This is a Good Poem, August 1, 2018 (Okay, a Little Early)

Robert Frost was not a nice person, but he wrote excellent poetry.   This poem has been in the front of my mind for two years now, pretty much since November of 2016 . . . 

Mending Wall
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

But my favorite Frost will always be this one because of that blazingly brilliant last stanza:
Two Tramps at Mudtime
Out of the mud two strangers came
And caught me splitting wood in the yard,
And one of them put me off my aim
By hailing cheerily “Hit them hard!”
I knew pretty well why he had dropped behind
And let the other go on a way.
I knew pretty well what he had in mind:
He wanted to take my job for pay.

Good blocks of oak it was I split,
As large around as the chopping block;
And every piece I squarely hit
Fell splinterless as a cloven rock.
The blows that a life of self-control
Spares to strike for the common good,
That day, giving a loose my soul,
I spent on the unimportant wood.

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.

A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight
And turns to the wind to unruffle a plume,
His song so pitched as not to excite
A single flower as yet to bloom.
It is snowing a flake; and he half knew
Winter was only playing possum.
Except in color he isn’t blue,
But he wouldn’t advise a thing to blossom.

The water for which we may have to look
In summertime with a witching wand,
In every wheelrut’s now a brook,
In every print of a hoof a pond.
Be glad of water, but don’t forget
The lurking frost in the earth beneath
That will steal forth after the sun is set
And show on the water its crystal teeth.

The time when most I loved my task
The two must make me love it more
By coming with what they came to ask.
You’d think I never had felt before
The weight of an ax-head poised aloft,
The grip of earth on outspread feet,
The life of muscles rocking soft
And smooth and moist in vernal heat.

Out of the wood two hulking tramps
(From sleeping God knows where last night,
But not long since in the lumber camps).
They thought all chopping was theirs of right.
Men of the woods and lumberjacks,
They judged me by their appropriate tool.
Except as a fellow handled an ax
They had no way of knowing a fool.

Nothing on either side was said.
They knew they had but to stay their stay

And all their logic would fill my head:
As that I had no right to play
With what was another man’s work for gain.
My right might be love but theirs was need.
And where the two exist in twain
Theirs was the better right–agreed.

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes. :




31 thoughts on “This is a Good Poem, August 1, 2018 (Okay, a Little Early)

  1. My high school English teacher was really into memorizing poetry. Lots of Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allen Poe.

    I can probably do “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” still. My favorite all time favorite line of Frost is “Home is the place where, when you have to go there/They have to take you in.” “Death of a Hired Man.” Poem itself is a little long and abstruse for my taste.

    1. When I taught 8th grade English, I assigned the class to memorize two stanzas of Jabberwocky – as long a it wasn’t the first and last, which are the same. I gave extra credit for the other stanzas. And to prove that it could be done, I memorized it and recited to them. It’s been years since then, but I can still recite that when called upon.

      1. I think I can do most of it. It’s an easy one to remember because of the rhythms and rhymes, plus so much fun. “Now hast thou slain the Jabberwock? Come to my arms, my beamish boy!”

          1. And I believe this is where the word chortle originally came from – which is a favorite of mine.

          2. When something particularly wonderful happens to me or to one of my friends, we declare that day to be an official Frabjous Day.

      2. (-: “Jabberwocky” was probably the first thing I memorized on my own. I had a friend who memorized Hamlet’s soliloquy, and I also memorized it in solidarity (and a little bit of competition, truth be told), but “Jabberwocky” was mine. The lines still float through my head sometimes, especially when something goes snicker-snack like a vorpal sword.

  2. Battling again to live that last goal: have to do the day job, and cannot fit in that box. Feel I’m betraying myself by not doing my own work; and am also guilty for not putting my all into earning money, as the culture says I should.

    Am taking a day off to try, yet again, to get my head straight.

  3. I’ve got all the poetry I need for today, I’ve got a 65 lb puppy sleeping on my lap.

  4. I love to teach Frost’s poems to my second graders and I dearly love his poems, but I always do a brief bio ending with ‘obviously he was not a caring person’. My favorite last stanza of his is this:
    You cannot scare me with your empty spaces
    On stars, between stars
    Where no human race is
    I have it in me so much nearer home
    To scare myself with my own desert places.

    1. What was wrong with him? I’m not familiar with his work – haven’t studied American literature – and my internet searches are just giving me grand-old-man stuff.

      1. He was arrogant, self-centered, and often just plain mean. Bad enough that he begged to be at his wife’s deathbed to get her forgiveness and she refused to let him in the room.

        But the man’s poetry is beautiful.

      1. I wonder if he was on the autism spectrum or severely chronically depressed. At any rate, he saw things well, better than most. I think it was too much to bear, the truths he was aware of, and the burden destroyed him. I think the same thing happens with a lot of geniuses, and they turn mean or they kill themselves. Mark Twain was a dick, too. I don’t know. I really need to read more about Frost. Thanks for posting these.

        1. Almost every male poet I’ve ever studied was a jerk. Women, on the other hand, kill themselves.
          I think creative people, in general, have problems connecting to reality. It’s not really their thing. And there are all those people in reality expecting you to pay attention.

  5. I taught my grade 3s a poem called “You need a cow”. It starts with milk shake and ends with ice cream, and that seems like a good process to follow. 🙂

    I can’t remember it all as I never learned this in my life. A quick search didn’t yield an online version.

    “How does butter get onto your bread?
    The slithery, slippery stuff you spread.
    You ask how? You need a cow!

    How does cheese get onto your plate?
    The yummy, yellow one you grate.
    You ask how? You need a cow.

    1. Reminds me of ‘The king asked the queen, and the queen asked the dairymaid . . .’ by A. A. Milne. I used to know lots of his nonsense rhymes off by heart. It wasn’t until I discovered Keats at the age of sixteen that I had much time for proper poetry.

      1. When I get to class tomorrow, I’ll post it in full. I did a Google and Yahoo and came up empty!!


        I was very surprised. I thought everything made it online.

        1. That statement makes librarians everywhere cringe. No, not everything is online. #grrr 😩😉

          Looking forward to reading the whole poem.

  6. I love the Mending Wall, I remember having to study it in year 12, it was the best bit.
    I’m not home for a while, so I offer….

    You who have such clear gaze
    Such childhood buried deep within the heart
    You who know I live in silence in the penumbra of my art.

    Can’t even come up with the poet at present, but the wee book I have that one in is titled
    “She Vomits Like a Lady” which was a good enough reason for my mother to buy it for me, years ago now!


  7. Speaking of poetry that kids love, there is a book called “My Little Sister Ate One Hare”, which has some delightful , and somewhat gross, rhymes to it. It’s a counting book, up to 10. Here’s a snippet.

    My little sister ate one hare
    We thought she’d throw up then and there
    but she didn’t!

    She goes on to eat all sorts of awful things – ants and snakes and bats and such. And she does end up throwing up at the end.

    The best part of this book is the memory I have of it. It was read aloud to children at the library, and all of them were joining in on the chorus of “but she didn’t!” in their loud, outside, giggly voices. They all got very wrapped up in it.

  8. So the last two paragraphs set up a conflict between acting for the common good (give a guy a job) v. realizing one’s reason for being? I have to say his argument, his selfishness, ultimately sounds like the way to go. What else drives writers, artists to do the deed? What else offers heaven and future re-reads of great books?

    1. He doesn’t really make a decision about the tramp–it would be a tough one–but he does say to combine your vocation and your avocation so you’re doing work you love that is useful and important. I love that.

  9. Today I did Yeats’ “Sailing to Byzantium” with my AP lit students, which is one of my favorites. I especially like this bit:

    Consume my heart away; sick with desire
    And fastened to a dying animal,
    It knows not what it is.

    I’m planning the course as I go, but I think my Romantic poetry units will be arranged into two categories: “Everybody Dies; Make Art First” and “Come on baby!!!” Poems.

  10. I like Frost’s poetry too. My knowledge of The Mending Wall provided one of my favorite college memories in a Soviet literature class. The ants that have been traipsing around my kitchen counters for a couple of months have me thinking about Departmental frequently. I am grateful that the terribly irritating ants can at least remind me of poetry.

  11. The only poetry I usually encounter in daily life is accompanied by music. I love how in the best songs, both music and lyrics are more than either alone (hello Bob Dylan).

    This is a favourite, Song to the Siren, the This Mortal Coil version. Not the cheeriest of music, but lovely.

    Long afloat on shipless oceans, I did all my best to smile/ Till your singing eyes and fingers drew me loving to your isle…Now my foolish boat is leaning/ Broken, lovelorn, on your rocks.

  12. Those are both very good poems. I particularly love the first, but my favorite Frost poem is Window Tree:

    Tree at my Window
    by Robert Frost

    Tree at my window, window tree,
    My sash is lowered when night comes on;
    But let there never be curtain drawn
    Between you and me.

    Vague dream-head lifted out of the ground,
    And thing next most diffuse to cloud,
    Not all your light tongues talking aloud
    Could be profound.

    But tree, I have seen you taken and tossed,
    And if you have seen me when I slept,
    You have seen me when I was taken and swept
    And all but lost.

    That day she put our heads together,
    Fate had her imagination about her,
    Your head so much concerned with outer,
    Mine with inner, weather.


Comments are closed.