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Robert frost

Robert Frost

POEMS
FOLLOWERS
56

We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.

1

The old dog barks backwards without getting up.
I can remember when he was a pup.

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 off—
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.

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 that 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 off -
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.

No speed of wind or water rushing by
But you have speed far greater. You can climb
Back up a stream of radiance to the sky,
And back through history up the stream of time.
And you were given this swiftness, not for haste
Nor chiefly that you may go where you will,
But in the rush of everything to waste,
That you may have the power of standing still–
Off any still or moving thing you say.
Two such as you with such a master speed
Cannot be parted nor be swept away
From one another once you are agreed
That life is only life forevermore
Together wing to wing and oar to oar

Others taunt me with having knelt at well-curbs
Always wrong to the light, so never seeing
Deeper down in the well than where the water
Gives me back in a shining surface picture
Me myself in the summer heaven godlike
Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs.
Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb,
I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture,
Through the picture, a something white, uncertain,
Something more of the depths—and then I lost it.
Water came to rebuke the too clear water.
One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple
Shook whatever it was lay there at bottom,
Blurred it, blotted it out. What was that whiteness?
Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.

1

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,           5
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           10
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           15
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?”           20
 
“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,           25
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.”           30
 
“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           35
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           40
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           45
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           50
In alternation with the weeds, the field,  
The wood.”  
 
“What kind of years?”  
“Why, latter years—  
Different from early years.”           55
“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           60
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,           65
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,           70
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!           75
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           80
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.”           85
 
“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           90
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,           95
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           100
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           105
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           110
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           115
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—           120
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           125
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.”           130
 
“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.”           135
 
“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.           140
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.”           145
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           150
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.”           155
 
“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           160
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.           165
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.”           170
 
“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.”           175
 
“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           180
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.           185
 
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.           190
There are only middles.”  
 
“What is this?”  
“This life?  
Our sitting here by lantern-light together  
Amid the wreckage of a former home?           195
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           200
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.”           205
 
“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           210
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,           215
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:           220
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,           225
As much at home as if they’d always danced there.

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

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

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

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

We sit indoors and talk of the cold outside.
And every gust that gathers strength and heaves
Is a threat to the house. But the house has long been tried.
We think of the tree. If it never again has leaves,
We’ll know, we say, that this was the night it died.
It is very far north, we admit, to have brought the peach.
What comes over a man, is it soul or mind
That to no limits and bounds he can stay confined?
You would say his ambition was to extend the reach
Clear to the Arctic of every living kind.
Why is his nature forever so hard to teach
That though there is no fixed line between wrong and right,
There are roughly zones whose laws must be obeyed.
There is nothing much we can do for the tree tonight.
But we can’t help feeling more than a little betrayed
That the northwest wind should rise to such a height
Just when the cold went down so many below.
The tree has no leaves and may never have them again.
We must wait till some months hence in the spring to know.
But if it is destined never again to grow,
It can blame this limitless trait in the hearts of men.

As I went down the hill along the wall
There was a gate I had leaned at for the view
And had just turned from when I first saw you
As you came up the hill. We met. But all
We did that day was mingle great and small
Footprints in summer dust as if we drew
The figure of our being less than two
But more than one as yet. Your parasol

Pointed the decimal off with one deep thrust.
And all the time we talked you seemed to see
Something down there to smile at in the dust.
(Oh, it was without prejudice to me!)
Afterward I went past what you had passed
Before we met and you what I had passed.

Inscription for a Garden Wall

Winds blow the open grassy places bleak;
But where this old wall burns a sunny cheek,
They eddy over it too toppling weak
To blow the earth or anything self-clear;
Moisture and color and odor thicken here.
The hours of daylight gather atmosphere.

A Stranger came to the door at eve,
      And he spoke the bridegroom fair.
He bore a green-white stick in his hand,
      And, for all burden, care.
He asked with the eyes more than the lips
      For a shelter for the night,
And he turned and looked at the road afar
      Without a window light.

The bridegroom came forth into the porch
      With, ‘Let us look at the sky,
And question what of the night to be,
      Stranger, you and I.’
The woodbine leaves littered the yard,
      The woodbine berries were blue,
Autumn, yes, winter was in the wind;
      ‘Stranger, I wish I knew.’

Within, the bride in the dusk alone
      Bent over the open fire,
Her face rose-red with the glowing coal
      And the thought of the heart’s desire.

The bridegroom looked at the weary road,
      Yet saw but her within,
And wished her heart in a case of gold
      And pinned with a silver pin.

The bridegroom thought it little to give
      A dole of bread, a purse,
A heartfelt prayer for the poor of God,
      Or for the rich a curse;

But whether or not a man was asked
      To mar the love of two
By harboring woe in the bridal house,
      The bridegroom wished he knew.

1