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Selected Poems

Robert Frost

1923


The poems included in this volume are reprinted from

“Mountain Interval”

“North of Boston”

and “A Boy’s Will.”

This is the Bookwise complete ebook of Selected Poems by Robert Frost, available to read online as an alternative to epub, mobi, kindle, pdf or text only versions. For information about the status of this work, see Copyright Notice.



TO HELEN THOMAS IN MEMORY OF EDWARD THOMAS


I


THE PASTURE

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring; I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away (And wait to watch the water clear, I may): I shan’t be gone long.—You come too.

I’m going out to fetch the little calf That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young, It totters when she licks it with her tongue. I shan’t be gone long.—You come too.


THE COW IN APPLE-TIME

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 scorns 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.


THE RUNAWAY

Once when the snow of the year was beginning to fall, We stopped by a mountain pasture to say “Whose colt?” A little Morgan had one forefoot on the wall, The other curled at his breast. He dipped his head And snorted at us. And then he had to bolt. We heard the miniature thunder where he fled, And we saw him, or thought we saw him, dim and grey, Like a shadow against the curtain of falling flakes. “I think the little fellow’s afraid of the snow. He isn’t winter-broken. It isn’t play With the little fellow at all. He’s running away. I doubt if even his mother could tell him, ‘Sakes, It’s only weather.’ He’d think she didn’t know! Where is his mother? He can’t be out alone.” And now he comes again with a clatter of stone And mounts the wall again with whited eyes And all his tail that isn’t hair up straight. He shudders his coat as if to throw off flies. “Whoever it is that leaves him out so late, When other creatures have gone to stall and bin, Ought to be told to come and take him in.”


II


AN OLD MAN’S WINTER NIGHT

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 him—at 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 man—one man—can’t keep a house, A farm, a countryside, or if he can, It’s thus he does it of a winter night.


HOME BURIAL

He saw her from the bottom of the stairs Before she saw him. She was starting down, Looking back over her shoulder at some fear. She took a doubtful step and then undid it To raise herself and look again. He spoke Advancing toward her: “What is it you see From up there always—for I want to know.” She turned and sank upon her skirts at that, And her face changed from terrified to dull. He said to gain time: “What is it you see?” Mounting until she cowered under him. “I will find out now—you must tell me, dear.” She, in her place, refused him any help With the least stiffening of her neck and silence. She let him look, sure that he wouldn’t see, Blind creature; and a while he didn’t see. But at last he murmured, “Oh,” and again, “Oh.”

“What is it—what?” she said. “Just that I see.”

“You don’t,” she challenged. “Tell me what it is.”

“The wonder is I didn’t see at once. I never noticed it from here before. I must be wonted to it—that’s the reason. The little graveyard where my people are! So small the window frames the whole of it. Not so much larger than a bedroom, is it? There are three stones of slate and one of marble, Broad-shouldered little slabs there in the sunlight On the sidehill. We haven’t to mind those. But I understand: it is not the stones, But the child’s mound——”

“Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t,” she cried.

She withdrew shrinking from beneath his arm That rested on the banister, and slid downstairs; And turned on him with such a daunting look, He said twice over before he knew himself: “Can’t a man speak of his own child he’s lost?”

“Not you! Oh, where’s my hat? Oh, I don’t need it! I must get out of here. I must get air. I don’t know rightly whether any man can.”

“Amy! Don’t go to someone else this time. Listen to me. I won’t come down the stairs.” He sat and fixed his chin between his fists. “There’s something I should like to ask you, dear.”

“You don’t know how to ask it.”

“Help me, then.”

Her fingers moved the latch for all reply.

“My words are nearly always an offence. I don’t know how to speak of anything So as to please you. But I might be taught I should suppose. I can’t say I see how. A man must partly give up being a man With women-folk. We could have some arrangement By which I’d bind myself to keep hands off Anything special you’re a-mind to name. Though I don’t like such things ‘twixt those that love. Two that don’t love can’t live together without them. But two that do can’t live together with them.” She moved the latch a little. “Don’t—don’t go. Don’t carry it to someone else this time. Tell me about it if it’s something human. Let me into your grief. I’m not so much Unlike other folks as your standing there Apart would make me out. Give me my chance. I do think, though, you overdo it a little. What was it brought you up to think it the thing To take your mother-loss of a first child So inconsolably—in the face of love. You’d think his memory might be satisfied——”

“There you go sneering now!”

“I’m not, I’m not! You make me angry. I’ll come down to you. God, what a woman! And it’s come to this, A man can’t speak of his own child that’s dead.” “You can’t because you don’t know how. If you had any feelings, you that dug With your own hand—how could you?—his little grave; I saw you from that very window there, Making the gravel leap and leap in air, Leap up, like that, like that, and land so lightly And roll back down the mound beside the hole. I thought, Who is that man? I didn’t know you. And I crept down the stairs and up the stairs To look again, and still your spade kept lifting. Then you came in. I heard your rumbling voice Out in the kitchen, and I don’t know why, But I went near to see with my own eyes. You could sit there with the stains on your shoes Of the fresh earth from your own baby’s grave And talk about your everyday concerns. You had stood the spade up against the wall Outside there in the entry, for I saw it.”

“I shall laugh the worst laugh I ever laughed. I’m cursed. God, if I don’t believe I’m cursed.” “I can repeat the very words you were saying.

‘Three foggy mornings and one rainy day Will rot the best birch fence a man can build.’ Think of it, talk like that at such a time! What had how long it takes a birch to rot To do with what was in the darkened parlour? You couldn’t care! The nearest friends can go With anyone to death, comes so far short They might as well not try to go at all. No, from the time when one is sick to death, One is alone, and he dies more alone. Friends make pretence of following to the grave, But before one is in it, their minds are turned And making the best of their way back to life And living people, and things they understand. But the world’s evil. I won’t have grief so If I can change it. Oh, I won’t, I won’t!”

“There, you have said it all and you feel better. You won’t go now. You’re crying. Close the door. The heart’s gone out of it: why keep it up? Amy! There’s someone coming down the road!”

You—oh, you think the talk is all. I must go— Somewhere out of this house. How can I make you——”

“If—you—do!” She was opening the door wider. “Where do you mean to go? First tell me that. I’ll follow and bring you back by force. I will!——”


THE DEATH OF THE HIRED MAN

Mary sat musing on the lamp-flame at the table Waiting for Warren. When she heard his step, She ran on tip-toe down the darkened passage To meet him in the doorway with the news And put him on his guard. “Silas is back.”

She pushed him outward with her through the door And shut it after her. “Be kind,” she said. She took the market things from Warren’s arms And set them on the porch, then drew him down To sit beside her on the wooden steps.

“When was I ever anything but kind to him? But I’ll not have the fellow back,” he said. “I told him so last haying, didn’t I? ‘If he left then,’ I said, ‘that ended it.’ What good is he? Who else will harbour him At his age for the little he can do? What help he is there’s no depending on. Off he goes always when I need him most.

‘He thinks he ought to earn a little pay, Enough at least to buy tobacco with, So he won’t have to beg and be beholden.’ ‘All right,’ I say, ‘I can’t afford to pay Any fixed wages, though I wish I could.’ ‘Someone else can.’ ‘Then someone else will have to.’ I shouldn’t mind his bettering himself If that was what it was. You can be certain, When he begins like that, there’s someone at him Trying to coax him off with pocket-money,— In haying time, when any help is scarce. In winter he comes back to us. I’m done.”

“Sh! not so loud: he’ll hear you,” Mary said.

“I want him to: he’ll have to soon or late.”

“He’s worn out. He’s asleep beside the stove. When I came up from Rowe’s I found him here, Huddled against the barn-door fast asleep, A miserable sight, and frightening, too— You needn’t smile—I didn’t recognise him— I wasn’t looking for him—and he’s changed. Wait till you see.”

“Where did you say he’d been?”

“He didn’t say. I dragged him to the house, And gave him tea and tried to make him smoke. I tried to make him talk about his travels. Nothing would do: he just kept nodding off.”

“What did he say? Did he say anything?”

“But little.”

“Anything? Mary, confess He said he’d come to ditch the meadow for me.”

“Warren!”

“But did he? I just want to know.”

“Of course he did. What would you have him say? Surely you wouldn’t grudge the poor old man Some humble way to save his self-respect. He added, if you really care to know, He meant to clear the upper pasture, too. That sounds like something you have heard before? Warren, I wish you could have heard the way He jumbled everything. I stopped to look Two or three times—he made me feel so queer— To see if he was talking in his sleep. He ran on Harold Wilson—you remember— The boy you had in haying four years since. He’s finished school, and teaching in his college. Silas declares you’ll have to get him back. He says they two will make a team for work: Between them they will lay this farm as smooth! The way he mixed that in with other things. He thinks young Wilson a likely lad, though daft On education—you know how they fought All through July under the blazing sun, Silas up on the cart to build the load, Harold along beside to pitch it on.”

“Yes, I took care to keep well out of earshot.”

“Well, those days trouble Silas like a dream. You wouldn’t think they would. How some things linger! Harold’s young college boy’s assurance piqued him. After so many years he still keeps finding Good arguments he sees he might have used. I sympathise. I know just how it feels To think of the right thing to say too late. Harold’s associated in his mind with Latin. He asked me what I thought of Harold’s saying He studied Latin like the violin Because he liked it—that an argument! He said he couldn’t make the boy believe He could find water with a hazel prong— Which showed how much good school had ever done him. He wanted to go over that. But most of all He thinks if he could have another chance To teach him how to build a load of hay——”

“I know, that’s Silas’ one accomplishment. He bundles every forkful in its place, And tags and numbers it for future reference, So he can find and easily dislodge it In the unloading. Silas does that well. He takes it out in bunches like big birds’ nests. You never see him standing on the hay He’s trying to lift, straining to lift himself.”

“He thinks if he could teach him that, he’d be Some good perhaps to someone in the world. He hates to see a boy the fool of books. Poor Silas, so concerned for other folk, And nothing to look backward to with pride, And nothing to look forward to with hope, So now and never any different.”

Part of a moon was falling down the west, Dragging the whole sky with it to the hills. Its light poured softly in her lap. She saw And spread her apron to it. She put out her hand Among the harp-like morning-glory strings, Taut with the dew from garden bed to eaves, As if she played unheard the tenderness That wrought on him beside her in the night. “Warren,” she said, “he has come home to die: You needn’t be afraid he’ll leave you this time.”

“Home,” he mocked gently.

“Yes, what else but home?

It all depends on what you mean by home. Of course he’s nothing to us, any more Than was the hound that came a stranger to us Out of the woods, worn out upon the trail.”

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in.”

“I should have called it Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.”

Warren leaned out and took a step or two, Picked up a little stick, and brought it back And broke it in his hand and tossed it by. “Silas has better claim on us, you think, Than on his brother? Thirteen little miles As the road winds would bring him to his door. Silas has walked that far no doubt to-day. Why didn’t he go there? His brother’s rich, A somebody—director in the bank.”

“He never told us that.”

“We know it though.”

“I think his brother ought to help, of course. I’ll see to that if there is need. He ought of right To take him in, and might be willing to— He may be better than appearances. But have some pity on Silas. Do you think If he’d had any pride in claiming kin Or anything he looked for from his brother, He’d keep so still about him all this time?”

“I wonder what’s between them.”

“I can tell you. Silas is what he is—we wouldn’t mind him— But just the kind that kinsfolk can’t abide. He never did a thing so very bad. He don’t know why he isn’t quite as good As anyone. He won’t be made ashamed To please his brother, worthless though he is.”

I can’t think Si ever hurt anyone.”

“No, but he hurt my heart the way he lay And rolled his old head on that sharp-edged chair-back. He wouldn’t let me put him on the lounge. You must go in and see what you can do. I made the bed up for him there to-night. You’ll be surprised at him—how much he’s broken. His working days are done; I’m sure of it.”

“I’d not be in a hurry to say that.”

“I haven’t been. Go, look, see for yourself. But, Warren, please remember how it is: He’s come to help you ditch the meadow. He has a plan. You mustn’t laugh at him. He may not speak of it, and then he may. I’ll sit and see if that small sailing cloud Will hit or miss the moon.”

It hit the moon. Then there were three there, making a dim row, The moon, the little silver cloud, and she.

Warren returned—too soon, it seemed to her, Slipped to her side, caught up her hand and waited.

“Warren,” she questioned.

“Dead,” was all he answered.


A SERVANT TO SERVANTS

I didn’t make you know how glad I was To have you come and camp here on our land. I promised myself to get down some day And see the way you lived, but I don’t know! With a houseful of hungry men to feed I guess you’d find.... It seems to me I can’t express my feelings any more Than I can raise my voice or want to lift My hand (oh, I can lift it when I have to). Did ever you feel so? I hope you never. It’s got so I don’t even know for sure Whether I am glad, sorry, or anything. There’s nothing but a voice-like left inside That seems to tell me how I ought to feel, And would feel if I wasn’t all gone wrong. You take the lake. I look and look at it. I see it’s a fair, pretty sheet of water. I stand and make myself repeat out loud The advantages it has, so long and narrow, Like a deep piece of some old running river Cut short off at both ends. It lies five miles Straight away through the mountain notch From the sink window where I wash the plates, And all our storms come up toward the house, Drawing the slow waves whiter and whiter and whiter. It took my mind off doughnuts and soda biscuit To step outdoors and take the water dazzle A sunny morning, or take the rising wind About my face and body and through my wrapper, When a storm threatened from the Dragon’s Den, And a cold chill shivered across the lake. I see it’s a fair, pretty sheet of water, Our Willoughby! How did you hear of it? I expect, though, everyone’s heard of it. In a book about ferns? Listen to that! You let things more like feathers regulate Your going and coming. And you like it here? I can see how you might. But I don’t know! It would be different if more people came, For then there would be business. As it is, The cottages Len built, sometimes we rent them, Sometimes we don’t. We’ve a good piece of shore That ought to be worth something, and may yet. But I don’t count on it as much as Len. He looks on the bright side of everything, Including me. He thinks I’ll be all right With doctoring. But it’s not medicine— Lowe is the only doctor’s dared to say so— It’s rest I want—there, I have said it out— From cooking meals for hungry hired men And washing dishes after them—from doing Things over and over that just won’t stay done. By good rights I ought not to have so much Put on me, but there seems no other way. Len says one steady pull more ought to do it. He says the best way out is always through. And I agree to that, or in so far As that I can see no way out but through— Leastways for me—and then they’ll be convinced. It’s not that Len don’t want the best for me. It was his plan our moving over in Beside the lake from where that day I showed you We used to live—ten miles from anywhere We didn’t change without some sacrifice, But Len went at it to make up the loss. His work’s a man’s, of course, from sun to sun, But he works when he works as hard as I do— Though there’s small profit in comparisons. (Women and men will make them all the same.) But work ain’t all. Len undertakes too much. He’s into everything in town. This year It’s highways, and he’s got too many men Around him to look after that make waste. They take advantage of him shamefully, And proud, too, of themselves for doing so. We have four here to board, great good-for-nothings, Sprawling about the kitchen with their talk While I fry their bacon. Much they care! No more put out in what they do or say Than if I wasn’t in the room at all. Coming and going all the time, they are: I don’t learn what their names are, let alone Their characters, or whether they are safe To have inside the house with doors unlocked. I’m not afraid of them, though, if they’re not Afraid of me. There’s two can play at that. I have my fancies: it runs in the family. My father’s brother wasn’t right. They kept him Locked up for years back there at the old farm. I’ve been away once—yes, I’ve been away. The State Asylum. I was prejudiced; I wouldn’t have sent anyone of mine there; You know the old idea—the only asylum Was the poorhouse, and those who could afford, Rather than send their folks to such a place, Kept them at home; and it does seem more human. But it’s not so: the place is the asylum. There they have every means proper to do with, And you aren’t darkening other people’s lives— Worse than no good to them, and they no good To you in your condition; you can’t know Affection or the want of it in that state. I’ve heard too much of the old-fashioned way. My father’s brother, he went mad quite young. Some thought he had been bitten by a dog, Because his violence took on the form Of carrying his pillow in his teeth; But it’s more likely he was crossed in love, Or so the story goes. It was some girl. Anyway, all he talked about was love. They soon saw he would do someone a mischief If he wa’n’t kept strict watch of, and it ended In father’s building him a sort of cage, Or room within a room, of hickory poles, Like stanchions in the barn, from floor to ceiling,— A narrow passage all the way around. Anything they put in for furniture He’d tear to pieces, even a bed to lie on. So they made the place comfortable with straw, Like a beast’s stall, to ease their consciences. Of course they had to feed him without dishes. They tried to keep him clothed, but he paraded With his clothes on his arm—all of his clothes. Cruel—it sounds. I s’pose they did the best They knew. And just when he was at the height, Father and mother married, and mother came, A bride, to help take care of such a creature, And accommodate her young life to his. That was what marrying father meant to her. She had to lie and hear love things made dreadful By his shouts in the night. He’d shout and shout Until the strength was shouted out of him, And his voice died down slowly from exhaustion. He’d pull his bars apart like bow and bow-string, And let them go and make them twang until His hands had worn them smooth as any ox-bow. And then he’d crow as if he thought that child’s play— The only fun he had. I’ve heard them say, though, They found a way to put a stop to it. He was before my time—I never saw him; But the pen stayed exactly as it was There in the upper chamber in the ell, A sort of catch-all full of attic clutter. I often think of the smooth hickory bars. It got so I would say—you know, half fooling— “It’s time I took my turn upstairs in jail”— Just as you will till it becomes a habit. No wonder I was glad to get away. Mind you, I waited till Len said the word. I didn’t want the blame if things went wrong. I was glad though, no end, when we moved out, And I looked to be happy, and I was, As I said, for a while—but I don’t know! Somehow the change wore out like a prescription. And there’s more to it than just window-views And living by a lake. I’m past such help— Unless Len took the notion, which he won’t, And I won’t ask him—it’s not sure enough. I ‘spose I’ve got to go the road I’m going: Other folks have to, and why shouldn’t I? I almost think if I could do like you, Drop everything and live out on the ground— But it might be, come night, I shouldn’t like it, Or a long rain. I should soon get enough, And be glad of a good roof overhead. I’ve lain awake thinking of you, I’ll warrant, More than you have yourself, some of these nights. The wonder was the tents weren’t snatched away From over you as you lay in your beds. I haven’t courage for a risk like that. Bless you, of course, you’re keeping me from work, But the thing of it is, I need to be kept. There’s work enough to do—there’s always that; But behind’s behind. The worst that you can do Is set me back a little more behind. I shan’t catch up in this world, anyway. I’d rather you’d not go unless you must.


THE SELF-SEEKER

“Willis, I didn’t want you here to-day: The lawyer’s coming for the company. I’m going to sell my soul, or, rather, feet. Five hundred dollars for the pair, you know.”

“With you the feet have nearly been the soul; And if you’re going to sell them to the devil, I want to see you do it. When’s he coming?”

“I half suspect you knew, and came on purpose To try to help me drive a better bargain.”

“Well, if it’s true! Yours are no common feet. The lawyer don’t know what it is he’s buying: So many miles you might have walked you won’t walk. You haven’t run your forty orchids down. What does he think?—How are the blessed feet? The doctor’s sure you’re going to walk again?”

“He thinks I’ll hobble. It’s both legs and feet.”

“They must be terrible—I mean to look at.”

“I haven’t dared to look at them uncovered. Through the bed blankets I remind myself Of a starfish laid out with rigid points.”

“The wonder is it hadn’t been your head.”

“It’s hard to tell you how I managed it. When I saw the shaft had me by the coat, I didn’t try too long to pull away, Or fumble for my knife to cut away, I just embraced the shaft and rode it out— Till Weiss shut off the water in the wheel-pit. That’s how I think I didn’t lose my head, But my legs got their knocks against the ceiling.”

“Awful. Why didn’t they throw off the belt Instead of going clear down in the wheel-pit?”

“They say sometime was wasted on the belt— Old streak of leather—doesn’t love me much Because I made him spit fire at my knuckles, The way Ben Franklin used to make the kite-string. That must be it. Some days he won’t stay on. That day a woman couldn’t coax him off. He’s on his rounds now with his tail in his mouth Snatched right and left across the silver pulleys. Everything goes the same without me there. You can hear the small buzz saws whine, the big saw Caterwaul to the hills around the village As they both bite the wood. It’s all our music. One ought as a good villager to like it. No doubt it has a sort of prosperous sound, And it’s our life.”

“Yes, when it’s not our death.”

“You make that sound as if it wasn’t so With everything. What we live by we die by. I wonder where my lawyer is. His train’s in. I want this over with; I’m hot and tired.”

“You’re getting ready to do something foolish.”

“Watch for him, will you, Will? You let him in. I’d rather Mrs. Corbin didn’t know; I’ve boarded here so long, she thinks she owns me. You’re bad enough to manage without her.”

“And I’m going to be worse instead of better. You’ve got to tell me how far this is gone: Have you agreed to any price?”

“Five hundred. Five hundred—five—five! One, two, three, four, five. You needn’t look at me.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“I told you, Willis, when you first came in. Don’t you be hard on me. I have to take What I can get. You see they have the feet, Which gives them the advantage in the trade. I can’t get back the feet in any case.”

“But your flowers, man, you’re selling out your flowers.”

“Yes, that’s one way to put it—all the flowers Of every kind everywhere in this region For the next forty summers—call it forty. But I’m not selling those, I’m giving them, They never earned me so much as one cent: Money can’t pay me for the loss of them. No, the five hundred was the sum they named To pay the doctor’s bill and tide me over. It’s that or fight, and I don’t want to fight— I just want to get settled in my life, Such as it’s going to be, and know the worst, Or best—it may not be so bad. The firm Promise me all the shooks I want to nail.”

“But what about your flora of the valley?”

“You have me there. But that—you didn’t think That was worth money to me? Still, I own It goes against me not to finish it For the friends it might bring me. By the way, I had a letter from Burroughs—did I tell you?— About my Cyprepedium reginœ; He says it’s not reported so far north. There! there’s the bell. He’s rung. But you go down And bring him up, and don’t let Mrs. Corbin.— Oh, well, we’ll soon be through with it. I’m tired.”

Willis brought up besides the Boston lawyer A little barefoot girl who in the noise Of heavy footsteps in the old frame house, And baritone importance of the lawyer, Stood for a while unnoticed with her hands Shyly behind her.

“Well, and how is Mister—” The lawyer was already in his satchel As if for papers that might bear the name He hadn’t at command. “You must excuse me, I dropped in at the mill and was detained.”

“Looking round, I suppose,” said Willis.

“Yes, Well, yes.”

“Hear anything that might prove useful?”

The Broken One saw Anne. “Why, here is Anne What do you want, dear? Come, stand by the bed; Tell me what is it?” Anne just wagged her dress With both hands held behind her. “Guess,” she said.

“Oh, guess which hand? My, my! Once on a time I knew a lovely way to tell for certain By looking in the ears. But I forget it. Er, let me see. I think I’ll take the right. That’s sure to be right even if it’s wrong. Come, hold it out. Don’t change.—A Ram’s Horn orchid! A Ram’s Horn! What would I have got, I wonder, If I had chosen left. Hold out the left. Another Ram’s Horn! Where did you find those, Under what beech tree, on what woodchuck’s knoll?”

Anne looked at the large lawyer at her side, And thought she wouldn’t venture on so much.

“Were there no others?”

“There were four or five. I knew you wouldn’t let me pick them all.”

“I wouldn’t—so I wouldn’t. You’re the girl! You see Anne has her lesson learned by heart.”

“I wanted there should be some there next year.”

“Of course you did. You left the rest for seed, And for the backwoods woodchuck. You’re the girl! A Ram’s Horn orchid seedpod for a woodchuck Sounds something like. Better than farmer’s beans To a discriminating appetite, Though the Ram’s Horn is seldom to be had In bushel lots—doesn’t come on the market. But, Anne, I’m troubled; have you told me all? You’re hiding something. That’s as bad as lying. You ask this lawyer man. And it’s not safe With a lawyer at hand to find you out. Nothing is hidden from some people, Anne. You don’t tell me that where you found a Ram’s Horn You didn’t find a Yellow Lady’s Slipper. What did I tell you? What? I’d blush, I would. Don’t you defend yourself. If it was there, Where is it now, the Yellow Lady’s Slipper?”

“Well, wait—it’s common—it’s too common.

“Common? The Purple Lady’s Slipper’s commoner.”

“I didn’t bring a Purple Lady’s Slipper To You—to you I mean—they’re both too common.”

The lawyer gave a laugh among his papers As if with some idea that she had scored.

“I’ve broken Anne of gathering bouquets. It’s not fair to the child. It can’t be helped though: Pressed into service means pressed out of shape. Somehow I’ll make it right with her—she’ll see. She’s going to do my scouting in the field, Over stone walls and all along a wood And by a river bank for water flowers, The floating Heart, with small leaf like a heart, And at the sinus under water a fist Of little fingers all kept down but one, And that thrust up to blossom in the sun As if to say ‘You! You’re the Heart’s desire.’ Anne has a way with flowers to take the place Of that she’s lost: she goes down on one knee And lifts their faces by the chin to hers And says their names, and leaves them where they are.”

The lawyer wore a watch the case of which Was cunningly devised to make a noise Like a small pistol when he snapped it shut At such a time as this. He snapped it now.

“Well, Anne, go, dearie. Our affair will wait. The lawyer man is thinking of his train. He wants to give me lots and lots of money Before he goes, because I hurt myself, And it may take him I don’t know how long. But put our flowers in water first. Will, help her: The pitcher’s too full for her. There’s no cup? Just hook them on the inside of the pitcher. Now run.—Get out your documents! You see I have to keep on the good side of Anne. I’m a great boy to think of number one. And you can’t blame me in the place I’m in. Who will take care of my necessities Unless I do?”

“A pretty interlude,” The lawyer said: “I’m sorry, but my train—— Luckily terms are all agreed upon. You only have to sign your name. Right—there.”

“You, Will, stop making faces. Come round here Where you can’t make them. What is it you want? I’ll put you out with Anne. Be good or go.”

“You don’t mean you will sign that thing unread?”

“Make yourself useful then, and read it for me. Isn’t it something I have seen before?”

“You’ll find it is. Let your friend look at it.”

“Yes, but all that takes time, and I’m as much In haste to get it over with as you. But read it, read it. That’s right, draw the curtain: Half the time I don’t know what’s troubling me.— What do you say, Will? Don’t you be a fool. You! crumpling folkses’ legal documents. Out with it if you’ve any real objection.”

“Five hundred dollars!”

“What would you think right?”

“A thousand wouldn’t be a cent too much; You know it, Mr. Lawyer. The sin is Accepting anything before he knows Whether he’s ever going to walk again. It smells to me like a dishonest trick.”

“I think—I think—from what I heard to-day— And saw myself—he would be ill-advised——”

“What did you hear, for instance?” Willis said.

“Now the place where the accident occurred——”

The Broken One was twisted in his bed. “This is between you two apparently. Where I come in is what I want to know. You stand up to it like a pair of cocks. Go outdoors if you want to fight. Spare me. When you come back, I’ll have the papers signed. Will pencil do? Then, please, your fountain pen. One of you hold my head up from the pillow.”

Willis flung off the bed. “I wash my hands— I’m no match—no, and don’t pretend to be——”

The lawyer gravely capped his fountain pen. “You’re doing the wise thing: you won’t regret it. We’re very sorry for you.”

Willis sneered: “Who’s we?—some stockholders in Boston? I’ll go outdoors, by gad! and won’t come back.”

“Willis, bring Anne back with you when you come. Yes. Thanks for caring. Don’t mind Will: he’s savage. He thinks you ought to pay me for my flowers. You don’t know what I mean about the flowers. Don’t stop to try now. You’ll miss your train. Good-bye.” He flung his arms around his face.


THE HILL WIFE

LONELINESS (Her Word)

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.


HOUSE FEAR

Always—I 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.


THE SMILE (Her Word)

I didn’t like the way he went away. That smile! It never came of being gay. Still, he smiled—did 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 he’s got. He’s 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.


THE IMPULSE

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 didn’t answer—didn’t speak— Or return. She stood, and then she ran and hid In the fern.

He never found her, though he looked Everywhere, And he asked at her mother’s house Was she there.

Sudden and swift and light as that The ties gave, And he learned of finalities Besides the grave.


OUT, OUT....

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 boy’s hand, or seemed to leap— He must have given the hand. However it was, Neither refused the meeting. But the hand! The boy’s 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 man’s work, though a child at heart— He saw all spoiled. “Don’t let him cut my hand of— The doctor, when he comes. Don’t 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 then—the watcher at his pulse took fright. No one believed. They listened at his heart. Little—less—nothing!—and that ended it. No more to build on there. And they, since they Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.


III


PUTTING IN THE SEED

You come to fetch me from my work to-night When supper’s on the table, and we’ll 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 bums 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.


GOING FOR WATER

The well was dry beside the door, And so we went with pail and can Across the fields behind the house To seek the brook if still it ran;

Not loth to have excuse to go, Because the autumn eve was fair (Though chill), because the fields were ours, And by the brook our woods were there.

We ran as if to meet the moon That slowly dawned behind the trees, The barren boughs without the leaves, Without the birds, without the breeze.

But once within the wood, we paused Like gnomes that hid us from the moon, Ready to run to hiding new With laughter when she found us soon.

Each laid on other a staying hand To listen ere we dared to look, And in the hush we joined to make We heard, we knew we heard the brook.

A note as from a single place, A slender tinkling fall that made Now drops that floated on the pool Like pearls, and now a silver blade.


MOWING

There was never a sound beside the wood but one, And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground. What was it it whispered? I knew not well myself; Perhaps it was something about the heat of the sun, Something, perhaps, about the lack of sound— And that was why it whispered and did not speak. It was no dream of the gift of idle hours, Or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf: Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows, Not without feeble-pointed spikes of flowers (Pale orchises), and scared a bright green snake. The fact is the sweetest dream that labour knows. My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make.


IV


AFTER APPLE-PICKING

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree Toward heaven still, And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill Beside it, and there may be two or three Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough. But I am done with apple-picking now. Essence of winter sleep is on the night, The scent of apples: I am drowsing off. I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight I got from looking through a pane of glass I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough And held against the world of hoary grass. It melted, and I let it fall and break. But I was well Upon my way to sleep before it fell, And I could tell What form my dreaming was about to take. Magnified apples appear and disappear, Stem end and blossom end, And every fleck of russet showing clear. My instep arch not only keeps the ache, It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round. I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend. And I keep hearing from the cellar bin The rumbling sound Of load on load of apples coming in. For I have had too much Of apple-picking: I am overtired Of the great harvest I myself desired. There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch, Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall. For all That struck the earth, No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble, Went surely to the cider-apple heap As of no worth. One can see what will trouble This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is. Were he not gone, The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his Long sleep, as I describe its coming on, Or just some human sleep.


BIRCHES

When I see birches bend to left and right Across the lines of straighter darker trees, I like to think some boy’s been swinging them. But swinging doesn’t 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-coloured As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel. Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust— Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away You’d 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, 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 father’s 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. It’s when I’m 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 twig’s having lashed across it open. I’d like to get away from earth awhile And then come back to it and begin over. May no fate wilfully misunderstand me And half grant what I wish and snatch me away Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love: I don’t know where it’s likely to go better. I’d 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.


THE GUM-GATHERER

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 I’d 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.


THE MOUNTAIN

The mountain held the town as in a shadow. I saw so much before I slept there once: I noticed that I missed stars in the west, Where its black body cut into the sky. Near me it seemed: I felt it like a wall Behind which I was sheltered from a wind. And yet between the town and it I found, When I walked forth at dawn to see new things, Were fields, a river, and beyond, more fields. The river at the time was fallen away, And made a widespread brawl on cobble-stones; But the signs showed what it had done in spring; Good grass-land gullied out, and in the grass Ridges of sand, and driftwood stripped of bark. I crossed the river and swung round the mountain. And there I met a man who moved so slow With white-faced oxen in a heavy cart, It seemed no harm to stop him altogether.

“What town is this?” I asked.

“This? Lunenburg.” Then I was wrong: the town of my sojourn, Beyond the bridge, was not that of the mountain, But only felt at night its shadowy presence. “Where is your village? Very far from here?”

“There is no village—only scattered farms. We were but sixty voters last election. We can’t in nature grow to many more: That thing takes all the room!” He moved his goad. The mountain stood there to be pointed at. Pasture ran up the side a little way, And then there was a wall of trees with trunks: After that only tops of trees, and cliffs Imperfectly concealed among the leaves. A dry ravine emerged from under boughs Into the pasture.

“That looks like a path. Is that the way to reach the top from here?— Not for this morning, but some other time: I must be getting back to breakfast now.”

“I don’t advise your trying from this side. There is no proper path, but those that have Been up, I understand, have climbed from Ladd’s. That’s five miles back. You can’t mistake the place: They logged it there last winter some way up. I’d take you, but I’m bound the other way.”

“You’ve never climbed it?”

“I’ve been on the sides Deer-hunting and trout-fishing. There’s a brook That starts up on it somewhere—I’ve heard say Right on the top, tip-top—a curious thing. But what would interest you about the brook, It’s always cold in summer, warm in winter. One of the great sights going is to see It steam in winter like an ox’s breath. Until the bushes all along its banks Are inch-deep with the frosty spines and bristles— You know the kind. Then let the sun shine on it!”

“There ought to be a view around the world From such a mountain—if it isn’t wooded Clear to the top.” I saw through leafy screens Great granite terraces in sun and shadow, Shelves one could rest a knee on getting up— With depths behind him sheer a hundred feet; Or turn and sit on and look out and down, With little ferns in crevices at his elbow. “As to that I can’t say. But there’s the spring, Right on the summit, almost like a fountain. That ought to be worth seeing.”

“If it’s there. You never saw it?”

“I guess there’s no doubt About its being there. I never saw it. It may not be right on the very top: It wouldn’t have to be a long way down To have some head of water from above, And a good distance down might not be noticed By anyone who’d come a long way up. One time I asked a fellow climbing it To look and tell me later how it was.”

“What did he say?”

“He said there was a lake Somewhere in Ireland on a mountain top.”

“But a lake’s different. What about the spring?”

“He never got up high enough to see. That’s why I don’t advise your trying this side. He tried this side. I’ve always meant to go And look myself, but you know how it is: It doesn’t seem so much to climb a mountain You’ve worked around the foot of all your life. What would I do? Go in my overalls, With a big stick, the same as when the cows Haven’t come down to the bars at milking time? Or with a shotgun for a stray black bear? ‘Twouldn’t seem real to climb for climbing it.”

“I shouldn’t climb it if I didn’t want to— Not for the sake of climbing. What’s its name?”

“We call it Hor: I don’t know if that’s right.”

“Can one walk round it? Would it be too far?”

“You can drive round and keep in Lunenburg, But it’s as much as ever you can do, The boundary lines keep in so close to it. Hor is the township, and the township’s Hor— And a few houses sprinkled round the foot, Like boulders broken off the upper cliff, Rolled out a little farther than the rest.”

“Warm in December, cold in June, you say?”

“I don’t suppose the waters changed at all. You and I know enough to know it’s warm Compared with cold, and cold compared with warm. But all the fun’s in how you say a thing.”

“You’ve lived here all your life?”

“Ever since Hor

Was no bigger than a——” What, I did not hear. He drew the oxen toward him with light touches Of his slim goad on nose and offside flank, Gave them their marching orders, and was moving.


THE TUFT OF FLOWERS

I went to turn the grass once after one Who mowed it in the dew before the sun.

The dew was gone that made his blade so keen Before I came to view the levelled scene.

I looked for him behind an isle of trees; I listened for his whetstone on the breeze.

But he had gone his way, the grass all mown, And I must be, as he had been—alone,

“As all must be,” I said within my heart, “Whether they work together or apart.”

But as I said it, swift there passed me by On noiseless wing a bewildered butterfly,

Seeking with memories grown dim o’er night Some resting flower of yesterday’s delight.

And once I marked his flight go round and round, As where some flower lay withering on the ground.

And then he flew as far as eye could see, And then on tremulous wing came back to me.

I thought of questions that have no reply, And would have turned to toss the grass to dry;

But he turned first, and led my eye to look At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook,

A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.

I left my place to know them by their name, Finding them butterfly weed when I came.

The mower in the dew had loved them thus, By leaving them to flourish, not for us,

Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him. But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.

The butterfly and I had lit upon, Nevertheless, a message from the dawn.

That made me hear the wakening birds around, And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground,

And feel a spirit kindred to my own; So that henceforth I worked no more alone;

But glad with him, I worked as with his aid, And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;

And dreaming, as it were, held brotherly speech With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.

“Men work together,” I told him from the heart, “Whether they work together or apart.”


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 neighbour 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 neighbours.” Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder If I could put a notion in his head: Why do they make good neighbours? 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 offence. 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 neighbours.”


AN ENCOUNTER

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 aren’t you nowadays? And what’s the news you carry—if you know? And tell me where you’re off for—Montreal? Me? I’m not off for anywhere at all. Sometimes I wander out of beaten ways Half looking for the orchid Calypso.”


THE WOOD-PILE

Out walking in the frozen swamp one gray day I paused and said, “I will turn back from here. No, I will go on farther—and we shall see.” The hard snow held me, save where now and then One foot went through. The view was all in lines Straight up and down of tall slim trees Too much alike to mark or name a place by So as to say for certain I was here Or somewhere else: I was just far from home. A small bird flew before me. He was careful To put a tree between us when he lighted, And say no word to tell me who he was Who was so foolish as to think what he thought. He thought that I was after him for a feather— The white one in his tail; like one who takes Everything said as personal to himself. One flight out sideways would have undeceived him. And then there was a pile of wood for which I forgot him and let his little fear Carry him off the way I might have gone, Without so much as wishing him good-night. He went behind it to make his last stand. It was a cord of maple, cut and split And piled—and measured, four by four by eight. And not another like it could I see. No runner tracks in this year’s snow looped near it. And it was older sure than this year’s cutting, Or even last year’s or the year’s before. The wood was gray and the bark warping off it And the pile somewhat sunken. Clematis Had wound strings round and round it like a bundle. What held it though on one side was a tree Still growing, and on one a stake and prop, These latter about to fall. I thought that only Someone who lived in turning to fresh tasks Could so forget his handiwork on which He spent himself, the labour of his axe, And leave it there far from a useful fireplace To warm the frozen swamp as best it could With the slow smokeless burning of decay.


V


SNOW

The three stood listening to a fresh access Of wind that caught against the house a moment, Gulped snow, and then blew free again—the 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 I’ll just call up my wife and tell her I’m here—so far—and starting on again. I’ll call her softly so that if she’s wise And gone to sleep, she needn’t wake to answer.” Three times he barely stirred the bell, then listened. “Why, Lett, still up? Lett, I’m at Cole’s. I’m 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, Lett—I know— I could, but what’s the sense? The rest won’t 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. They’re in the barn.— My dear, I’m coming just the same. I didn’t Call you to ask you to invite me home.—” He lingered for some word she wouldn’t 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, “I’ll just see how the horses are.”

“Yes, do,” 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 don’t tell me where I am. I used To play——”

“You tend your horses and come back. Fred Cole, you’re going to let him!”

“Well, aren’t you? How can you help yourself?”

“I called him Brother. Why did I call him that?”

“It’s right enough. That’s 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 didn’t 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, All’s ever I heard of it, which isn’t much. But that’s not saying——Look, Fred Cole, it’s twelve, Isn’t it, now? He’s been here half an hour. He says he left the village store at nine. Three hours to do four miles—a mile an hour Or not much better. Why, it doesn’t 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!”

“Don’t 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 can’t he stay at home?”

“He had to preach.”

“It’s no night to be out.”

“He may be small, He may be good, but one thing’s sure, he’s tough.”

“And strong of stale tobacco.”

“He’ll pull through.”

“You only say so. Not another house Or shelter to put into from this place To theirs. I’m going to call his wife again.”

“Wait and he may. Let’s see what he will do. Let’s see if he will think of her again. But then I doubt he’s thinking of himself. He doesn’t look on it as anything.”

“He shan’t go—there!”

“It is a night, my dear.”

“One thing: he dicing drag God into it.”

“He don’t consider it a case for God.”

“You think so, do you? You don’t know the kind. He’s getting up a miracle this minute. Privately—to himself, right now, he’s thinking He’ll make a case of it if he succeeds, But keep still if he fails.”

“Keep still all over. He’ll be dead—dead and buried.”

“Such a trouble! Not but I’ve 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.”

“Don’t you a little?”

“Well, I don’t like what he’s 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. You’ve got us so ashamed Of being men we can’t 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.— He’s 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?”

“Fine, fine.”

“And ready for some more? My wife here Says it won’t do. You’ve got to give it up.”

“Won’t you to please me? Please! If I say please? Mr. Meserve, I’ll 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. It’s stood erect like that, There on the table, ever since I came, Trying to turn itself backward or forward, I’ve had my eye on it to make out which; If forward, then it’s with a friend’s impatience— You see I know—to get you on to things It wants to see how you will take, if backward It’s 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 times—I don’t say just how many— That varies with the things—before 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 everything’s Recurring till we answer from within. The thousandth time may prove the charm.—That leaf! It can’t turn either way. It needs the wind’s help. But the wind didn’t move it if it moved. It moved itself. The wind’s at naught in here. It couldn’t stir so sensitively poised A thing as that. It couldn’t reach the lamp To get a puff of black smoke from the flame, Or blow a rumple in the collie’s 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 haven’t, yet you give it. So false it is that what we haven’t we can’t give; So false, that what we always say is true. I’ll have to turn the leaf if no one else will. It won’t lie down. Then let it stand. Who cares?”

“I shouldn’t want to hurry you, Meserve, But if you’re going—Say you’ll stay, you know? But let me raise this curtain on a scene, And show you how it’s piling up against you. You see the snow-white through the white of frost? Ask Helen how far up the sash it’s 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, you’ll scare yourself More than you will us with such nightmare talk. It’s you it matters to, because it’s you Who have to go out into it alone.”

“Let him talk, Helen, and perhaps he’ll stay.”

“Before you drop the curtain—I’m reminded: You recollect the boy who came out here To breathe the air one winter—had 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, that’s a pretty thought’—those were his words. ‘So you can think it’s six feet deep outside, While you sit warm and read up balanced rations. You can’t get too much winter in the winter.’ Those were his words. And he went home and all But banked the daylight out of Avery’s windows. Now you and I would go to no such length. At the same time you can’t 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 hole—way 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 that—I like that. Well, now I leave you, people.”

“Come, Meserve, 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.”

“I’ll own it’s 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, it’s not because it’s dying; You’re further under in the snow—that’s 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 it’s 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, you’d take my advice And for your family’s sake stay where you are. But what good is my saying it over and over? You’ve done more than you had a right to think You could do—now. You know the risk you take In going on.”

“Our snow-storms as a rule Aren’t looked on as man-killers, and although I’d 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 wife—she doesn’t want you to. We don’t, And you yourself don’t want to. Who else is there?”

“Save us from being cornered by a woman. Well, there’s”—She told Fred afterward that in The pause right there, she thought the dreaded word Was coming, “God.” But no, he only said “Well, there’s—the 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 peopled civil questions— What? We’ve found out in one hour more about him Than we had seeing him pass by in the road A thousand times. If that’s the way he preaches! You didn’t think you’d keep him after all. Oh, I’m not blaming you. He didn’t leave you Much say in the matter, and I’m just as glad We’re not in for a night of him. No sleep If he had stayed. The least thing set him going. It’s quiet as an empty church without him.”

“But how much better off are we as it is? We’ll have to sit here till we know he’s safe.”

“Yes, I suppose you’ll want to, but I shouldn’t. He knows what he can do, or he wouldn’t try. Get into bed I say, and get some rest. He won’t come back, and if he telephones, It won’t be for an hour or two.”

“Well then We can’t be any help by sitting here And living his fight through with him, I suppose.


Cole had been telephoning in the dark. Mrs. Cole’s voice came from an inner room: “Did she call you or you call her?”

“She me. You’d better dress: you won’t go back to bed. We must have been asleep: it’s three and after.”

“Had she been ringing long? I’ll get my wrapper. I want to speak to her.”

“All she said was, He hadn’t 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!”

“Don’t begin that. You did the best you could To keep him—though perhaps you didn’t quite Conceal a wish to see him show the spunk To disobey you. Much his wife’ll thank you.”

“Fred, after all I said! You shan’t make out That it was any way but what it was. Did she let on by any word she said She didn’t thank me?”

“When I told her ‘Gone,’ ‘Well then,’ she said, and ‘Well then’—like 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. I’ll ask her why she let him. She didn’t dare to speak when he was here. Their number’s—twenty-one? The thing won’t work. Someone’s receiver’s down. The handle stumbles. The stubborn thing, the way it jars your arm! It’s theirs. She’s dropped it from her hand and gone.”

“Try speaking. Say ‘Hello’!”

“Hello, Hello.”

“What do you hear?”

“I hear an empty room— You know—it sounds that way. And yes, I hear— I think I hear a clock—and windows rattling. No step though. If she’s there she’s sitting down.”

“Shout, she may hear you.”

“Shouting is no good.”

“Keep speaking then.”

“Hello. Hello. Hello. You don’t suppose—? She wouldn’t go out doors?”

“I’m half afraid that’s just what she might do.”

“And leave the children?”

“Wait and call again. You can’t hear whether she has left the door Wide open and the wind’s blown out the lamp And the fire’s died and the room’s dark and cold?”

“One of two things, either she’s gone to bed Or gone out doors.”

“In which case both are lost. Do you know what she’s like? Have you ever met her? It’s strange she doesn’t want to speak to us.” “Fred, see if you can hear what I hear. Come.”

“A clock maybe.”

“Don’t you hear something else?”

“Not talking.”

“No.”

“Why, yes, I hear—what is it?”

“What do you say it is?”

“A baby’s crying! Frantic it sounds, though muffled and far off.”

“Its mother wouldn’t let it cry like that, Not if she’s there.”

“What do you make of it?”

“There’s only one thing possible to make, That is, assuming—that she has gone out. Of course she hasn’t though.” They both sat down Helpless. “There’s nothing we can do till morning.”

“Fred, I shan’t let you think of going out.”

“Hold on.” The double bell began to chirp. They started up. Fred took the telephone. “Hello, Meserve. You’re there, then!—And your wife?

Good! Why I asked—she didn’t seem to answer. He says she went to let him in the barn.— We’re glad. Oh, say no more about it, man. Drop in and see us when you’re passing.”

“Well. She has him then, though what she wants him for I don’t 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 he’d 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 you’d feel you’d been too much concerned.”

“You think you haven’t 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 let’s forgive him. We’ve had a share in one night of his life. What’ll you bet he ever calls again?”


IN THE HOME STRETCH

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 has—parlor, bed-room, And dining-room—thrown 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 that’s on top Of something else,” she laughed. “Oh, put it where You can to-night, and go. It’s 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 I’ll 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 it’s scarce enough to call A view.”

“And yet you think you like it, dear?”

“That’s what you’re 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, The wood.”

“What kind of years?”

“Why, latter years—

Different from early years.”

“I see them, too.

You didn’t count them?”

“No, the further off So ran together that I didn’t try to. It can scarce be that they would be in number We’d 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. They’re 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 it’s 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 won’t last us long. It’s something, though, to know we’re 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!”

“They’re not gone yet.”

“We’ve 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?”

Again 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. “It’s good luck when you move in to begin With good luck with your stovepipe. Never mind, It’s not so bad in the country, settled down, When people ‘re getting on in life. You’ll 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. There’s 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 ain’t know what it is you’re ask.” He doffed his cap and held it with both hands Across his chest to make as ‘twere a bow: “We’re 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 don’t 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.

“It’s all so much What we have always wanted, I confess It’s seeming bad for a moment makes it seem Even worse still, and so on down, down, down. It’s nothing; it’s 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. “There’s that we didn’t lose! And these!” Some matches he unpocketed. “For food— The meals we’ve had no one can take from us. I wish that everything on earth were just As certain as the meals we’ve had. I wish The meals we haven’t had were, anyway. What have you you know where to lay your hands on?”

“The bread we bought in passing at the store. There’s butter somewhere, too.”

“Let’s rend the bread. I’ll light the fire for company for you; You’ll 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. He’ll know what he would do if he were we, And all at once. He’ll plan for us and plan To help us, but he’ll take it out in planning. Well, you can set the table with the loaf. Let’s see you find your loaf. I’ll light the fire. I like chairs occupying other chairs Not offering a lady—”

“There again, Joe! You’re tired.

“I’m drunk-nonsensical tired out; Don’t mind a word I say. It’s a day’s 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.”

“It’s all so much what I have always wanted, I can’t believe it’s what you wanted, too.”

“Shouldn’t you like to know?”

“I’d like to know If it is what you wanted, then how much You wanted it for me.”

“A troubled conscience! You don’t want me to tell if I don’t know.”

“I don’t want to find out what can’t be known. But who first said the word to come?”

“My dear, It’s who first thought the thought. You’re searching, Joe, For things that don’t exist; I mean beginnings. Ends and beginnings—there are no such things. There are only middles.”

“What is this?”

“This life? Our sitting here by lantern-light together Amid the wreckage of a former home? You won’t deny the lantern isn’t 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 that’s 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. I’ve 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 wasn’t lived in? I’ve 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: I’m 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 they’d always danced there.


VI


THE ROAD NOT TAKEN

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveller, 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 travelled by, And that has made all the difference.


THE OVEN BIRD

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.


A VANTAGE POINT

If tired of trees I seek again mankind, Well I know where to hie me—in the dawn, To a slope where the cattle keep the lawn. There amid lolling juniper reclined, Myself unseen, I see in white defined Far off the homes of men, and farther still, The graves of men on an opposing hill, Living or dead, whichever are most to mind.

And if by noon I have too much of these, I have but to turn on my arm, and lo, The sun-burned hillside sets my face aglow My breathing shakes the bluet like a breeze, I smell the earth, I smell the bruised plant, I look into the crater of the ant.


THE SOUND OF TREES

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.


HYLA BROOK

By June our brook’s 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.


MY NOVEMBER GUEST

My Sorrow, when she’s here with me, Thinks these dark days of autumn rain Are beautiful as days can be; She loves the bare, the withered tree; She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay. She talks and I am fain to list: She’s glad the birds are gone away, She’s glad her simple worsted grey Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees, The faded earth, the heavy sky, The beauties she so truly sees, She thinks I have no eye for these, And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know The love of bare November days Before the coming of the snow, But it were vain to tell her so, And they are better for her praise.


RANGE-FINDING

The battle rent a cobweb diamond-strung And cut a flower beside a ground bird’s 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 O’ernight ‘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.


OCTOBER

O hushed October morning mild, Thy leaves have ripened to the fall; To-morrow’s wind, if it be wild, Should waste them all. The crows above the forest call; To-morrow they may form and go. O hushed October morning mild, Begin the hours of this day slow, Make the day seem to us less brief. Hearts not averse to being beguiled, Beguile us in the way you know; Release one leaf at break of day; At noon release another leaf; One from our trees, one far away; Retard the sun with gentle mist; Enchant the land with amethyst. Slow, slow! For the grapes’ sake, if they were all, Whose leaves already are burnt with frost, Whose clustered fruit must else be lost— For the grapes’ sake along the wall.


TO THE THAWING WIND

Come with rain, O loud Southwester! Bring the singer, bring the nester; Give the buried flower a dream; Make the settled snow-bank steam; Find the brown beneath the white; But whate’er you do to-night, Bathe my window, make it flow, Melt it as the ice will go; Melt the glass and leave the sticks Like a hermit’s crucifix; Burst into my narrow stall; Swing the picture on the wall; Run the rattling pages o’er; Scatter poems on the floor; Turn the poet out of door.


VII


A TIME TO TALK

When a friend calls to me from the road And slows his horse to a meaning walk I don’t stand still and look around On all the hills I haven’t 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.


THE CODE

There were three in the meadow by the brook Gathering up windrows, piling cocks of hay, With an eye always lifted toward the west Where an irregular sun-bordered cloud Darkly advanced with a perpetual dagger Flickering across its bosom. Suddenly One helper, thrusting pitchfork in the ground, Marched himself off the field and home. One stayed. The town-bred farmer failed to understand.

“What was there wrong?”

“Something you just now said.”

“What did I say?”

“About our taking pains. “To cock the hay?—because it’s going to shower? I said that more than half an hour ago. I said it to myself as much as you.”

“You didn’t know. But James is one big fool. He thought you meant to find fault with his work. That’s what the average farmer would have meant. James would take time, of course, to chew it over Before he acted: he’s just got round to act.”

“He is a fool if that’s the way he takes me.”

“Don’t let it bother you. You’ve found out something. The hand that knows his business won’t be told To do work better or faster—those two things. I’m as particular as anyone: Most likely I’d have served you just the same. But I know you don’t understand our ways. You were just talking what was in your mind, What was in all our minds, and you weren’t hinting.

Tell you a story of what happened once: I was up here in Salem at a man’s Named Sanders with a gang of four or five Doing the haying. No one liked the boss. He was one of the kind sports call a spider, All wiry arms and legs that spread out wavy From a humped body nigh as big’s a biscuit. But work! that man could work, especially If by so doing he could get more work, Out of his hired help. I’m not denying He was hard on himself. I couldn’t find That he kept any hours—not for himself. Daylight and lantern-light were one to him: I’ve heard him pounding in the barn all night. But what he liked was someone to encourage. Them that he couldn’t lead he’d get behind And drive, the way you can, you know, in mowing— Keep at their heels and threaten to mow their legs off. I’d seen about enough of his bulling tricks (We call that bulling). I’d been watching him. So when he paired off with me in the hayfield To load the load, thinks I, Look out for trouble. I built the load and topped it off; old Sanders Combed it down with a rake and says, ‘O. K.’ Everything went well till we reached the barn With a big jag to empty in a bay. You understand that meant the easy job For the man up on top of throwing down The hay and rolling it off wholesale, Where on a mow it would have been slow lifting. You wouldn’t think a fellow’d need much urging Under those circumstances, would you now? But the old fool seizes his fork in both hands, And looking up bewhiskered out of the pit, Shouts like an army captain, ‘Let her come! Thinks I, D’ye mean it? ‘What was that you said?’ I asked out loud, so’s there’d be no mistake, ‘Did you say, Let her come?’ ‘Yes, let her come.’ He said it over, but he said it softer. Never you say a thing like that to a man, Not if he values what he is. God, I’d as soon Murdered him as left out his middle name. I’d built the load and knew right where to find it. Two or three forkfuls I picked lightly round for Like meditating, and then I just dug in And dumped the rackful on him in ten lots, I looked over the side once in the dust And caught sight of him treading-water-like, Keeping his head above. ‘Damn ye,’ I says, ‘That gets ye!’ He squeaked like a squeezed rat. That was the last I saw or heard of him. I cleaned the rack and drove out to cool off. As I sat mopping hayseed from my neck, And sort of waiting to be asked about it, One of the boys sings out, ‘Where’s the old man?’ ‘I left him in the barn under the hay. If ye want him, ye can go and dig him out.’ They realised from the way I swobbed my neck More than was needed something must be up. They headed for the barn; I stayed where I was. They told me afterward. First they forked hay, A lot of it, out into the barn floor. Nothing! They listened for him. Not a rustle. I guess they thought I’d spiked him in the temple Before I buried him, or I couldn’t have managed. They excavated more. ‘Go keep his wife Out of the barn.’ Someone looked in a window, And curse me if he wasn’t in the kitchen Slumped way down in a chair, with both his feet Stuck in the oven, the hottest day that summer. He looked so clean disgusted from behind There was no one that dared to stir him up, Or let him know that he was being looked at. Apparently I hadn’t buried him (I may have knocked him down); but my just trying To bury him had hurt his dignity. He had gone to the house so’s not to meet me. He kept away from us all afternoon. We tended to his hay. We saw him out After a while picking peas in his garden: He couldn’t keep away from doing something.”

“Weren’t you relieved to find he wasn’t dead?”

“No! and yet I don’t know—it’s hard to say. I went about to kill him fair enough.”

“You took an awkward way. Did he discharge you?” “Discharge me? No! He knew I did just right.”


A HUNDRED COLLARS

Lancaster bore him—such a little town, Such a great man. It doesn’t see him often Of late years, though he keeps the old homestead And sends the children down there with their mother To run wild in the summer—a little wild. Sometimes he joins them for a day or two And sees old friends he somehow can’t get near. They meet him in the general store at night, Preoccupied with formidable mail, Rifling a printed letter as he talks. They seem afraid. He wouldn’t have it so: Though a great scholar, he’s a democrat, If not at heart, at least on principle. Lately when coming up to Lancaster His train being late he missed another train And had four hours to wait at Woodsville Junction After eleven o’clock at night. Too tired To think of sitting such an ordeal out, He turned to the hotel to find a bed.

“No room,” the night clerk said. “Unless——” Woodsville’s a place of shrieks and wandering lamps And cars that shock and rattle—and one hotel.

“You say ‘unless.’”

“Unless you wouldn’t mind Sharing a room with someone else.”

“Who is it?”

“A man.

“So I should hope. What kind of man?”

“I know him: he’s all right. A man’s a man. Separate beds of course you understand.”

The night clerk blinked his eyes and dared him on. “Who’s that man sleeping in the office chair? Has he had the refusal of my chance?”

“He was afraid of being robbed or murdered. What do you say?”

“I’ll have to have a bed.”

The night clerk led him up three flights of stairs And down a narrow passage full of doors, At the last one of which he knocked and entered, “Lafe, here’s a fellow wants to share your room.”

“Show him this way. I’m not afraid of him, I’m not so drunk I can’t take care of myself.” The night clerk clapped a bedstead on the foot. “This will be yours. Good-night,” he said, and went.

“Lafe was the name, I think?”

“Yes, Layfayette. You got it the first time. And yours?”

“Magoon.

Doctor Magoon.”

“A Doctor?”

“Well, a teacher.”

“Professor Square-the-circle-till-you’re-tired? Hold on, there’s something I don’t think of now That I had on my mind to ask the first Man that knew anything I happened in with. I’ll ask you later—don’t let me forget it.” The Doctor looked at Lafe and looked away. A man? A brute. Naked above the waist, He sat there creased and shining in the light, Fumbling the buttons in a well-starched shirt. “I’m moving into a size-larger shirt. I’ve felt mean lately; mean’s no name for it. I just found what the matter was to-night: I’ve been a-choking like a nursery tree When it outgrows the wide band of its name tag. I blamed it on the hot spell we’ve been having. ‘Twas nothing but my foolish hanging back, Not liking to own up I’d grown a size. Number eighteen this is. What size do you wear?”

The Doctor caught his throat convulsively. “Oh—ah—fourteen—fourteen.”

“Fourteen! You say so! I can remember when I wore fourteen. And come to think I must have back at home More than a hundred collars, size fourteen. Too bad to waste them all. You ought to have them. They’re yours and welcome; let me send them to you. What makes you stand there on one leg like that? You’re not much furtherer than where Kike left you, You act as if you wished you hadn’t come. Sit down or lie down friend; you make me nervous.”

The Doctor made a subdued dash for it, And propped himself at bay against a pillow.

“Not that way, with your shoes on Kike’s white bed. You can’t rest that way. Let me pull your shoes off.”

“Don’t touch me, please—I say, don’t touch me, please. I’ll not be put to bed by you, my man.”

“Just as you say. Have it your own way then. ‘My man’ is it? You talk like a professor. Speaking of who’s afraid of who, however, I’m thinking I have more to lose than you If anything should happen to be wrong. Who wants to cut your number fourteen throat! Let’s have a show down as an evidence Of good faith. There is ninety dollars. Come, if you’re not afraid.”

I‘m not afraid. There’s five: that’s all I carry.”

“I can search you? Where are you moving over to? Stay still.

You’d better tuck your money under you And sleep on it the way I always do When I’m with people I don’t trust at night.”

“Will you believe me if I put it there Right on the counterpane—that I do trust you?”

“You’d say so, Mister Man.—I’m a collector. My ninety isn’t mine—you won’t think that. I pick it up a dollar at a time All round the country for the Weekly News, Published in Bow. You know the Weekly News?

“Known it since I was young.”

“Then you know me. Now we are getting on together—talking. I’m sort of Something for it at the front. My business is to find what people want: They pay for it, and so they ought to have it. Fairbanks, he says to me—he’s editor— Feel out the public sentiment—he says. A good deal comes on me when all is said. The only trouble is we disagree In politics: I’m Vermont Democrat— You know what that is, sort of double-dyed; The News has always been Republican. Fairbanks, he says to me, ‘Help us this year,’ Meaning by us their ticket. ‘No,’ I says, ‘I can’t and won’t. You’ve been in long enough: It’s time you turned around and boosted us. You’ll have to pay me more than ten a week If I’m expected to elect Bill Taft. I doubt if I could do it anyway.’”

“You seem to shape the paper’s policy.”

“You see I’m in with everybody, know ‘em all. I almost know their farms as well as they do.”

“You drive around? It must be pleasant work.”

“It’s business, but I can’t say it’s not fun. What I like best’s the lay of different farms, Coming out on them from a stretch of woods, Or over a hill or round a sudden corner. I like to find folks getting out in spring, Raking the dooryard, working near the house. Later they get out further in the fields. Everything’s shut sometimes except the barn; The family’s all away in some back meadow. There’s a hay load a-coming—when it comes. And later still they all get driven in: The fields are stripped to lawn, the garden patches Stripped to bare ground, the apple trees To whips and poles. There’s nobody about. The chimney, though, keeps up a good brisk smoking. And I lie back and ride. I take the reins Only when someone’s coming, and the mare Stops when she likes: I tell her when to go. I’ve spoiled Jemima in more ways than one. She’s got so she turns in at every house As if she had some sort of curvature, No matter if I have no errand there. She thinks I’m sociable. I maybe am. It’s seldom I get down except for meals, though. Folks entertain me from the kitchen doorstep, All in a family row down to the youngest.”

“One would suppose they might not be as glad To see you as you are to see them.”

“Oh, Because I want their dollar. I don’t want Anything they’ve not got. I never dun. I’m there, and they can pay me if they like. I go nowhere on purpose: I happen by. Sorry there is no cup to give you a drink. I drink out of the bottle—not your style. Mayn’t I offer you——?”

“No, no, no, thank you.

“Just as you say. Here’s looking at you then.— And now I’m leaving you a little while.

You’ll rest easier when I’m gone, perhaps— Lie down—let yourself go and get some sleep. But first—let’s see—what was I going to ask you? Those collars—who shall I address them to, Suppose you aren’t awake when I come back?”

“Really, friend, I can’t let you. You—may need them.”

“Not till I shrink, when they’ll be out of style.”

“But really—I have so many collars.”

“I don’t know who I rather would have have them. They’re only turning yellow where they are. But you’re the doctor as the saying is. I’ll put the light out. Don’t you wait for me: I’ve just begun the night. You get some sleep. I’ll knock so-fashion and peep round the door When I come back so you’ll know who it is. There’s nothing I’m afraid of like scared people. I don’t want you should shoot me in the head. What am I doing carrying off this bottle? There now, you get some sleep.”

He shut the door The Doctor slid a little down the pillow.


BLUEBERRIES

“You ought to have seen what I saw on my way To the village, through Mortenson’s pasture to-day: Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb, Real sky-blue, and heavy, and ready to drum In the cavernous pail of the first one to come! And all ripe together, not some of them green And some of them ripe! You ought to have seen!”

“I don’t know what part of the pasture you mean.”

“You know where they cut off the woods—let me see— It was two years ago—or no!—can it be No longer than that?—and the following fall The fire ran and burned it all up but the wall.”

“Why, there hasn’t been time for the bushes to grow. That’s always the way with the blueberries, though: There may not have been the ghost of a sign Of them anywhere under the shade of the pine, But get the pine out of the way, you may burn The pasture all over until not a fern Or grass-blade is left, not to mention a stick, And presto, they’re up all around you as thick And hard to explain as a conjurer’s trick.”

“It must be on charcoal they fatten their fruit. I taste in them sometimes the flavour of soot.

And after all really they’re ebony skinned: The blue’s but a mist from the breath of the wind, A tarnish that goes at a touch of the hand, And less than the tan with which pickers are tanned.”

“Does Mortenson know what he has, do you think?”

“He may and not care and so leave the chewink To gather them for him—you know what he is. He won’t make the fact that they’re rightfully his An excuse for keeping us other folk out.”

“I wonder you didn’t see Loren about.”

“The best of it was that I did. Do you know, I was just getting through what the field had to show And over the wall and into the road, When who should come by, with a democrat-load Of all the young chattering Lorens alive, But Loren, the fatherly, out for a drive.”

“He saw you, then? What did he do? Did he frown?”

“He just kept nodding his head up and down. You know how politely he always goes by. But he thought a big thought—I could tell by his eye— Which being expressed, might be this in effect: ‘I have left those there berries, I shrewdly suspect, To ripen too long. I am greatly to blame.’”

“He’s a thriftier person than some I could name.”

“He seems to be thrifty; and hasn’t he need, With the mouths of all those young Lorens to feed? He has brought them all up on wild berries, they say, Like birds. They store a great many away. They eat them the year round, and those they don’t eat They sell in the store and buy shoes for their feet.”

“Who cares what they say? It’s a nice way to live, Just taking what Nature is willing to give, Not forcing her hand with harrow and plow.”

“I wish you had seen his perpetual bow— And the air of the youngsters! Not one of them turned, And they looked so solemn-absurdly concerned.”

“I wish I knew half what the flock of them know Of where all the berries and other things grow, Cranberries in bogs and raspberries on top Of the boulder-strewn mountain, and when they will crop. I met them one day and each had a flower Stuck into his berries as fresh as a shower; Some strange kind—they told me it hadn’t a name.”

“I’ve told you how once, not long after we came, I almost provoked poor Loren to mirth By going to him of all people on earth To ask if he knew any fruit to be had For the picking. The rascal, he said he’d be glad To tell if he knew. But the year had been bad. There had been some berries—but those were all gone. He didn’t say where they had been. He went on: ‘I’m sure—I’m sure’—as polite as could be. He spoke to his wife in the door, ‘Let me see, Marne, we don’t know any good berrying place?’ It was all he could do to keep a straight face.”

“If he thinks all the fruit that grows wild is for him, He’ll find he’s mistaken. See here, for a whim, We’ll pick in the Mortensons’ pasture this year. We’ll go in the morning, that is, if it’s clear, And the sun shines out warm: the vines must be wet. It’s so long since I picked I almost forget How we used to pick berries: we took one look round, Then sank out of sight like trolls underground, And saw nothing more of each other, or heard, Unless when you said I was keeping a bird Away from its nest, and I said it was you. ‘Well, one of us is.’ For complaining it flew Around and around us. And then for a while We picked, till I feared you had wandered a mile, And I thought I had lost you. I lifted a shout Too loud for the distance you were, it turned out, For when you made answer, your voice was as low As talking—you stood up beside me, you know.”

“We shan’t have the place to ourselves to enjoy— Not likely, when all the young Lorens deploy. They’ll be there to-morrow, or even to-night. They won’t be too friendly—they may be polite— To people they look on as having no right To pick where they’re picking. But we won’t complain. You ought to have seen how it looked in the rain, The fruit mixed with water in layers of leaves, Like two kinds of jewels, a vision for thieves.”


BROWN’S DESCENT OR, THE WILLY-NILLY SLIDE

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! He’s celebrating something strange. I wonder if he’s 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.

“Well—I—be——” 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, I’m asked if I Should say our stock was petered out, And this is my sincere reply:

Yankees are what they always were. Don’t think Brown ever gave up hope Of getting home again because He couldn’t 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 o’clock,

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.

But now he snapped his eyes three times; Then shook his lantern, saying, “Ile’s ‘Bout out!” and took the long way home By road, a matter of several miles.


VIII


REVELATION

We make ourselves a place apart Behind light words that tease and flout, But oh, the agitated heart Till someone really find us out.

A pity if the case require (Or so we say) that in the end We speak the literal to inspire The understanding of a friend.

But so with all, from babes that play At hide-and-seek to God afar, So all who hide too well away Must speak and tell us where they are.


STORM-FEAR

When the wind works against us in the dark, And pelts with snow The lower chamber window on the east, And whispers with a sort of stifled bark, The beast, “Come out! Come out!”— It costs no inward struggle not to go, Ah, do! I count our strength, Two and a child, Those of us not asleep subdued to mark How the cold creeps as the fire dies at length,— How drifts are piled, Dooryard and road ungraded, Till even the comforting barn grows far away, And my heart owns a doubt Whether ‘tis in us to arise with day And save ourselves unaided.


BOND AND FREE

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 world’s 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.


FLOWER-GATHERING

I left you in the morning, And in the morning glow, You walked a way beside me To make me sad to go. Do you know me in the gloaming, Gaunt and dusty grey with roaming? Are you dumb because you know me not, Or dumb because you know?

All for me? And not a question For the faded flowers gay That could take me from beside you For the ages of a day? They are yours, and be the measure Of their worth for you to treasure, The measure of the little while That I’ve been long away.


RELUCTANCE

Out through the fields and the woods And over the walls I have wended; I have climbed the hills of view And looked at the world, and descended; I have come by the highway home, And lo, it is ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground, Save those that the oak is keeping To ravel them one by one And let them go scraping and creeping Out over the crusted snow, When others are sleeping.

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still, No longer blown hither and thither; The last lone aster is gone; The flowers of the witch-hazel wither; The heart is still aching to seek, But the feet question “Whither?”

Ah, when to the heart of man Was it ever less than a treason To go with the drift of things, To yield with a grace to reason, And bow and accept the end Of a love or a season?


INTO MY OWN

One of my wishes is that those dark trees, So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze, Were not, as ‘twere, the merest mask of gloom, But stretched away unto the edge of doom.

I should not be withheld but that some day Into their vastness I should steal away, Fearless of ever finding open land, Or highway where the slow wheel pours the sand.

I do not see why I should e’er turn back, Or those should not set forth upon my track To overtake me, who should miss me here And long to know if still I held them dear.

They would not find me changed from him they knew— Only more sure of all I thought was true.



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