way it jars your arm!
Its theirs. Shes dropped it from her hand and gone.
Try speaking. Say Hello!
What do you hear?
I hear an empty room
You knowit sounds that way. And yes, I hear
I think I hear a clockand windows rattling.
No step though. If shes there shes sitting down.
Shout, she may hear you.
Shouting is no good.
Keep speaking then.
Hello. Hello. Hello.
You dont suppose? She wouldnt go out doors?
Im half afraid thats just what she might do.
And leave the children?
Wait and call again.
You cant hear whether she has left the door
Wide open and the winds blown out the lamp
And the fires died and the rooms dark and cold?
One of two things, either shes gone to bed
Or gone out doors.
In which case both are lost.
Do you know what shes like? Have you ever met her?
Its strange she doesnt want to speak to us.
Fred, see if you can hear what I hear. Come.
A clock maybe.
Dont you hear something else?
Why, yes, I hearwhat is it?
What do you say it is?
A babys crying!
Frantic it sounds, though muffled and far off.
Its mother wouldnt let it cry like that,
Not if shes there.
What do you make of it?
Theres only one thing possible to make,
That is, assumingthat she has gone out.
Of course she hasnt though. They both sat down
Helpless. Theres nothing we can do till morning.
Fred, I shant let you think of going out.
Hold on. The double bell began to chirp.
They started up. Fred took the telephone.
Hello, Meserve. Youre there, then!And your wife?
Good! Why I askedshe didnt seem to answer.
He says she went to let him in the barn.
Were glad. Oh, say no more about it, man.
Drop in and see us when youre passing.
She has him then, though what she wants him for
I dont see.
Possibly not for herself.
Maybe she only wants him for the children.
The whole to-do seems to have been for nothing.
What spoiled our night was to him just his fun.
What did he come in for?To talk and visit?
Thought hed just call to tell us it was snowing.
If he thinks he is going to make our house
A halfway coffee house twixt town and nowhere
I thought youd feel youd been too much concerned.
You think you havent been concerned yourself.
If you mean he was inconsiderate
To rout us out to think for him at midnight
And then take our advice no more than nothing,
Why, I agree with you. But lets forgive him.
Weve had a share in one night of his life.
Whatll you bet he ever calls again?
I wonder about the trees.
Why do we wish to bear
Forever the noise of these
More than another noise
So close to our dwelling place?
We suffer them by the day
Till we lose all measure of pace,
And fixity in our joys,
And acquire a listening air.
They are that that talks of going
But never gets away;
And that talks no less for knowing,
As it grows wiser and older,
That now it means to stay.
My feet tug at the floor
And my head sways to my shoulder
Sometimes when I watch trees sway,
From the window or the door.
I shall set forth for somewhere,
I shall make the reckless choice
Some day when they are in voice
And tossing so as to scare
The white clouds over them on.
I shall have less to say,
But I shall be gone.
Monadnock Valley Press > Frost