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Title: A Witness Tree

Date of first publication: 1942

Author: Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Date first posted: Nov. 5, 2014

Date last updated: Nov. 5, 2014

Faded Page eBook #20141106

This ebook was produced by: Marcia Brooks, Al Haines, Cindy Beyer & the online Distributed Proofreaders Canada team at http://www.pgdpcanada.net

portrait by enit kaufman










March, 1943



Copyright, 1942, by Robert Frost

Printed in the United States of America





   Portrait by Enit Kaufman frontispiece
   Beech 9
   Sycamore 9


1 The Silken Tent 13
2 All Revelation 14
3 Happiness Makes Up in Height for
   What It Lacks in Length 15
4 Come In 16
5 I Could Give All to Time 17
6 Carpe Diem 18
7 The Wind and the Rain 20
8 The Most of It 23
9 Never Again Would Birds’ Song Be
   the Same 24
10 The Subverted Flower 25
11 Wilful Homing 28
12 A Cloud Shadow 29
13 The Quest of the Purple-Fringed 30
14 The Discovery of the Madeiras 32


1 The Gift Outright[A] 41
2 Triple Bronze 42
3 Our Hold on the Planet 43
4 To a Young Wretch (Boethian) 44
5 The Lesson for Today[B] 46


1 Time Out[C] 55
2 To a Moth Seen in Winter[D] 56
3 A Considerable Speck (Microscopic) 57
4 The Lost Follower 59
5 November 61
6 The Rabbit Hunter 62
7 A Loose Mountain (Telescopic) 63
8 It Is Almost the Year Two Thousand 64


1 In a Poem 67
2 On Our Sympathy with the Under Dog 68
3 A Question 69
4 Boeotian 70
5 The Secret Sits 71
6 An Equalizer 72
7 A Semi-Revolution 73
8 Assurance 74
9 An Answer 75


1 Trespass 79
2 A Nature Note 80
3 Of the Stones of the Place 81
4 Not of School Age 82
5 A Serious Step Lightly Taken 84
6 The Literate Farmer and the
  Planet Venus 86

Read before the Phi Beta Kappa Society at William and Mary College, December 5, 1941.

Read before the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Harvard University, June 20, 1941.

See footnote A.

See footnote A.



Where my imaginary line

Bends square in woods, an iron spine

And pile of real rocks have been founded.

And off this corner in the wild,

Where these are driven in and piled,

One tree, by being deeply wounded,

Has been impressed as Witness Tree

And made commit to memory

My proof of being not unbounded.

Thus truth’s established and borne out,

Though circumstanced with dark and doubt—

Though by a world of doubt surrounded.




Zaccheus he

Did climb the tree

Our Lord to see.





She is as in a field a silken tent

At midday when a sunny summer breeze

Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,

So that in guys it gently sways at ease,

And its supporting central cedar pole,

That is its pinnacle to heavenward

And signifies the sureness of the soul,

Seems to owe naught to any single cord,

But strictly held by none, is loosely bound

By countless silken ties of love and thought

To everything on earth the compass round,

And only by one’s going slightly taut

In the capriciousness of summer air

Is of the slightest bondage made aware.



A head thrusts in as for the view,

But where it is it thrusts in from

Or what it is it thrusts into

By that Cyb’laean avenue,

And what can of its coming come,

And whither it will be withdrawn,

And what take hence or leave behind,

These things the mind has pondered on

A moment and still asking gone.

Strange apparition of the mind!

But the impervious geode

Was entered, and its inner crust

Of crystals with a ray cathode

At every point and facet glowed

In answer to the mental thrust.

Eyes seeking the response of eyes

Bring out the stars, bring out the flowers,

Thus concentrating earth and skies

So none need be afraid of size.

All revelation has been ours.




Oh, stormy stormy world,

The days you were not swirled

Around with mist and cloud,

Or wrapped as in a shroud,

And the sun’s brilliant ball

Was not in part or all

Obscured from mortal view—

Were days so very few

I can but wonder whence

I get the lasting sense

Of so much warmth and light.

If my mistrust is right

It may be altogether

From one day’s perfect weather,

When starting clear at dawn,

The day swept clearly on

To finish clear at eve.

I verily believe

My fair impression may

Be all from that one day

No shadow crossed but ours

As through its blazing flowers

We went from house to wood

For change of solitude.



As I came to the edge of the woods,

Thrush music—hark!

Now if it was dusk outside,

Inside it was dark.

Too dark in the woods for a bird

By sleight of wing

To better its perch for the night,

Though it still could sing.

The last of the light of the sun

That had died in the west

Still lived for one song more

In a thrush’s breast.

Far in the pillared dark

Thrush music went—

Almost like a call to come in

To the dark and lament.

But no, I was out for stars:

I would not come in.

I meant not even if asked,

And I hadn’t been.



To Time it never seems that he is brave

To set himself against the peaks of snow

To lay them level with the running wave,

Nor is he overjoyed when they lie low,

But only grave, contemplative and grave.

What now is inland shall be ocean isle,

Then eddies playing round a sunken reef

Like the curl at the corner of a smile;

And I could share Time’s lack of joy or grief

At such a planetary change of style.

I could give all to Time except—except

What I myself have held. But why declare

The things forbidden that while the Customs slept

I have crossed to Safety with? For I am There,

And what I would not part with I have kept.



Age saw two quiet children

Go loving by at twilight,

He knew not whether homeward,

Or outward from the village,

Or (chimes were ringing) churchward.

He waited (they were strangers)

Till they were out of hearing

To bid them both be happy.

“Be happy, happy, happy,

And seize the day of pleasure.”

The age-long theme is Age’s.

’Twas Age imposed on poems

Their gather-roses burden

To warn against the danger

That overtaken lovers

From being overflooded

With happiness should have it

And yet not know they have it.

But bid life seize the present?

It lives less in the present

Than in the future always,

And less in both together

Than in the past. The present

Is too much for the senses,

Too crowding, too confusing—

Too present to imagine.





That far-off day the leaves in flight

Were letting in the colder light.

A season-ending wind there blew

That as it did the forest strew

I leaned on with a singing trust

And let it drive me deathward too.

With breaking step I stabbed the dust,

Yet did not much to shorten stride.

I sang of death—but had I known

The many deaths one must have died

Before he came to meet his own!

Oh, should a child be left unwarned

That any song in which he mourned

Would be as if he prophesied?

It were unworthy of the tongue

To let the half of life alone

And play the good without the ill.

And yet ’twould seem that what is sung

In happy sadness by the young

Fate has no choice but to fulfill.



Flowers in the desert heat

Contrive to bloom

On melted mountain water led by flume

To wet their feet.

But something in it still is incomplete.

Before I thought the wilted to exalt

With water I would see them water-bowed.

I would pick up all ocean less its salt,

And though it were as much as cloud could bear

Would load it on to cloud,

And rolling it inland on roller air,

Would empty it unsparing on the flower

That past its prime lost petals in the flood,

(Who cares but for the future of the bud?)

And all the more the mightier the shower

Would run in under it to get my share.

’Tis not enough on roots and in the mouth,

But give me water heavy on the head

In all the passion of a broken drouth.


And there is always more than should be said.


As strong is rain without as wine within,

As magical as sunlight on the skin.

I have been one no dwelling could contain

When there was rain;

But I must forth at dusk, my time of day,

To see to the unburdening of skies.

Rain was the tears adopted by my eyes

That have none left to stay.



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.




He would declare and could himself believe

That the birds there in all the garden round

From having heard the daylong voice of Eve

Had added to their own an oversound,

Her tone of meaning but without the words.

Admittedly an eloquence so soft

Could only have had an influence on birds

When call or laughter carried it aloft.

Be that as may be, she was in their song.

Moreover her voice upon their voices crossed

Had now persisted in the woods so long

That probably it never would be lost.

Never again would birds’ song be the same.

And to do that to birds was why she came.



She drew back; he was calm:

“It is this that had the power.”

And he lashed his open palm

With the tender-headed flower.

He smiled for her to smile,

But she was either blind

Or wilfully unkind.

He eyed her for awhile

For a woman and a puzzle.

He flicked and flung the flower,

And another sort of smile

Caught up like finger tips

The corners of his lips

And cracked his ragged muzzle.

She was standing to the waist

In goldenrod and brake,

Her shining hair displaced.

He stretched her either arm

As if she made it ache

To clasp her—not to harm;

As if he could not spare

To touch her neck and hair.

“If this has come to us

And not to me alone—”

So she thought she heard him say;

Though with every word he spoke

His lips were sucked and blown

And the effort made him choke

Like a tiger at a bone.

She had to lean away.

She dared not stir a foot,

Lest movement should provoke

The demon of pursuit

That slumbers in a brute.

It was then her mother’s call

From inside the garden wall

Made her steal a look of fear

To see if he could hear

And would pounce to end it all

Before her mother came.

She looked and saw the shame:

A hand hung like a paw,

An arm worked like a saw

As if to be persuasive,

An ingratiating laugh

That cut the snout in half,

An eye become evasive.

A girl could only see

That a flower had marred a man,

But what she could not see

Was that the flower might be

Other than base and fetid:

That the flower had done but part,

And what the flower began

Her own too meagre heart

Had terribly completed.

She looked and saw the worst.

And the dog or what it was,

Obeying bestial laws,

A coward save at night,

Turned from the place and ran.

She heard him stumble first

And use his hands in flight.

She heard him bark outright.

And oh for one so young

The bitter words she spit

Like some tenacious bit

That will not leave the tongue.

She plucked her lips for it,

And still the horror clung.

Her mother wiped the foam

From her chin, picked up her comb

And drew her backward home.



It is getting dark and time he drew to a house,

But the blizzard blinds him to any house ahead.

The storm gets down his neck in an icy souse

That sucks his breath like a wicked cat in bed.

The snow blows on him and off him, exerting force

Downward to make him sit astride a drift,

Imprint a saddle and calmly consider a course.

He peers out shrewdly into the thick and swift.

Since he means to come to a door he will come to a door,

Although so compromised of aim and rate

He may fumble wide of the knob a yard or more,

And to those concerned he may seem a little late.



A breeze discovered my open book

And began to flutter the leaves to look

For a poem there used to be on Spring.

I tried to tell her “There’s no such thing!”

For whom would a poem on Spring be by?

The breeze disdained to make reply;

And a cloud-shadow crossed her face

For fear I would make her miss the place.



I felt the chill of the meadow underfoot,

But the sun overhead;

And snatches of verse and song of scenes like this

I sung or said.

I skirted the margin alders for miles and miles

In a sweeping line.

The day was the day by every flower that blooms,

But I saw no sign.

Yet further I went to be before the scythe,

For the grass was high;

Till I saw the path where the slender fox had come

And gone panting by.

Then at last and following him I found—

In the very hour

When the color flushed to the petals it must have been—

The far-sought flower.

There stood the purple spires with no breath of air

Nor headlong bee

To disturb their perfect poise the livelong day

’Neath the alder tree.

I only knelt and putting the boughs aside

Looked, or at most

Counted them all to the buds in the copse’s depth

That were pale as a ghost.

Then I arose and silently wandered home,

And I for one

Said that the fall might come and whirl of leaves,

For summer was done.


a rhyme of hackluyt


A stolen lady was coming on board,

But whether stolen from her wedded lord

Or from her own self against her will

Was not set forth in the lading bill.

A stolen lady was all it said.

She came down weakly and blindly led

To the darkening windy village slip.

She would not look at the fateful ship.

Her lover to make the ordeal swift

Had to give her the final lift

And force her farewell step off shore.

The way she clung to him the more

Seemed to argue perhaps she went

Not entirely without consent.

But with no companion of womankind

To leave the English law behind

And sail for some vague Paphian bourn

Began already to seem forlorn.

It did more distance up and down,

Their little stormy ship, than on.

Now it took a fitful run,

Now standing cracked its sail and spun;

Now stood upon its bulging prow

Till the pirate sailors made a vow

Of where they would go on pilgrimage

If God would spare them to die of age.

When the clap of two converging waves

Failed to crush their barrel staves,

Or the wind to snap their walking stick,

They laughed as if they had turned a trick.

This was no lady’s time of year.

For long the lady would disappear,

And might be rolling dead below

For all the crew were let to know.

But when the ocean’s worst had passed

She was carried out beside the mast,

Where all day long she lay and dozed.

Or she and her lover would sit opposed

And darkly drink each other’s eyes

With faint head shakings, no more wise.

The most he asked her eyes to grant

Was that in what she does not want

A woman wants to be overruled.

Or was the instinct in him fooled?

He knew not, neither of them knew.

They could only say like any two,

“You tell me and I’ll tell you.”

Sometimes with her permissive smile

He left her to her thoughts awhile

And went to lean against the rail,

And let the captain tell him a tale.

(He had to keep the captain’s favor.)

The ship it seemed had been a slaver.

And once they had shipped a captive pair

Whose love was such they didn’t care

Who took in them onlooker’s share.

Well, when at length the fever struck

That spoils the nigger-trader’s luck

The man was among the first it took.

“Throw him over alive,” they said,

“Before the thing has time to spread.

You’ve got to keep the quarters clean.”

But the girl fought them and made a scene.

She was a savage jungle cat

It was easy to be angry at;

Which put the thought into someone’s head

Of the ocean bed for a marriage bed.

Some Tom said to Dick or Harry:

“Apparently these two ought to marry.

We get plenty funerals at sea.

How for a change would a wedding be?—

Or a combination of the two,

How would a funeral-wedding do?

It’s gone so far she’s probably caught

Whatever it is the nigger’s got.”

They bound them naked so they faced

With a length of cordage about the waist,

Many lovers have been divorced

By having what is free enforced.

But presence of love these had in death

To kiss and drink each other’s breath

Before they were hurled from the slaver’s deck.

They added clasps about the neck

And went embraced to the cold and dark

To be their own marriage feast for the shark.

When after talk with other men

A man comes back to a woman again

He tells her as much of blood and dirt

As he thinks will do her not too much hurt.

“What was the pirate captain’s chaff?

He laughed but he did not make you laugh.

The jest seemed his and the plaudits his.

I heard him shout ‘What a thing it is!’

Some standing jest between you men?

Don’t tell me if you don’t want to then.”

Whereat in a moment of cross unruth

He thought, “All right if you want the truth!”

“I don’t believe it! It isn’t true!

It never happened! Did it, you?”

Seeing no help in wings or feet

She withdrew back in self-retreat

Till her heart almost ceased to beat.

Her spirit faded as far away

As the living ever go yet stay.

And her thought was she had had her pay.

He said to the captain, “Give command,

And bring us to the nearest land;

And let us try an untossed place

And see if it will help her case.”

They brought her to a nameless isle.

And the ship lay in the bay for awhile

Waiting to see if she would mend;

But sailed and left them in the end.

Her lover saw them sail away,

But dared not tell her all one day.

For slowly even her sense of him

And love itself were growing dim.

He no more drew the smile he sought.

The story is she died of thought.

And when her lover was left alone

He stayed long enough to carve on stone

The name of the lady with his own

To be her only marriage lines.

And carved them round with a scroll of vines.

Then he gouged a clumsy sailing trough

From a fallen tree and pushing off

Safely made the African shore;

Where he fell a prisoner to the Moor.

But the Moor strangely enough believed

The tale of the voyage he had achieved,

And sent him to the King to admire.

He came at last to his native shire.

The island he found was verified.

And the bay where his stolen lady died

Was named for him instead of her.

But so is history like to err.

And soon it is neither here nor there

Whether time’s rewards are fair or unfair.




The land was ours before we were the land’s.

She was our land more than a hundred years

Before we were her people. She was ours

In Massachusetts, in Virginia,

But we were England’s, still colonials,

Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,

Possessed by what we now no more possessed.

Something we were withholding made us weak

Until we found it was ourselves

We were withholding from our land of living,

And forthwith found salvation in surrender.

Such as we were we gave ourselves outright

(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)

To the land vaguely realizing westward,

But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,

Such as she was, such as she would become.



The Infinite’s being so wide

Is the reason the Powers provide

For inner defense my hide.

For next defense outside.

I make myself this time

Of wood or granite or lime

A wall too hard for crime

Either to breach or climb.

Then a number of us agree

On a national boundary.

And that defense makes three

Between too much and me.



We asked for rain. It didn’t flash and roar.

It didn’t lose its temper at our demand

And blow a gale. It didn’t misunderstand

And give us more than our spokesman bargained for;

And just because we owned to a wish for rain,

Send us a flood and bid us be damned and drown.

It gently threw us a glittering shower down.

And when we had taken that into the roots of grain,

It threw us another and then another still

Till the spongy soil again was natal wet.

We may doubt the just proportion of good to ill.

There is much in nature against us. But we forget:

Take nature altogether since time began,

Including human nature, in peace and war,

And it must be a little more in favor of man,

Say a fraction of one per cent at the very least,

Or our number living wouldn’t be steadily more,

Our hold on the planet wouldn’t have so increased.




As gay for you to take your father’s axe

As take his gun—rod—to go hunting—fishing.

You nick my spruce until its fiber cracks,

It gives up standing straight and goes down swishing.

You link an arm in its arm and you lean

Across the light snow homeward smelling green.

I could have bought you just as good a tree

To frizzle resin in a candle flame,

And what a saving ’twould have meant to me.

But tree by charity is not the same

As tree by enterprise and expedition.

I must not spoil your Christmas with contrition.

It is your Christmases against my woods.

But even where thus opposing interests kill,

They are to be thought of as opposing goods

Oftener than as conflicting good and ill;

Which makes the war god seem no special dunce

For always fighting on both sides at once.

And though in tinsel chain and popcorn rope,

My tree a captive in your window bay

Has lost its footing on my mountain slope

And lost the stars of heaven, may, oh, may

The symbol star it lifts against your ceiling

Help me accept its fate with Christmas feeling.



If this uncertain age in which we dwell

Were really as dark as I hear sages tell,

And I convinced that they were really sages,

I should not curse myself with it to hell,

But leaving not the chair I long have sat in,

I should betake me back ten thousand pages

To the world’s undebatably dark ages,

And getting up my mediaeval Latin,

Seek converse common cause and brotherhood

(By all that’s liberal—I should, I should)

With poets who could calmly take the fate

Of being born at once too early and late,

And for these reasons kept from being great.

Yet singing but Dione in the wood

And ver aspergit terram floribus

They slowly led old Latin verse to rhyme

And to forget the ancient lengths of time,

And so began the modern world for us.

  I’d say, O Master of the Palace School,

You were not Charles’ nor anybody’s fool:

Tell me as pedagogue to pedagogue,

You did not know that since King Charles did rule

You had no chance but to be minor, did you?

Your light was spent perhaps as in a fog

That at once kept you burning low and hid you.

The age may very well have been to blame

For your not having won to Virgil’s fame.

But no one ever heard you make the claim.

You would not think you knew enough to judge

The age when full upon you. That’s my point.

We have to-day and I could call their name

Who know exactly what is out of joint

To make their verse and their excuses lame.

They’ve tried to grasp with too much social fact

Too large a situation. You and I

Would be afraid if we should comprehend

And get outside of too much bad statistics

Our muscles never could again contract:

We never could recover human shape,

But must live lives out mentally agape,

Or die of philosophical distension.

That’s how we feel—and we’re no special mystics.

  We can’t appraise the time in which we act.

But for the folly of it, let’s pretend

We know enough to know it for adverse.

One more millennium’s about to end.

Let’s celebrate the event, my distant friend,

In publicly disputing which is worse,

The present age or your age. You and I

As schoolmen of repute should qualify

To wage a fine scholastical contention

As to whose age deserves the lower mark,

Or should I say the higher one, for dark.

I can just hear the way you make it go:

There’s always something to be sorry for,

A sordid peace or an outrageous war.

Yes, yes, of course. We have the same convention.

The groundwork of all faith is human woe.

It was well worth preliminary mention.

There’s nothing but injustice to be had,

No choice is left a poet, you might add,

But how to take the curse, tragic or comic.

It was well worth preliminary mention.

But let’s get on to where our cases part,

If part they do. Let me propose a start.

(We’re rivals in the badness of our case,

Remember, and must keep a solemn face.)

Space ails us moderns: we are sick with space.

Its contemplation makes us out as small

As a brief epidemic of microbes

That in a good glass may be seen to crawl

The patina of this the least of globes.

But have we there the advantage after all?

You were belittled into vilest worms

God hardly tolerated with his feet;

Which comes to the same thing in different terms.

We both are the belittled human race,

One as compared with God and one with space.

I had thought ours the more profound disgrace;

But doubtless this was only my conceit.

The cloister and the observatory saint

Take comfort in about the same complaint.

So science and religion really meet.

  I can just hear you call your Palace class:

Come learn the Latin Eheu for alas.

You may not want to use it and you may.

O paladins, the lesson for to-day

Is how to be unhappy yet polite.

And at the summons Roland, Olivier,

And every sheepish paladin and peer,

Being already more than proved in fight,

Sits down in school to try if he can write

Like Horace in the true Horatian vein,

Yet like a Christian disciplined to bend

His mind to thinking always of the end.

Memento mori and obey the Lord.

Art and religion love the somber chord.

Earth’s a hard place in which to save the soul,

And could it be brought under state control,

So automatically we all were saved,

Its separateness from Heaven could be waived;

It might as well at once be kingdom-come.

(Perhaps it will be next millennium.)

  But these are universals, not confined

To any one time, place, or human kind.

We’re either nothing or a God’s regret.

As ever when philosophers are met,

No matter where they stoutly mean to get,

Nor what particulars they reason from,

They are philosophers, and from old habit

They end up in the universal Whole

As unoriginal as any rabbit.

  One age is like another for the soul.

I’m telling you. You haven’t said a thing,

Unless I put it in your mouth to say.

I’m having the whole argument my way—

But in your favor—please to tell your King—

In having granted you all ages shine

With equal darkness, yours as dark as mine.

I’m liberal. You, you aristocrat

Won’t know exactly what I mean by that.

I mean so altruistically moral

I never take my own side in a quarrel.

I’d lay my hand on his hand on his staff,

Lean back and have my confidential laugh,

And tell him I had read his Epitaph.

  It sent me to the graves the other day.

The only other there was far away

Across the landscape with a watering pot

At his devotions in a special plot.

And he was there resuscitating flowers

(Make no mistake about its being bones);

But I was only there to read the stones

To see what on the whole they had to say

About how long a man may think to live,

Which is becoming my concern of late.

And very wide the choice they seemed to give;

The ages ranging all the way from hours

To months and years and many many years.

One man had lived one hundred years and eight.

But though we all may be inclined to wait

And follow some development of state,

Or see what comes of science and invention,

There is a limit to our time extension.

We all are doomed to broken-off careers,

And so’s the nation, so’s the total race.

The earth itself is liable to the fate

Of meaninglessly being broken off.

(And hence so many literary tears

At which my inclination is to scoff.)

I may have wept that any should have died

Or missed their chance, or not have been their best,

Or been their riches, fame, or love denied;

On me as much as any is the jest.

I take my incompleteness with the rest.

God bless himself can no one else be blessed.

  I hold your doctrine of Memento Mori.

And were an epitaph to be my story

I’d have a short one ready for my own.

I would have written of me on my stone:

I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.




It took that pause to make him realize

The mountain he was climbing had the slant

As of a book held up before his eyes

(And was a text albeit done in plant).

Dwarf cornel, gold-thread, and maianthemum,

He followingly fingered as he read,

The flowers fading on the seed to come;

But the thing was the slope it gave his head:

The same for reading as it was for thought,

So different from the hard and level stare

Of enemies defied and battles fought.

It was the obstinately gentle air

That may be clamored at by cause and sect

But it will have its moment to reflect.



Here’s first a gloveless hand warm from my pocket,

A perch and resting place ’twixt wood and wood,

Bright-black-eyed silvery creature, brushed with brown,

The wings not folded in repose, but spread.

(Who would you be, I wonder, by those marks

If I had moths to friend as I have flowers?)

And now pray tell what lured you with false hope

To make the venture of eternity

And seek the love of kind in winter time?

But stay and hear me out. I surely think

You make a labor of flight for one so airy,

Spending yourself too much in self-support.

Nor will you find love either nor love you.

And what I pity in you is something human,

The old incurable untimeliness,

Only begetter of all ills that are.

But go. You are right. My pity cannot help.

Go till you wet your pinions and are quenched.

You must be made more simply wise than I

To know the hand I stretch impulsively

Across the gulf of well nigh everything

May reach to you, but cannot touch your fate.

I cannot touch your life, much less can save,

Who am tasked to save my own a little while.


Circa 1900




A speck that would have been beneath my sight

On any but a paper sheet so white

Set off across what I had written there.

And I had idly poised my pen in air

To stop it with a period of ink

When something strange about it made me think.

This was no dust speck by my breathing blown,

But unmistakably a living mite

With inclinations it could call its own.

It paused as with suspicion of my pen,

And then came racing wildly on again

To where my manuscript was not yet dry;

Then paused again and either drank or smelt—

With loathing, for again it turned to fly.

Plainly with an intelligence I dealt.

It seemed too tiny to have room for feet,

Yet must have had a set of them complete

To express how much it didn’t want to die.

It ran with terror and with cunning crept.

It faltered: I could see it hesitate;

Then in the middle of the open sheet

Cower down in desperation to accept

Whatever I accorded it of fate.

I have none of the tenderer-than-thou

Collectivistic regimenting love

With which the modern world is being swept.

But this poor microscopic item now!

Since it was nothing I knew evil of

I let it lie there till I hope it slept.

I have a mind myself and recognize

Mind when I meet with it in any guise.

No one can know how glad I am to find

On any sheet the least display of mind.



As I have known them passionate and fine

The gold for which they leave the golden line

Of lyric is a golden light divine,

Never the gold of darkness from a mine.

The spirit plays us strange religious pranks

To whatsoever god we owe the thanks.

No one has ever failed the poet ranks

To link a chain of money-metal banks.

The loss to song, the danger of defection

Is always in the opposite direction.

Some turn in sheer, in Shelleyan dejection

To try if one more popular election

Will give us by short cut the final stage

That poetry with all its golden rage

For beauty on the illuminated page

Has failed to bring—I mean the Golden Age.

And if this may not be (and nothing’s sure),

At least to live ungolden with the poor,

Enduring what the ungolden must endure.

This has been poetry’s great anti-lure.

The muse mourns one who went to his retreat

Long since in some abysmal city street,

The bride who shared the crust he broke to eat

As grave as he about the world’s defeat.

With such it has proved dangerous as friend

Even in a playful moment to contend

That the millennium to which you bend

In longing is not at a progress-end

By grace of state-manipulated pelf,

Or politics of Ghibelline or Guelph,

But right beside you book-like on a shelf,

Or even better god-like in yourself.

He trusts my love too well to deign reply.

But there is in the sadness of his eye,

Something about a kingdom in the sky

(As yet unbrought to earth) he means to try.



We saw leaves go to glory,

Then almost migratory

Go part way down the lane,

And then to end the story

Get beaten down and pasted

In one wild day of rain.

We heard “’Tis over” roaring.

A year of leaves was wasted.

Oh, we make a boast of storing,

Of saving and of keeping,

But only by ignoring

The waste of moments sleeping,

The waste of pleasure weeping,

By denying and ignoring

The waste of nations warring.





Careless and still

The hunter lurks

With gun depressed,

Facing alone

The alder swamps

Ghastly snow-white.

And his hound works

In the offing there

Like one possessed,

And yelps delight

And sings and romps,

Bringing him on

The shadowy hare

For him to rend

And deal a death

That he nor it

(Nor I) have wit

To comprehend.




Did you stay up last night (the Magi did)

To see the star shower known as Leonid

That once a year by hand or apparatus

Is so mysteriously pelted at us?

It is but fiery puffs of dust and pebbles,

No doubt directed at our heads as rebels

In having taken artificial light

Against the ancient sovereignty of night.

A fusillade of blanks and empty flashes,

It never reaches earth except as ashes

Of which you feel no least touch on your face

Nor find in dew the slightest cloudy trace.

Nevertheless it constitutes a hint

That the loose mountain lately seen to glint

In sunlight near us in momentous swing

Is something in a Balearic sling

The heartless and enormous Outer Black

Is still withholding in the Zodiac

But from irresolution in his back

About when best to have us in our orbit,

So we won’t simply take it and absorb it.




To start the world of old

We had one age of gold

Not labored out of mines,

And some say there are signs

The second such has come,

The true Millennium,

The final golden glow

To end it. And if so

(And science ought to know)

We well may raise our heads

From weeding garden beds

And annotating books

To watch this end de luxe.




The sentencing goes blithely on its way,

And takes the playfully objected rhyme

As surely as it keeps the stroke and time

In having its undeviable say.




First under up and then again down under,

We watch a circus of revolving dogs

No senator dares in to kick asunder

Lest both should bite him in the toga-togs.



A voice said, Look me in the stars

And tell me truly, men of earth,

If all the soul-and-body scars

Were not too much to pay for birth.



I love to toy with the Platonic notion

That wisdom need not be of Athens Attic,

But well may be Laconic, even Boeotian.

At least I will not have it systematic.



We dance round in a ring and suppose,

But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.



It is as true as Caesar’s name was Kaiser

That no economist was ever wiser

(Though prodigal himself and a despiser

Of capital and calling thrift a miser).

And when we get too far apart in wealth,

’Twas his idea that for the public health,

So that the poor won’t have to steal by stealth,

We now and then should take an equalizer.



I advocate a semi-revolution.

The trouble with a total revolution

(Ask any reputable Rosicrucian)

Is that it brings the same class up on top.

Executives of skillful execution

Will therefore plan to go half-way and stop.

Yes, revolutions are the only salves,

But they’re one thing that should be done by halves.



The danger not an inch outside

Behind the porthole’s slab of glass

And double ring of fitted brass

I trust feels properly defied.



But Islands of the Blessèd, bless you son,

I never came upon a blessèd one.




No, I had set no prohibiting sign,

And yes, my land was hardly fenced.

Nevertheless the land was mine:

I was being trespassed on and against.

Whoever the surly freedom took

Of such an unaccountable stay

Busying by my woods and brook

Gave me strangely restless day.

He might be opening leaves of stone,

The picture-book of the trilobite,

For which the region round was known,

And in which there was little property right.

’Twas not the value I stood to lose

In specimen crab in specimen rock,

But his ignoring what was whose

That made me look again at the clock.

Then came his little acknowledgment:

He asked for a drink at the kitchen door,

An errand he may have had to invent,

But it made my property mine once more.



Four or five whippoorwills

Have come down from their native ledge

To the open country edge

To give us a piece of their bills.

Two in June were a pair—

You’d say sufficiently loud,

But this was a family crowd,

A full-fledged family affair.

All out of time pell-mell!

I wasn’t in on the joke

Unless it was coming to folk

To bid us a mock farewell.

I took note of when it occurred,

The twenty-third of September,

Their latest that I remember,

September the twenty-third.



I farm a pasture where the boulders lie

As touching as a basket full of eggs,

And though they’re nothing anybody begs,

I wonder if it wouldn’t signify

For me to send you one out where you live

In wind-soil to a depth of thirty feet,

And every acre good enough to eat,

As fine as flour put through a baker’s sieve.

I’d ship a smooth one you could slap and chafe,

And set up like a statue in your yard,

An eolith palladium to guard

The West and keep the old tradition safe.

Carve nothing on it. You can simply say

In self-defense to quizzical inquiry:

“The portrait of the soul of my gransir Ira.

It came from where he came from anyway.”



Around bend after bend,

It was blown woods and no end.

I came to but one house

I made but the one friend.

At the one house a child was out

Who drew back at first in doubt,

But spoke to me in a gale

That blew so he had to shout.

His cheek smeared with apple sand,

A part apple in his hand,

He pointed on up the road

As one having war-command.

A parent, his gentler one,

Looked forth on her small son,

And wondered with me there

What now was being done.

His accent was not good.

But I slowly understood.

Something where I could go—

He couldn’t but I could.

He was too young to go,

Not over four or so.

Well, would I please go to school,

And the big flag they had—you know

The big flag, the red—white—

And blue flag, the great sight—

He bet it was out to-day,

And would I see if he was right?





Between two burrs on the map

Was a hollow-headed snake.

The burrs were hills, the snake was a stream,

And the hollow head was a lake.

And the dot in front of a name

Was what should be a town.

And there might be a house we could buy

For only a dollar down.

With two wheels low in the ditch

We left our boiling car,

And knocked at the door of a house we found,

And there to-day we are.

It is turning three hundred years

On our cisatlantic shore

For family after family name.

We’ll make it three hundred more

For our name farming here,

Aloof yet not aloof,

Enriching soil and increasing stock,

Repairing fence and roof;

A hundred thousand days

Of front-page paper events,

A half a dozen major wars,

And forty-five presidents.




A Dated Popular-Science Medley

on a Mysterious Light Recently Observed in the

Western Sky at Evening


My unexpected knocking at the door

Started chairs thundering on the kitchen floor,

Knives and forks ringing on the supper plates,

Voices conflicting like the candidates.

A mighty farmer flung the house door wide,

He and a lot of children came outside,

And there on an equality we stood.

That’s the time knocking at a door did good.

  “I stopped to compliment you on this star

You get the beauty of from where you are.

To see it so, the bright and only one

In sunset light, you’d think it was the sun

That hadn’t sunk the way it should have sunk,

But right in heaven was slowly being shrunk

So small as to be virtually gone,

Yet there to watch the darkness coming on—

Like someone dead permitted to exist

Enough to see if he was greatly missed.

I didn’t see the sun set. Did it set?

Will anybody swear that isn’t it?

And will you give me shelter for the night?

If not, a glass of milk will be all right.”

  “Traveler, I’m glad you asked about that light.

Your mind mistrusted there was something wrong,

And naturally you couldn’t go along

Without inquiring if ’twas serious.

’Twas providential you applied to us,

Who were just on the subject when you came.

There is a star that’s Serious by name

And nature too, but this is not the same.

This light’s been going on for several years,

Although at times we think it disappears.

You’ll hear all sorts of things. You’ll meet with them

Will tell you it’s the star of Bethlehem

Above some more religion in a manger.

But put that down to superstition, Stranger.

What’s a star doing big as a baseball?

Between us two it’s not a star at all.

It’s a new patented electric light,

Put up on trial by that Jerseyite

So much is being now expected of,

To give developments the final shove

And turn us into the next specie folks

Are going to be, unless these monkey jokes

Of the last fifty years are all a libel,

And Darwin’s proved mistaken, not the Bible.

I s’pose you have your notions on the vexed

Question of what we’re turning into next.”

  “As liberals we’re willing to give place

To any demonstrably better race,

No matter what the color of its skin.

(But what a human race the white has been!)

I heard a fellow in a public lecture

On Pueblo Indians and their architecture

Declare that if such Indians inherited

The cóndemned world the legacy was merited.

So far as he, the speaker, was concerned

He had his ticket bought, his passage earned,

To take the Mayflower back where he belonged

Before the Indian race was further wronged.

But come, enlightened as in talk you seem,

You don’t believe that that first-water gleam

Is not a star?”

  “Believe it? Why, I know it.

Its actions any cloudless night will show it.

You’ll see it be allowed up just so high,

Say about halfway up the western sky,

And then get slowly, slowly pulled back down.

You might not notice if you’ve lived in town,

As I suspect you have. A town debars

Much notice of what’s going on in stars.

The idea is no doubt to make one job

Of lighting the whole night with one big blob

Of electricity in bulk the way

The sun sets the example in the day.”

  “Here come more stars to character the skies,

And they in the estimation of the wise

Are more divine than any bulb or arc,

Because their purpose is to flash and spark,

But not to take away the precious dark.

We need the interruption of the night

To ease attention off when overtight,

To break our logic in too long a flight,

And ask us if our premises are right.”

  “Sick talk, sick talk, sick sentimental talk!

It doesn’t do you any good to walk.

I see what you are: can’t get you excited

With hopes of getting mankind unbenighted.

Some ignorance takes rank as innocence.

Have it for all of me and have it dense.

The slave will never thank his manumitter;

Which often makes the manumitter bitter.”

  “In short, you think that star a patent medicine

Put up to cure the world by Mr. Edison.”

  “You said it—that’s exactly what it is.

My son in Jersey says a friend of his

Knows the old man and nobody’s so deep

In incandescent lamps and ending sleep.

The old man argues science cheapened speed.

A good cheap anti-dark is now the need.

Give us a good cheap twenty-four-hour day,

No part of which we’d have to waste, I say,

And who knows where we can’t get! Wasting time

In sleep or slowness is the deadly crime.

He gave up sleep himself some time ago,

It puffs the face and brutalizes so.

You take the ugliness all so much dread,

Called getting out of the wrong side of bed.

That is the source perhaps of human hate,

And well may be where wars originate.

Get rid of that and there’d be left no great

Of either murder or war in any land.

You know how cunningly mankind is planned:

We have one loving and one hating hand.

The loving’s made to hold each other like,

While with the hating other hand we strike.

The blow can be no stronger than the clutch,

Or soon we’d bat each other out of touch,

And the fray wouldn’t last a single round.

And still it’s bad enough to badly wound,

And if our getting up to start the day

On the right side of bed would end the fray,

We’d hail the remedy. But it’s been tried

And found, he says, a bed has no right side.

The trouble is, with that receipt for love,

A bed’s got no right side to get out of.

We can’t be trusted to the sleep we take,

And simply must evolve to stay awake.

He thinks that chairs and tables will endure,

But beds—in less than fifty years he’s sure

There will be no such piece of furniture.

He’s surely got it in for cots and beds.

No need for us to rack our common heads

About it, though. We haven’t got the mind.

It best be left to great men of his kind

Who have no other object than our good.

There’s a lot yet that isn’t understood.

Ain’t it a caution to us not to fix

No limits to what rose in rubbing sticks

On fire to scare away the pterodix

When man first lived in caves along the creeks?”

  “Marvelous world in nineteen-twenty-six.”


All original text spelling and punctuation have been maintained.


[The end of A Witness Tree by Robert Frost]