The sentencing goes blithely on its way
And takes the playfully objected rhyme
As surely as it takes the stroke and time
In having its undeviable say.
Where had I heard this wind before
Change like this to a deeper roar?
What would it take my standing there for,
Holding open a restive door,
Looking down hill to a frothy shore?
Summer was past and the day was past.
Sombre clouds in the west were massed.
Out on the porch’s sagging floor,
Leaves got up in a coil and hissed,
Blindly struck at my knee and missed.
Something sinister in the tone
Told me my secret must be known:
Word I was in the house alone
Somehow must have gotten abroad,
Word I was in my life alone,
Word I had no one left but God.
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.
All crying, ‘We will go with you, O Wind!’
The foliage follow him, leaf and stem;
But a sleep oppresses them as they go,
And they end by bidding them as they go,
And they end by bidding him stay with them.
Since ever they flung abroad in spring
The leaves had promised themselves this flight,
Who now would fain seek sheltering wall,
Or thicket, or hollow place for the night.
And now they answer his summoning blast
With an ever vaguer and vaguer stir,
Or at utmost a little reluctant whirl
That drops them no further than where they were.
I only hope that when I am free
As they are free to go in quest
Of the knowledge beyond the bounds of life
It may not seem better to me to rest.
We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen—ground—swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending—time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old—stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’
But it isn’t as if
There wasn’t always Hudson’s Bay
And the fur trade,
A small skiff
And a paddle blade.
I can just see my tent pegged,
And me on the floor,
And a trapper looking in at the door
With furs to sell.
His name’s Joe,
And between what he doesn’t know
And won’t tell
About where Henry Hudson’s gone,
I can’t say he’s much help;
But we get on.
The seal yelp
On an ice cake.
It’s not men by some mistake?
There’s not a soul
For a windbreak
Between me and the North Pole—
Except always John-Joe,
My French Indian Esquimaux,
And he’s off setting traps
In one himself perhaps.
Give a headshake
Over so much bay
In snow and mist
That doesn’t exist,
I was going to say,
For God, man, or beast’s sake,
Yet does perhaps for all three.
Don’t ask Joe
What it is to him.
It’s sometimes dim
What it is to me,
Unless it be
It’s the old captain’s dark fate
Who failed to find or force a strait
In its two-thousand-mile coast;
And his crew left him where be failed,
And nothing came of all be sailed.
It’s to say, ‘You and I—’
To such a ghost—
You and I
With the dead race of the Great Auk!'
And, 'Better defeat almost,
If seen clear,
Than life’s victories of doubt
That need endless talk-talk
To make them 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 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.
‘Fred, where is north?’
‘North? North is there, my love.
The brook runs west.’
‘West—running Brook then call it.’
(West—Running Brook men call it to this day.)
'What does it think k’s doing running west
When all the other country brooks flow east
To reach the ocean? It must be the brook
Can trust itself to go by contraries
The way I can with you —and you with me —
Because we’re —we’re —I don’t know what we are.
What are we?'
‘Young or new?’
'We must be something.
We’ve said we two. Let’s change that to we three.
As you and I are married to each other,
We’ll both be married to the brook. We’ll build
Our bridge across it, and the bridge shall be
Our arm thrown over it asleep beside it.
Look, look, it’s waving to us with a wave
To let us know it hears me.'
‘ ’Why, my dear,
That wave’s been standing off this jut of shore —'
(The black stream, catching a sunken rock,
Flung backward on itself in one white wave,
And the white water rode the black forever,
Not gaining but not losing, like a bird
White feathers from the struggle of whose breast
Flecked the dark stream and flecked the darker pool
Below the point, and were at last driven wrinkled
In a white scarf against the far shore alders.)
'That wave’s been standing off this jut of shore
Ever since rivers, I was going to say,'
Were made in heaven. It wasn’t waved to us.'
'It wasn’t, yet it was. If not to you
It was to me —in an annunciation.'
'Oh, if you take it off to lady—land,
As’t were the country of the Amazons
We men must see you to the confines of
And leave you there, ourselves forbid to enter,—
It is your brook! I have no more to say.'
‘Yes, you have, too. Go on. You thought of something.’
'Speaking of contraries, see how the brook
In that white wave runs counter to itself.
It is from that in water we were from
Long, long before we were from any creature.
Here we, in our impatience of the steps,
Get back to the beginning of beginnings,
The stream of everything that runs away.
Some say existence like a Pirouot
And Pirouette, forever in one place,
Stands still and dances, but it runs away,
It seriously, sadly, runs away
To fill the abyss’ void with emptiness.
It flows beside us in this water brook,
But it flows over us. It flows between us
To separate us for a panic moment.
It flows between us, over us, and with us.
And it is time, strength, tone, light, life and love—
And even substance lapsing unsubstantial;
The universal cataract of death
That spends to nothingness —and unresisted,
Save by some strange resistance in itself,
Not just a swerving, but a throwing back,
As if regret were in it and were sacred.
It has this throwing backward on itself
So that the fall of most of it is always
Raising a little, sending up a little.
Our life runs down in sending up the clock.
The brook runs down in sending up our life.
The sun runs down in sending up the brook.
And there is something sending up the sun.
It is this backward motion toward the source,
Against the stream, that most we see ourselves in,
The tribute of the current to the source.
It is from this in nature we are from.
It is most us.'
‘To—day will be the day....You said so.’
‘No, to—day will be the day
You said the brook was called West—running Brook.’
‘To—day will be the day of what we both said.’
He thought he kept the universe alone;
For all the voice in answer he could wake
Was but the mocking echo of his own
From some tree-hidden cliff across the lake.
Some morning from the boulder-broken beach
He would cry out on life, that what it wants
Is not its own love back in copy speech,
But counter-love, original response.
And nothing ever came of what he cried
Unless it was the embodiment that crashed
In the cliff’s talus on the other side,
And then in the far distant water splashed,
But after a time allowed for it to swim,
Instead of proving human when it neared
And someone else additional to him,
As a great buck it powerfully appeared,
Pushing the crumpled water up ahead,
And landed pouring like a waterfall,
And stumbled through the rocks with horny tread,
And forced the underbrush—and that was all.
A lantern light from deeper in the barn
Shone on a man and woman in the door
And threw their lurching shadows on a house
Near by, all dark in every glossy window.
A horse’s hoof pawed once the hollow floor,
And the back of the gig they stood beside
Moved in a little. The man grasped a wheel,
The woman spoke out sharply, ‘Whoa, stand still!’
‘I saw it just as plain as a white plate,’
She said, 'as the light on the dashboard ran
Along the bushes at the roadside-a man’s face.
You must have seen it too.'
'I didn’t see it.
Are you sure—'
'Yes, I’m sure!'
‘-it was a face?’
'Joel, I’ll have to look. I can’t go in,
I can’t, and leave a thing like that unsettled.
Doors locked and curtains drawn will make no difference.
I always have felt strange when we came home
To the dark house after so long an absence,
And the key rattled loudly into place
Seemed to warn someone to be getting out
At one door as we entered at another.
What if I’m right, and someone all the time–
Don’t hold my arm!'
'I say it’s someone passing.'
'You speak as if this were a travelled road.
You forget where we are. What is beyond
That he’d be going to or coming from
At such an hour of night, and on foot too.
What was he standing still for in the bushes?'
'It’s not so very late-it’s only dark.
There’s more in it than you’re inclined to say.
Did he look like—?'
'He looked like anyone.
I’ll never rest to-night unless I know.
Give me the lantern.'
'You don’t want the lantern.'
She pushed past him and got it for herself.
'You’re not to come,' she said. 'This is my business.
If the time’s come to face it, I’m the one
To put it the right way. He’d never dare–
Listen! He kicked a stone. Hear that, hear that!
He’s coming towards us. Joel, go in-please.
Hark!-I don’t hear him now. But please go in.'
'In the first place you can’t make me believe it’s—'
'It is-or someone else he’s sent to watch.
And now’s the time to have it out with him
While we know definitely where he is.
Let him get off and he’ll be everywhere
Around us, looking out of trees and bushes
Till I sha’n’t dare to set a foot outdoors.
And I can’t stand it. Joel, let me go!'
'But it’s nonsense to think he’d care enough.'
'You mean you couldn’t understand his caring.
Oh, but you see he hadn’t had enough–
Joel, I won’t-I won’t-I promise you.
We mustn’t say hard things. You mustn’t either.'
'I’ll be the one, if anybody goes!
But you give him the advantage with this light.
What couldn’t he do to us standing here!
And if to see was what he wanted, why
He has seen all there was to see and gone.'
He appeared to forget to keep his hold,
But advanced with her as she crossed the grass.
‘What do you want?’ she cried to all the dark.
She stretched up tall to overlook the light
That hung in both hands hot against her skirt.
'There’s no one; so you’re wrong,' he said.
What do you want?’ she cried, and then herself
Was startled when an answer really came.
‘Nothing.’ It came from well along the road.
She reached a hand to Joel for support:
The smell of scorching woollen made her faint.
‘What are you doing round this house at night?’
‘Nothing.’ A pause: there seemed no more to say.
And then the voice again: 'You seem afraid.
I saw by the way you whipped up the horse.
I’ll just come forward in the lantern light
And let you see.'
‘Yes, do.-Joel, go back!’
She stood her ground against the noisy steps
That came on, but her body rocked a little.
‘You see,’ the voice said.
‘Oh.’ She looked and looked.
'You don’t see-I’ve a child here by the hand.'
'What’s a child doing at this time of night—?'
‘Out walking. Every child should have the memory
Of at least one long-after-bedtime walk.
'Then I should think you’d try to find
Somewhere to walk—'
'The highway as it happens–
We’re stopping for the fortnight down at Dean’s.'
'But if that’s all-Joel—you realize—
You won’t think anything. You understand?
You understand that we have to be careful.
This is a very, very lonely place.
Joel!' She spoke as if she couldn’t turn.
The swinging lantern lengthened to the ground,
It touched, it struck it, clattered and went out.
To drive Paul out of any lumber camp
All that was needed was to say to him,
‘How is the wife, Paul?’- and he’d disappear.
Some said it was because be bad no wife,
And hated to be twitted on the subject;
Others because he’d come within a day
Or so of having one, and then been Jilted;
Others because he’d had one once, a good one,
Who’d run away with someone else and left him;
And others still because he had one now
He only had to be reminded of–
He was all duty to her in a minute:
He had to run right off to look her up,
As if to say, 'That’s so, how is my wife?
I hope she isn’t getting into mischief.'
No one was anxious to get rid of Paul.
He’d been the hero of the mountain camps
Ever since, just to show them, he bad slipped
The bark of a whole tamarack off whole
As clean as boys do off a willow twig
To make a willow whistle on a Sunday
April by subsiding meadow brooks.
They seemed to ask him just to see him go,
‘How is the wife, Paul?’ and he always went.
He never stopped to murder anyone
Who asked the question. He just disappeared–
Nobody knew in what direction,
Although it wasn’t usually long
Before they beard of him in some new camp,
The same Paul at the same old feats of logging.
The question everywhere was why should Paul
Object to being asked a civil question–
A man you could say almost anything to
Short of a fighting word. You have the answers.
And there was one more not so fair to Paul:
That Paul had married a wife not his equal.
Paul was ashamed of her. To match a hero
She would have had to be a heroine;
Instead of which she was some half-breed squaw.
But if the story Murphy told was true,
She wasn’t anything to be ashamed of.
You know Paul could do wonders. Everyone’s
Heard how he thrashed the horses on a load
That wouldn’t budge, until they simply stretched
Their rawhide harness from the load to camp.
Paul told the boss the load would be all right,
'The sun will bring your load in’—and it did—
By shrinking the rawhide to natural length.
That’s what is called a stretcher. But I guess
The one about his jumping so’s to land
With both his feet at once against the ceiling,
And then land safely right side up again,
Back on the floor, is fact or pretty near fact.
Well, this is such a yarn. Paul sawed his wife
Out of a white-pine log. Murphy was there
And, as you might say, saw the lady born.
Paul worked at anything in lumbering.
He’d been bard at it taking boards away
For—I forget—the last ambitious sawyer
To want to find out if he couldn’t pile
The lumber on Paul till Paul begged for mercy.
They’d sliced the first slab off a big butt log,
And the sawyer had slammed the carriage back
To slam end-on again against the saw teeth.
To judge them by the way they caught themselves
When they saw what had happened to the log,
They must have had a guilty expectation
Something was going to go with their slambanging.
Something bad left a broad black streak of grease
On the new wood the whole length of the log
Except, perhaps, a foot at either end.
But when Paul put his finger in the grease,
It wasn’t grease at all, but a long slot.
The log was hollow. They were sawing pine.
‘First time I ever saw a hollow pine.
That comes of having Paul around the place.
Take it to bell for me,’ the sawyer said.
Everyone had to have a look at it
And tell Paul what he ought to do about it.
(They treated it as his.) 'You take a jackknife,
And spread the opening, and you’ve got a dugout
All dug to go a-fishing in.' To Paul
The hollow looked too sound and clean and empty
Ever to have housed birds or beasts or bees.
There was no entrance for them to get in by.
It looked to him like some new kind of hollow
He thought he’d better take his jackknife to.
So after work that evening be came back
And let enough light into it by cutting
To see if it was empty. He made out in there
A slender length of pith, or was it pith?
It might have been the skin a snake had cast
And left stood up on end inside the tree
The hundred years the tree must have been growing.
More cutting and he bad this in both hands,
And looking from it to the pond nearby,
Paul wondered how it would respond to water.
Not a breeze stirred, but just the breath of air
He made in walking slowly to the beach
Blew it once off his hands and almost broke it.
He laid it at the edge, where it could drink.
At the first drink it rustled and grew limp.
At the next drink it grew invisible.
Paul dragged the shallows for it with his fingers,
And thought it must have melted. It was gone.
And then beyond the open water, dim with midges,
Where the log drive lay pressed against the boom,
It slowly rose a person, rose a girl,
Her wet hair heavy on her like a helmet,
Who, leaning on a log, looked back at Paul.
And that made Paul in turn look back
To see if it was anyone behind him
That she was looking at instead of him.
(Murphy had been there watching all the time,
But from a shed where neither of them could see him.)
There was a moment of suspense in birth
When the girl seemed too waterlogged to live,
Before she caught her first breath with a gasp
And laughed. Then she climbed slowly to her feet,
And walked off, talking to herself or Paul,
Across the logs like backs of alligators,
Paul taking after her around the pond.
Next evening Murphy and some other fellows
Got drunk, and tracked the pair up Catamount,
From the bare top of which there is a view
TO other hills across a kettle valley.
And there, well after dark, let Murphy tell it,
They saw Paul and his creature keeping house.
It was the only glimpse that anyone
Has had of Paul and her since Murphy saw them
Falling in love across the twilight millpond.
More than a mile across the wilderness
They sat together halfway up a cliff
In a small niche let into it, the girl
Brightly, as if a star played on the place,
Paul darkly, like her shadow. All the light
Was from the girl herself, though, not from a star,
As was apparent from what happened next.
All those great ruffians put their throats together,
And let out a loud yell, and threw a bottle,
As a brute tribute of respect to beauty.
Of course the bottle fell short by a mile,
But the shout reached the girl and put her light out.
She went out like a firefly, and that was all.
So there were witnesses that Paul was married
And not to anyone to be ashamed of
Everyone had been wrong in judging Paul.
Murphy told me Paul put on all those airs
About his wife to keep her to himself.
Paul was what’s called a terrible possessor.
Owning a wife with him meant owning her.
She wasn’t anybody else’s business,
Either to praise her or much as name her,
And he’d thank people not to think of her.
Murphy’s idea was that a man like Paul
Wouldn’t be spoken to about a wife
In any way the world knew how to speak.