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Title: New Hampshire, A Poem; with Notes and Grace Notes

Author: Robert Frost

Illustrator: Julius J. Lankes

Release date: January 4, 2019 [eBook #58611]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Al Haines, Mark Akrigg, Stephen Hutcheson &
the online Distributed Proofreaders Canada team at


New Hampshire, A Poem with Notes and Grace Notes by Robert Frost




Copyright, 1923

First Printing, October, 1923
Second Printing, January, 1924
Third Printing, May, 1924
Fourth Printing, November, 1924
Fifth Printing, December, 1926
Sixth Printing, April, 1928




New Hampshire 3
A Star in a Stone-boat 21
The Census-taker 24
The Star-splitter 27
Maple 31
The Axe-helve 37
The Grindstone 41
Paul’s Wife 44
Wild Grapes 49
Place for a Third 53
Two Witches 56
I. The Witch of Coös 56
II. The Pauper Witch of Grafton 61
An Empty Threat 65
A Fountain, a Bottle, a Donkey’s Ears and Some Books 67
I Will Sing You One-O 73
Fragmentary Blue 79
Fire and Ice 80
In a Disused Graveyard 81
Dust of Snow 82
To E. T. 83
Nothing Gold Can Stay 84
The Runaway 85
The Aim was Song 86
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening 87
For Once, Then, Something 88
Blue-Butterfly Day 89
The Onset 90
To Earthward 91
Good-Bye and Keep Cold 93
Two Look at Two 95
Not to Keep 97
A Brook in the City 98
The Kitchen Chimney 99
Looking for a Sunset Bird in Winter 100
A Boundless Moment 101
Evening in a Sugar Orchard 102
Gathering Leaves 103
The Valley’s Singing Day 104
Misgiving 105
A Hillside Thaw 106
Plowmen 108
On a Tree Fallen Across the Road 109
Our Singing Strength 110
The Lockless Door 112
The Need of Being Versed in Country Things 113




I met a lady from the South who said

(You won’t believe she said it, but she said it):

“None of my family ever worked, or had

A thing to sell.” I don’t suppose the work

Much matters. You may work for all of me.

I’ve seen the time I’ve had to work myself.

The having anything to sell[1] is what

Is the disgrace in man or state or nation.

I met a traveller from Arkansas

Who boasted of his state as beautiful

For diamonds and apples. “Diamonds

And apples in commercial quantities?”

I asked him, on my guard. “Oh yes,” he answered,

Off his. The time was evening in the Pullman.

“I see the porter’s made your bed,” I told him.

I met a Californian who would

Talk California—a state so blessed,

He said, in climate none had ever died there

A natural death, and Vigilance Committees

Had had to organize to stock the graveyards

And vindicate the state’s humanity.

“Just the way Steffanson runs on,” I murmured,

“About the British Arctic. That’s what comes

Of being in the market with a climate.”


I met a poet from another state,

A zealot full of fluid inspiration,

Who in the name of fluid inspiration,

But in the best style of bad salesmanship,

Angrily tried to make me write a protest

(In verse I think) against the Volstead Act.

He didn’t even offer me a drink

Until I asked for one to steady him.

This is called having an idea to sell.

It never could have happened in New Hampshire.

The only person really soiled with trade

I ever stumbled on in old New Hampshire

Was someone who had just come back ashamed

From selling things in California.

He’d built a noble mansard roof with balls

On turrets like Constantinople, deep

In woods some ten miles from a railroad station,

As if to put forever out of mind

The hope of being, as we say, received.

I found him standing at the close of day

Inside the threshold of his open barn,

Like a lone actor on a gloomy stage—

And recognized him through the iron grey

In which his face was muffled to the eyes

As an old boyhood friend, and once indeed

A drover with me on the road to Brighton.

His farm was “grounds,” and not a farm at all;

His house among the local sheds and shanties

Rose like a factor’s at a trading station.

And he was rich, and I was still a rascal.

I couldn’t keep from asking impolitely,

Where had he been and what had he been doing?


How did he get so? (Rich was understood.)

In dealing in “old rags” in San Francisco.

Oh it was terrible as well could be.

We both of us turned over in our graves.

Just specimens is all New Hampshire has,

One each of everything as in a show-case

Which naturally she doesn’t care to sell.

She had one President (pronounce him Purse,

And make the most of it for better or worse.

He’s your one chance to score against the state).

She had one Daniel Webster. He was all

The Daniel Webster ever was or shall be.

She had the Dartmouth needed to produce him.

I call her old. She has one family

Whose claim is good to being settled here

Before the era of colonization,

And before that of exploration even.

John Smith remarked them as he coasted by

Dangling their legs and fishing off a wharf

At the Isles of Shoals, and satisfied himself

They weren’t Red Indians but veritable

Pre-primitives of the white race, dawn people,

Like those who furnished Adam’s sons with wives;

However uninnocent they may have been

In being there so early in our history.

They’d been there then a hundred years or more.

Pity he didn’t ask what they were up to

At that date with a wharf already built,

And take their name. They’ve since told me their name—

Today an honored one in Nottingham.


As for what they were up to more than fishing—

Suppose they weren’t behaving Puritanly,

The hour had not yet struck for being good,

Mankind had not yet gone on the Sabbatical.

It became an explorer of the deep

Not to explore too deep in others’ business.

Did you but know of him, New Hampshire has

One real reformer who would change the world

So it would be accepted by two classes,

Artists the minute they set up as artists,

Before, that is, they are themselves accepted,

And boys the minute they get out of college.

I can’t help thinking those are tests to go by.

And she has one I don’t know what to call him,

Who comes from Philadelphia every year

With a great flock of chickens of rare breeds

He wants to give the educational

Advantages of growing almost wild

Under the watchful eye of hawk and eagle—

Dorkings because they’re spoken of by Chaucer,

Sussex because they’re spoken of by Herrick.

She has a touch of gold. New Hampshire gold—[2]

You may have heard of it. I had a farm

Offered me not long since up Berlin way

With a mine on it that was worked for gold;

But not gold in commercial quantities.

Just enough gold to make the engagement rings

And marriage rings of those who owned the farm.

What gold more innocent could one have asked for?


One of my children ranging after rocks

Lately brought home from Andover or Canaan

A specimen of beryl with a trace

Of radium. I know with radium

The trace would have to be the merest trace

To be below the threshold of commercial,

But trust New Hampshire not to have enough

Of radium or anything to sell.

A specimen of everything, I said.

She has one witch—old style.[3] She lives in Colebrook.

(The only other witch I ever met

Was lately at a cut-glass dinner in Boston.

There were four candles and four people present.

The witch was young, and beautiful (new style),

And open-minded. She was free to question

Her gift for reading letters locked in boxes.

Why was it so much greater when the boxes

Were metal than it was when they were wooden?

It made the world seem so mysterious.

The S’ciety for Psychical Research

Was cognizant. Her husband was worth millions.

I think he owned some shares in Harvard College.)

New Hampshire used to have at Salem

A company we called the White Corpuscles,

Whose duty was at any hour of night

To rush in sheets and fool’s caps where they smelled

A thing the least bit doubtfully perscented

And give someone the Skipper Ireson’s Ride.

One each of everything as in a show-case.


More than enough land for a specimen

You’ll say she has, but there there enters in

Something else to protect her from herself.

There quality[4] makes up for quantity.

Not even New Hampshire farms are much for sale.

The farm I made my home on in the mountains

I had to take by force rather than buy.

I caught the owner outdoors by himself

Raking up after winter, and I said,

“I’m going to put you off this farm: I want it.”

“Where are you going to put me? In the road?”

“I’m going to put you on the farm next to it.”

“Why won’t the farm next to it do for you?”

“I like this better.” It was really better.

Apples? New Hampshire has them, but unsprayed,

With no suspicion in stem-end or blossom-end

Of vitriol or arsenate of lead,

And so not good for anything but cider.

Her unpruned grapes are flung like lariats

Far up the birches out of reach of man.[5]

A state producing precious metals, stones,

And—writing; none of these except perhaps

The precious literature in quantity

Or quality to worry the producer

About disposing of it. Do you know,

Considering the market, there are more

Poems produced than any other thing?[6]


No wonder poets sometimes have to seem

So much more business-like than business men.

Their wares are so much harder to get rid of.

She’s one of the two best states in the Union.

Vermont’s the other. And the two have been

Yoke-fellows in the sap-yoke from of old

In many Marches.[7] And they lie like wedges,

Thick end to thin end and thin end to thick end,

And are a figure of the way the strong

Of mind and strong of arm should fit together,

One thick where one is thin and vice versa.

New Hampshire raises the Connecticut

In a trout hatchery near Canada,

But soon divides the river with Vermont.

Both are delightful states for their absurdly

Small towns—Lost Nation, Bungey, Muddy Boo,

Poplin, Still Corners (so called not because

The place is silent all day long, nor yet

Because it boasts a whisky still—because

It set out once to be a city and still

Is only corners, cross-roads in a wood).

And I remember one whose name appeared

Between the pictures on a movie screen

Election[8] night once in Franconia,

When everything had gone Republican

And Democrats were sore in need of comfort:

Easton goes Democratic, Wilson 4

Hughes 2. And everybody to the saddest

Laughed the loud laugh, the big laugh at the little.

New York (five million) laughs at Manchester,


Manchester (sixty or seventy thousand) laughs

At Littleton (four thousand), Littleton

Laughs at Franconia (seven hundred), and

Franconia laughs, I fear,—did laugh that night—

At Easton. What has Easton left to laugh at,

And like the actress exclaim, “Oh my God” at?

There’s Bungey; and for Bungey there are towns,

Whole townships named but without population.[9]

Anything I can say about New Hampshire

Will serve almost as well about Vermont,

Excepting that they differ in their mountains.

The Vermont mountains stretch extended straight;

New Hampshire mountains curl up in a coil.

I had been coming to New Hampshire mountains.

And here I am and what am I to say?

Here first my theme becomes embarrassing.

Emerson said, “The God who made New Hampshire

Taunted the lofty land with little men.”

Another Massachusetts poet said,

“I go no more to summer in New Hampshire.

I’ve given up my summer place in Dublin.”

But when I asked to know what ailed New Hampshire,

She said she couldn’t stand the people in it,

The little men (it’s Massachusetts speaking).

And when I asked to know what ailed the people,

She said, “Go read your own books and find out.”

I may as well confess myself the author

Of several books against the world in general.

To take them as against a special state

Or even nation’s to restrict my meaning.


I’m what is called a sensibilitist,

Or otherwise an environmentalist.

I refuse to adapt myself a mite

To any change from hot to cold, from wet

To dry, from poor to rich, or back again.

I make a virtue of my suffering

From nearly everything that goes on round me.[10]

In other words, I know wherever I am,

Being the creature of literature I am,

I shall not lack for pain to keep me awake.

Kit Marlowe taught me how to say my prayers:

“Why this is Hell, nor am I out of it.”

Samoa, Russia, Ireland I complain of,

No less than England, France and Italy.

Because I wrote my novels in New Hampshire

Is no proof that I aimed them at New Hampshire.

When I left Massachusetts years ago

Between two days, the reason why I sought

New Hampshire, not Connecticut,

Rhode Island, New York, or Vermont was this:

Where I was living then, New Hampshire offered

The nearest boundary to escape across.

I hadn’t an illusion in my hand-bag

About the people being better there

Than those I left behind. I thought they weren’t.

I thought they couldn’t be. And yet they were.

I’d sure had no such friends in Massachusetts

As Hall of Windham, Gay of Atkinson,[11]

Bartlett of Raymond (now of Colorado),

Harris of Derry, and Lynch of Bethlehem.


The glorious bards of Massachusetts seem

To want to make New Hampshire people over.

They taunt the lofty land with little men.

I don’t know what to say about the people.

For art’s sake one could almost wish them worse[12]

Rather than better. How are we to write

The Russian novel in America

As long as life goes so unterribly?

There is the pinch from which our only outcry

In literature to date is heard to come.

We get what little misery we can

Out of not having cause for misery.

It makes the guild of novel writers sick

To be expected to be Dostoievskis

On nothing worse than too much luck and comfort.

This is not sorrow, though; it’s just the vapors,

And recognized as such in Russia itself

Under the new régime, and so forbidden.

If well it is with Russia, then feel free

To say so or be stood against the wall

And shot. It’s Pollyanna now or death.

This, then, is the new freedom we hear tell of;

And very sensible. No state can build

A literature that shall at once be sound

And sad on a foundation of wellbeing.

To show the level of intelligence

Among us; it was just a Warren farmer

Whose horse had pulled him short up in the road

By me, a stranger. This is what he said,

From nothing but embarrassment and want

Of anything more sociable to say:


“You hear those hound-dogs sing on Moosilauke?[13]

Well they remind me of the hue and cry

We’ve heard against the Mid-Victorians

And never rightly understood till Bryan

Retired from politics and joined the chorus.

The matter with the Mid-Victorians

Seems to have been a man named John L. Darwin.”[14]

“Go ’long,” I said to him, he to his horse.

I knew a man who failing as a farmer

Burned down his farmhouse for the fire insurance,

And spent the proceeds on a telescope[15]

To satisfy a life-long curiosity

About our place among the infinities.

And how was that for other-worldliness?

If I must choose which I would elevate—

The people or the already lofty mountains,

I’d elevate the already lofty mountains.

The only fault I find with old New Hampshire

Is that her mountains aren’t quite high enough.

I was not always so; I’ve come to be so.

How, to my sorrow, how have I attained

A height from which to look down critical

On mountains? What has given me assurance

To say what height becomes New Hampshire mountains,

Or any mountains? Can it be some strength

I feel as of an earthquake in my back

To heave them higher to the morning star?

Can it be foreign travel in the Alps?

Or having seen and credited a moment


The solid moulding of vast peaks of cloud

Behind the pitiful reality

Of Lincoln, Lafayette and Liberty?

Or some such sense as says how high shall jet

The fountain in proportion to the basin?

No, none of these has raised me to my throne

Of intellectual dissatisfaction,

But the sad accident of having seen

Our actual mountains given in a map

Of early times as twice the height they are—

Ten thousand feet instead of only five—

Which shows how sad an accident may be.

Five thousand is no longer high enough.

Whereas I never had a good idea

About improving people in the world,

Here I am over-fertile in suggestion,

And cannot rest from planning day or night

How high I’d thrust the peaks in summer snow

To tap the upper sky and draw a flow

Of frosty night air on the vale below

Down from the stars to freeze the dew as starry.

The more the sensibilitist I am

The more I seem to want my mountains wild;

The way the wiry gang-boss liked the log-jam.[16]

After he’d picked the lock and got it started,

He dodged a log that lifted like an arm

Against the sky to break his back for him,

Then came in dancing, skipping, with his life

Across the roar and chaos, and the words

We saw him say along the zigzag journey

Were doubtless as the words we heard him say


On coming nearer: “Wasn’t she an i-deal

Son-of-a-bitch? You bet she was an i-deal.”

For all her mountains fall a little short,

Her people not quite short enough for Art,

She’s still New Hampshire, a most restful state.

Lately in converse with a New York alec

About the new school of the pseudo-phallic,

I found myself in a close corner where

I had to make an almost funny choice.

“Choose you which you will be—a prude, or puke,

Mewling and puking in the public arms.”

“Me for the hills where I don’t have to choose.”[17]

“But if you had to choose, which would you be?”

I wouldn’t be a prude afraid of nature.

I know a man who took a double axe

And went alone against a grove of trees;

But his heart failing him, he dropped the axe

And ran for shelter quoting Matthew Arnold:

“Nature is cruel, man is sick of blood;

There’s been enough shed without shedding mine.

Remember Birnam Wood! The wood’s in flux!”

He had a special terror of the flux

That showed itself in dendrophobia.

The only decent tree had been to mill

And educated into boards, he said.

He knew too well for any earthly use

The line where man leaves off and nature starts,[18]

And never over-stepped it save in dreams.


He stood on the safe side of the line talking;

Which is sheer Matthew Arnoldism,

The cult of one who owned himself “a foiled,

Circuitous wanderer,” and “took dejectedly

His seat upon the intellectual throne.”

Agreed in frowning on these improvised

Altars the woods are full of nowadays,

Again as in the days when Ahaz sinned

By worship under green trees in the open.

Scarcely a mile but that I come on one,

A black-cheeked stone and stick of rain-washed charcoal.

Even to say the groves were God’s first temples

Comes too near to Ahaz’ sin for safety.

Nothing not built with hands of course is sacred.

But here is not a question of what’s sacred;

Rather of what to face or run away from.

I’d hate to be a runaway from nature.

And neither would I choose to be a puke

Who cares not what he does in company,

And, when he can’t do anything, falls back

On words, and tries his worst to make words speak

Louder than actions, and sometimes achieves it.

It seems a narrow choice the age insists on.

How about being a good Greek, for instance?

That course, they tell me, isn’t offered this year.

“Come, but this isn’t choosing—puke or prude?”

Well, if I have to choose one or the other,

I choose to be a plain New Hampshire farmer

With an income in cash of say a thousand

(From say a publisher in New York City).

It’s restful to arrive at a decision,

And restful just to think about New Hampshire.

At present I am living in Vermont.




(For Lincoln MacVeagh)

Never tell me that not one star of all

That slip from heaven at night and softly fall

Has been picked up with stones to build a wall.

Some laborer found one faded and stone cold,

And saving that its weight suggested gold,

And tugged it from his first too certain hold,

He noticed nothing in it to remark.

He was not used to handling stars thrown dark

And lifeless from an interrupted arc.

He did not recognize in that smooth coal

The one thing palpable besides the soul

To penetrate the air in which we roll.

He did not see how like a flying thing

It brooded ant-eggs, and had one large wing,

One not so large for flying in a ring,

And a long Bird of Paradise’s tail,

(Though these when not in use to fly and trail

It drew back in its body like a snail);

Nor know that he might move it from the spot

The harm was done; from having been star-shot

The very nature of the soil was hot


And burning to yield flowers instead of grain,

Flowers fanned and not put out by all the rain

Poured on them by his prayers prayed in vain.

He moved it roughly with an iron bar,

He loaded an old stone-boat with the star

And not, as you might think, a flying car,

Such as even poets would admit perforce

More practical than Pegasus the horse

If it could put a star back in its course.

He dragged it through the ploughed ground at a pace

But faintly reminiscent of the race

Of jostling rock in interstellar space.

It went for building stone, and I, as though

Commanded in a dream, forever go

To right the wrong that this should have been so.

Yet ask where else it could have gone as well,

I do not know—I cannot stop to tell:

He might have left it lying where it fell.

From following walls I never lift my eye

Except at night to places in the sky

Where showers of charted meteors let fly.

Some may know what they seek in school and church,

And why they seek it there; for what I search

I must go measuring stone walls, perch on perch;

Sure that though not a star of death and birth,

So not to be compared, perhaps, in worth

To such resorts of life as Mars and Earth,


Though not, I say, a star of death and sin,

It yet has poles, and only needs a spin

To show its worldly nature and begin

To chafe and shuffle in my calloused palm

And run off in strange tangents with my arm

As fish do with the line in first alarm.

Such as it is, it promises the prize

Of the one world complete in any size

That I am like to compass, fool or wise.



I came an errand one cloud-blowing evening

To a slab-built, black-paper-covered house

Of one room and one window and one door,

The only dwelling in a waste cut over

A hundred square miles round it in the mountains:

And that not dwelt in now by men or women

(It never had been dwelt in, though, by women,

So what is this I make a sorrow of?)

I came as census-taker to the waste

To count the people in it and found none,

None in the hundred miles, none in the house,

Where I came last with some hope, but not much

After hours’ overlooking from the cliffs

An emptiness flayed to the very stone.

I found no people that dared show themselves,

None not in hiding from the outward eye.

The time was autumn, but how anyone

Could tell the time of year when every tree

That could have dropped a leaf was down itself

And nothing but the stump of it was left

Now bringing out its rings in sugar of pitch;

And every tree up stood a rotting trunk

Without a single leaf to spend on autumn,

Or branch to whistle after what was spent.

Perhaps the wind the more without the help

Of breathing trees said something of the time


Of year or day the way it swung a door

Forever off the latch, as if rude men

Passed in and slammed it shut each one behind him

For the next one to open for himself.

I counted nine I had no right to count

(But this was dreamy unofficial counting)

Before I made the tenth across the threshold.

Where was my supper? Where was anyone’s?

No lamp was lit. Nothing was on the table.

The stove was cold—the stove was off the chimney—

And down by one side where it lacked a leg.

The people that had loudly passed the door

Were people to the ear but not the eye.

They were not on the table with their elbows.

They were not sleeping in the shelves of bunks.

I saw no men there and no bones of men there.

I armed myself against such bones as might be

With the pitch-blackened stub of an axe-handle

I picked up off the straw-dust covered floor.

Not bones, but the ill-fitted window rattled.

The door was still because I held it shut

While I thought what to do that could be done—

About the house—about the people not there.

This house in one year fallen to decay

Filled me with no less sorrow than the houses

Fallen to ruin in ten thousand years

Where Asia wedges Africa from Europe.

Nothing was left to do that I could see

Unless to find that there was no one there

And declare to the cliffs too far for echo

“The place is desert and let whoso lurks

In silence, if in this he is aggrieved,

Break silence now or be forever silent.


Let him say why it should not be declared so.”

The melancholy of having to count souls

Where they grow fewer and fewer every year

Is extreme where they shrink to none at all.

It must be I want life to go on living.



“You know Orion always comes up sideways.

Throwing a leg up over our fence of mountains,

And rising on his hands, he looks in on me

Busy outdoors by lantern-light with something

I should have done by daylight, and indeed,

After the ground is frozen, I should have done

Before it froze, and a gust flings a handful

Of waste leaves at my smoky lantern chimney

To make fun of my way of doing things,

Or else fun of Orion’s having caught me.

Has a man, I should like to ask, no rights

These forces are obliged to pay respect to?”

So Brad McLaughlin mingled reckless talk

Of heavenly stars with hugger-mugger farming,

Till having failed at hugger-mugger farming,

He burned his house down for the fire insurance

And spent the proceeds on a telescope

To satisfy a life-long curiosity

About our place among the infinities.

“What do you want with one of those blame things?”

I asked him well beforehand. “Don’t you get one!”

“Don’t call it blamed; there isn’t anything

More blameless in the sense of being less

A weapon in our human fight,” he said.

“I’ll have one if I sell my farm to buy it.”

There where he moved the rocks to plow the ground


And plowed between the rocks he couldn’t move

Few farms changed hands; so rather than spend years

Trying to sell his farm and then not selling,

He burned his house down for the fire insurance

And bought the telescope with what it came to.

He had been heard to say by several:

“The best thing that we’re put here for’s to see;

The strongest thing that’s given us to see with’s

A telescope. Someone in every town

Seems to me owes it to the town to keep one.

In Littleton it may as well be me.”

After such loose talk it was no surprise

When he did what he did and burned his house down.

Mean laughter went about the town that day

To let him know we weren’t the least imposed on,

And he could wait—we’d see to him to-morrow.

But the first thing next morning we reflected

If one by one we counted people out

For the least sin, it wouldn’t take us long

To get so we had no one left to live with.

For to be social is to be forgiving.

Our thief, the one who does our stealing from us,

We don’t cut off from coming to church suppers,

But what we miss we go to him and ask for.

He promptly gives it back, that is if still

Uneaten, unworn out, or undisposed of.

It wouldn’t do to be too hard on Brad

About his telescope. Beyond the age

Of being given one’s gift for Christmas,

He had to take the best way he knew how

To find himself in one. Well, all we said was

He took a strange thing to be roguish over.


Some sympathy was wasted on the house,

A good old-timer dating back along;

But a house isn’t sentient; the house

Didn’t feel anything. And if it did,

Why not regard it as a sacrifice,

And an old-fashioned sacrifice by fire,

Instead of a new-fashioned one at auction?

Out of a house and so out of a farm

At one stroke (of a match), Brad had to turn

To earn a living on the Concord railroad,

As under-ticket-agent at a station

Where his job, when he wasn’t selling tickets,

Was setting out up track and down, not plants

As on a farm, but planets, evening stars

That varied in their hue from red to green.

He got a good glass for six hundred dollars.

His new job gave him leisure for star-gazing.

Often he bid me come and have a look

Up the brass barrel, velvet black inside,

At a star quaking in the other end.

I recollect a night of broken clouds

And underfoot snow melted down to ice,

And melting further in the wind to mud.

Bradford and I had out the telescope.

We spread our two legs as we spread its three,

Pointed our thoughts the way we pointed it,

And standing at our leisure till the day broke,

Said some of the best things we ever said.[19]

That telescope was christened the Star-splitter,


Because it didn’t do a thing but split

A star in two or three the way you split

A globule of quicksilver in your hand

With one stroke of your finger in the middle.

It’s a star-splitter if there ever was one

And ought to do some good if splitting stars

’Sa thing to be compared with splitting wood.

We’ve looked and looked, but after all where are we?

Do we know any better where we are,

And how it stands between the night to-night

And a man with a smoky lantern chimney?

How different from the way it ever stood?



Her teacher’s certainty it must be Mabel

Made Maple first take notice of her name.

She asked her father and he told her “Maple—

Maple is right.”

“But teacher told the school

There’s no such name.”

“Teachers don’t know as much

As fathers about children, you tell teacher.

You tell her that it’s M-A-P-L-E.

You ask her if she knows a maple tree.

Well, you were named after a maple tree.

Your mother named you. You and she just saw

Each other in passing in the room upstairs,

One coming this way into life, and one

Going the other out of life—you know?

So you can’t have much recollection of her.

She had been having a long look at you.

She put her finger in your cheek so hard

It must have made your dimple there, and said,

‘Maple.’ I said it too: ‘Yes, for her name.’

She nodded. So we’re sure there’s no mistake.

I don’t know what she wanted it to mean,

But it seems like some word she left to bid you

Be a good girl—be like a maple tree.

How like a maple tree’s for us to guess.

Or for a little girl to guess sometime.

Not now—at least I shouldn’t try too hard now.


By and by I will tell you all I know

About the different trees, and something, too,

About your mother that perhaps may help.”

Dangerous self-arousing words to sow.

Luckily all she wanted of her name then

Was to rebuke her teacher with it next day,

And give the teacher a scare as from her father.

Anything further had been wasted on her,

Or so he tried to think to avoid blame.

She would forget it. She all but forgot it.

What he sowed with her slept so long a sleep,

And came so near death in the dark of years,

That when it woke and came to life again

The flower was different from the parent seed.

It came back vaguely at the glass one day,

As she stood saying her name over aloud,

Striking it gently across her lowered eyes

To make it go well with the way she looked.

What was it about her name? Its strangeness lay

In having too much meaning. Other names,

As Lesley, Carol, Irma, Marjorie,

Signified nothing. Rose could have a meaning,

But hadn’t as it went. (She knew a Rose.)

This difference from other names it was

Made people notice it—and notice her.

(They either noticed it, or got it wrong.)

Her problem was to find out what it asked

In dress or manner of the girl who bore it.

If she could form some notion of her mother—

What she had thought was lovely, and what good.

This was her mother’s childhood home;

The house one story high in front, three stories

On the end it presented to the road.


(The arrangement made a pleasant sunny cellar.)

Her mother’s bedroom was her father’s still,

Where she could watch her mother’s picture fading.

Once she found for a bookmark in the Bible

A maple leaf she thought must have been laid

In wait for her there. She read every word

Of the two pages it was pressed between

As if it was her mother speaking to her.

But forgot to put the leaf back in closing

And lost the place never to read again.

She was sure, though, there had been nothing in it.

So she looked for herself, as everyone

Looks for himself, more or less outwardly.

And her self-seeking, fitful though it was,

May still have been what led her on to read,

And think a little, and get some city schooling.

She learned shorthand, whatever shorthand may

Have had to do with it—she sometimes wondered.

So, till she found herself in a strange place

For the name Maple to have brought her to,

Taking dictation on a paper pad,

And in the pauses when she raised her eyes

Watching out of a nineteenth story window

An airship laboring with unship-like motion

And a vague all-disturbing roar above the river

Beyond the highest city built with hands.

Someone was saying in such natural tones

She almost wrote the words down on her knee,

“Do you know you remind me of a tree—

A maple tree?”

“Because my name is Maple?”


“Isn’t it Mabel? I thought it was Mabel.”

“No doubt you’ve heard the office call me Mabel.

I have to let them call me what they like.”

They were both stirred that he should have divined

Without the name her personal mystery.

It made it seem as if there must be something

She must have missed herself. So they were married,

And took the fancy home with them to live by.

They went on pilgrimage once to her father’s

(The house one story high in front, three stories

On the side it presented to the road)

To see if there was not some special tree

She might have overlooked. They could find none,

Not so much as a single tree for shade,

Let alone grove of trees for sugar orchard.

She told him of the bookmark maple leaf

In the big Bible, and all she remembered

Of the place marked with it—“Wave offering,

Something about wave offering, it said.”

“You’ve never asked your father outright, have you?”

“I have, and been put off sometime, I think.”

(This was her faded memory of the way

Once long ago her father had put himself off.)

“Because no telling but it may have been

Something between your father and your mother

Not meant for us at all.”

“Not meant for me?

Where would the fairness be in giving me

A name to carry for life, and never know

The secret of?”


“And then it may have been

Something a father couldn’t tell a daughter

As well as could a mother. And again

It may have been their one lapse into fancy

’Twould be too bad to make him sorry for

By bringing it up to him when he was too old.

Your father feels us round him with our questing,

And holds us off unnecessarily,

As if he didn’t know what little thing

Might lead us on to a discovery.

It was as personal as he could be

About the way he saw it was with you

To say your mother, had she lived, would be

As far again as from being born to bearing.”

“Just one look more with what you say in mind,

And I give up”; which last look came to nothing.

But, though they now gave up the search forever,

They clung to what one had seen in the other

By inspiration. It proved there was something.

They kept their thoughts away from when the maples

Stood uniform in buckets, and the steam

Of sap and snow rolled off the sugar house.

When they made her related to the maples,

It was the tree the autumn fire ran through

And swept of leathern leaves, but left the bark

Unscorched, unblackened, even, by any smoke.

They always took their holidays in autumn.

Once they came on a maple in a glade,

Standing alone with smooth arms lifted up,

And every leaf of foliage she’d worn

Laid scarlet and pale pink about her feet.

But its age kept them from considering this one.


Twenty-five years ago at Maple’s naming

It hardly could have been a two-leaved seedling

The next cow might have licked up out at pasture.

Could it have been another maple like it?

They hovered for a moment near discovery,

Figurative enough to see the symbol,

But lacking faith in anything to mean

The same at different times to different people.

Perhaps a filial diffidence partly kept them

From thinking it could be a thing so bridal.

And anyway it came too late for Maple.

She used her hands to cover up her eyes.

“We would not see the secret if we could now:

We are not looking for it any more.”

Thus had a name with meaning, given in death,

Made a girl’s marriage, and ruled in her life.

No matter that the meaning was not clear.

A name with meaning could bring up a child,

Taking the child out of the parents’ hands.

Better a meaningless name, I should say,

As leaving more to nature and happy chance.

Name children some names and see what you do.



I’ve known ere now an interfering branch

Of alder catch my lifted axe behind me.

But that was in the woods, to hold my hand

From striking at another alder’s roots,

And that was, as I say, an alder branch.

This was a man, Baptiste, who stole one day

Behind me on the snow in my own yard

Where I was working at the chopping-block,

And cutting nothing not cut down already.

He caught my axe expertly on the rise,

When all my strength put forth was in his favor,

Held it a moment where it was, to calm me,

Then took it from me—and I let him take it.

I didn’t know him well enough to know

What it was all about. There might be something

He had in mind to say to a bad neighbor

He might prefer to say to him disarmed.

But all he had to tell me in French-English

Was what he thought of—not me, but my axe;

Me only as I took my axe to heart.

It was the bad axe-helve some one had sold me—

“Made on machine,” he said, ploughing the grain

With a thick thumbnail to show how it ran

Across the handle’s long drawn serpentine,

Like the two strokes across a dollar sign.

“You give her one good crack, she’s snap raght off.

Den where’s your hax-ead flying t’rough de hair?”


Admitted; and yet, what was that to him?

“Come on my house and I put you one in

What’s las’ awhile—good hick’ry what’s grow crooked,

De second growt’ I cut myself—tough, tough!”

Something to sell? That wasn’t how it sounded.

“Den when you say you come? It’s cost you nothing.


As well to-night as any night.

Beyond an over-warmth of kitchen stove

My welcome differed from no other welcome.

Baptiste knew best why I was where I was.

So long as he would leave enough unsaid,

I shouldn’t mind his being overjoyed

(If overjoyed he was) at having got me

Where I must judge if what he knew about an axe

That not everybody else knew was to count

For nothing in the measure of a neighbor.

Hard if, though cast away for life with Yankees,

A Frenchman couldn’t get his human rating!

Mrs. Baptiste came in and rocked a chair

That had as many motions as the world:

One back and forward, in and out of shadow,

That got her nowhere; one more gradual,

Sideways, that would have run her on the stove

In time, had she not realized her danger

And caught herself up bodily, chair and all,

And set herself back where she started from.

“She ain’t spick too much Henglish—dat’s too bad.”


I was afraid, in brightening first on me,

Then on Baptiste, as if she understood

What passed between us, she was only feigning.

Baptiste was anxious for her; but no more

Than for himself, so placed he couldn’t hope

To keep his bargain of the morning with me

In time to keep me from suspecting him

Of really never having meant to keep it.

Needlessly soon he had his axe-helves out,

A quiverful to choose from, since he wished me

To have the best he had, or had to spare—

Not for me to ask which, when what he took

Had beauties he had to point me out at length

To insure their not being wasted on me.

He liked to have it slender as a whipstock,

Free from the least knot, equal to the strain

Of bending like a sword across the knee.

He showed me that the lines of a good helve

Were native to the grain before the knife

Expressed them, and its curves were no false curves

Put on it from without. And there its strength lay

For the hard work. He chafed its long white body

From end to end with his rough hand shut round it.

He tried it at the eye-hole in the axe-head.

“Hahn, hahn,” he mused, “don’t need much taking down.”

Baptiste knew how to make a short job long

For love of it, and yet not waste time either.

Do you know, what we talked about was knowledge?

Baptiste on his defence about the children

He kept from school, or did his best to keep—


Whatever school and children and our doubts

Of laid-on education had to do

With the curves of his axe-helves and his having

Used these unscrupulously to bring me

To see for once the inside of his house.

Was I desired in friendship, partly as some one

To leave it to, whether the right to hold

Such doubts of education should depend

Upon the education of those who held them?

But now he brushed the shavings from his knee

And stood the axe there on its horse’s hoof,

Erect, but not without its waves, as when

The snake stood up for evil in the Garden,—

Top-heavy with a heaviness his short,

Thick hand made light of, steel-blue chin drawn down

And in a little—a French touch in that.

Baptiste drew back and squinted at it, pleased;

“See how she’s cock her head!”



Having a wheel and four legs of its own

Has never availed the cumbersome grindstone

To get it anywhere that I can see.

These hands have helped it go, and even race;

Not all the motion, though, they ever lent,

Not all the miles it may have thought it went,

Have got it one step from the starting place.

It stands beside the same old apple tree.

The shadow of the apple tree is thin

Upon it now, its feet are fast in snow.

All other farm machinery’s gone in,

And some of it on no more legs and wheel

Than the grindstone can boast to stand or go.

(I’m thinking chiefly of the wheelbarrow.)

For months it hasn’t known the taste of steel,

Washed down with rusty water in a tin.

But standing outdoors hungry, in the cold,

Except in towns at night, is not a sin.

And, anyway, its standing in the yard

Under a ruinous live apple tree

Has nothing any more to do with me,

Except that I remember how of old

One summer day, all day I drove it hard,

And someone mounted on it rode it hard,

And he and I between us ground a blade.

I gave it the preliminary spin,

And poured on water (tears it might have been);


And when it almost gayly jumped and flowed,

A Father-Time-like man got on and rode,

Armed with a scythe and spectacles that glowed.

He turned on will-power to increase the load

And slow me down—and I abruptly slowed,

Like coming to a sudden railroad station.

I changed from hand to hand in desperation.

I wondered what machine of ages gone

This represented an improvement on.

For all I knew it may have sharpened spears

And arrowheads itself. Much use for years

Had gradually worn it an oblate

Spheroid that kicked and struggled in its gait,

Appearing to return me hate for hate;

(But I forgive it now as easily

As any other boyhood enemy

Whose pride has failed to get him anywhere).

I wondered who it was the man thought ground—

The one who held the wheel back or the one

Who gave his life to keep it going round?

I wondered if he really thought it fair

For him to have the say when we were done.

Such were the bitter thoughts to which I turned.

Not for myself was I so much concerned.

Oh no!—although, of course, I could have found

A better way to pass the afternoon

Than grinding discord out of a grindstone,

And beating insects at their gritty tune.

Nor was I for the man so much concerned.

Once when the grindstone almost jumped its bearing

It looked as if he might be badly thrown

And wounded on his blade. So far from caring,


I laughed inside, and only cranked the faster,

(It ran as if it wasn’t greased but glued);

I’d welcome any moderate disaster

That might be calculated to postpone

What evidently nothing could conclude.

The thing that made me more and more afraid

Was that we’d ground it sharp and hadn’t known,

And now were only wasting precious blade.

And when he raised it dripping once and tried

The creepy edge of it with wary touch,

And viewed it over his glasses funny-eyed,

Only disinterestedly to decide

It needed a turn more, I could have cried

Wasn’t there danger of a turn too much?

Mightn’t we make it worse instead of better?

I was for leaving something to the whetter.

What if it wasn’t all it should be? I’d

Be satisfied if he’d be satisfied.



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 he had 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 some one 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 had 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

In 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 heard 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 hard 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 had 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 hell 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 jack-knife,

And spread the opening, and you’ve got a dug-out

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 jack-knife to.

So after work that evening he 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 had this in both hands,

And, looking from it to the pond near by,

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 water-logged 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 mill-pond.

More than a mile across the wilderness

They sat together half-way 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 so 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.



What tree may not the fig be gathered from?

The grape may not be gathered from the birch?

It’s all you know the grape, or know the birch.

As a girl gathered from the birch myself

Equally with my weight in grapes, one autumn,

I ought to know what tree the grape is fruit of.

I was born, I suppose, like anyone,

And grew to be a little boyish girl

My brother could not always leave at home.

But that beginning was wiped out in fear

The day I swung suspended with the grapes,

And was come after like Eurydice

And brought down safely from the upper regions;

And the life I live now’s an extra life

I can waste as I please on whom I please.

So if you see me celebrate two birthdays,

And give myself out as two different ages,

One of them five years younger than I look—

One day my brother led me to a glade

Where a white birch he knew of stood alone,

Wearing a thin head-dress of pointed leaves,

And heavy on her heavy hair behind,

Against her neck, an ornament of grapes.

Grapes, I knew grapes from having seen them last year.

One bunch of them, and there began to be

Bunches all round me growing in white birches,


The way they grew round Lief the Lucky’s German;

Mostly as much beyond my lifted hands, though,

As the moon used to seem when I was younger,

And only freely to be had for climbing.

My brother did the climbing; and at first

Threw me down grapes to miss and scatter

And have to hunt for in sweet fern and hardhack;

Which gave him some time to himself to eat,

But not so much, perhaps, as a boy needed.

So then, to make me wholly self-supporting,

He climbed still higher and bent the tree to earth,

And put it in my hands to pick my own grapes.

“Here, take a tree-top, I’ll get down another.

Hold on with all your might when I let go.”

I said I had the tree. It wasn’t true.

The opposite was true. The tree had me.

The minute it was left with me alone

It caught me up as if I were the fish

And it the fishpole. So I was translated

To loud cries from my brother of “Let go!

Don’t you know anything, you girl? Let go!”

But I, with something of the baby grip

Acquired ancestrally in just such trees

When wilder mothers than our wildest now

Hung babies out on branches by the hands

To dry or wash or tan, I don’t know which

(You’ll have to ask an evolutionist)—

I held on uncomplainingly for life.

My brother tried to make me laugh to help me.

“What are you doing up there in those grapes?

Don’t be afraid. A few of them won’t hurt you.

I mean, they won’t pick you if you don’t them.”

Much danger of my picking anything!


By that time I was pretty well reduced

To a philosophy of hang-and-let-hang.

“Now you know how it feels,” my brother said,

“To be a bunch of fox-grapes, as they call them,

That when it thinks it has escaped the fox

By growing where it shouldn’t—on a birch,

Where a fox wouldn’t think to look for it—

And if he looked and found it, couldn’t reach it—

Just then come you and I to gather it.

Only you have the advantage of the grapes

In one way: you have one more stem to cling by,

And promise more resistance to the picker.”

One by one I lost off my hat and shoes,

And still I clung. I let my head fall back,

And shut my eyes against the sun, my ears

Against my brother’s nonsense; “Drop,” he said,

“I’ll catch you in my arms. It isn’t far.”

(Stated in lengths of him it might not be.)

“Drop or I’ll shake the tree and shake you down.”

Grim silence on my part as I sank lower,

My small wrists stretching till they showed the banjo strings.

“Why, if she isn’t serious about it!

Hold tight awhile till I think what to do.

I’ll bend the tree down and let you down by it.”

I don’t know much about the letting down;

But once I felt ground with my stocking feet

And the world came revolving back to me,

I know I looked long at my curled-up fingers,

Before I straightened them and brushed the bark off.

My brother said: “Don’t you weigh anything?

Try to weigh something next time, so you won’t


Be run off with by birch trees into space.”

It wasn’t my not weighing anything

So much as my not knowing anything—

My brother had been nearer right before.

I had not taken the first step in knowledge;

I had not learned to let go with the hands,

As still I have not learned to with the heart,

And have no wish to with the heart—nor need,

That I can see. The mind—is not the heart.

I may yet live, as I know others live,

To wish in vain to let go with the mind—

Of cares, at night, to sleep; but nothing tells me

That I need learn to let go with the heart.



Nothing to say to all those marriages!

She had made three herself to three of his.

The score was even for them, three to three.

But come to die she found she cared so much:

She thought of children in a burial row;

Three children in a burial row were sad.

One man’s three women in a burial row

Somehow made her impatient with the man.

And so she said to Laban, “You have done

A good deal right; don’t do the last thing wrong.

Don’t make me lie with those two other women.”

Laban said, No, he would not make her lie

With anyone but that she had a mind to,

If that was how she felt, of course, he said.

She went her way. But Laban having caught

This glimpse of lingering person in Eliza,

And anxious to make all he could of it

With something he remembered in himself,

Tried to think how he could exceed his promise,

And give good measure to the dead, though thankless.

If that was how she felt, he kept repeating.

His first thought under pressure was a grave

In a new boughten grave plot by herself,

Under he didn’t care how great a stone:

He’d sell a yoke of steers to pay for it.

And weren’t there special cemetery flowers,


That, once grief sets to growing, grief may rest:

The flowers will go on with grief awhile,

And no one seem neglecting or neglected?

A prudent grief will not despise such aids.

He thought of evergreen and everlasting.

And then he had a thought worth many of these.

Somewhere must be the grave of the young boy

Who married her for playmate more than helpmate,

And sometimes laughed at what it was between them.

How would she like to sleep her last with him?

Where was his grave? Did Laban know his name?

He found the grave a town or two away,

The headstone cut with John, Beloved Husband,

Beside it room reserved, the say a sister’s,

A never-married sister’s of that husband,

Whether Eliza would be welcome there.

The dead was bound to silence: ask the sister.

So Laban saw the sister, and, saying nothing

Of where Eliza wanted not to lie,

And who had thought to lay her with her first love,

Begged simply for the grave. The sister’s face

Fell all in wrinkles of responsibility.

She wanted to do right. She’d have to think.

Laban was old and poor, yet seemed to care;

And she was old and poor—but she cared, too.

They sat. She cast one dull, old look at him,

Then turned him out to go on other errands

She said he might attend to in the village,

While she made up her mind how much she cared—

And how much Laban cared—and why he cared,

(She made shrewd eyes to see where he came in.)


She’d looked Eliza up her second time,

A widow at her second husband’s grave,

And offered her a home to rest awhile

Before she went the poor man’s widow’s way,

Housekeeping for the next man out of wedlock.

She and Eliza had been friends through all.

Who was she to judge marriage in a world

Whose Bible’s so confused in marriage counsel?

The sister had not come across this Laban;

A decent product of life’s ironing-out;

She must not keep him waiting. Time would press

Between the death day and the funeral day.

So when she saw him coming in the street

She hurried her decision to be ready

To meet him with his answer at the door.

Laban had known about what it would be

From the way she had set her poor old mouth,

To do, as she had put it, what was right.

She gave it through the screen door closed between them:

“No, not with John. There wouldn’t be no sense.

Eliza’s had too many other men.”

Laban was forced to fall back on his plan

To buy Eliza a plot to lie alone in:

Which gives him for himself a choice of lots

When his time comes to die and settle down.



Circa 1922

I staid the night for shelter at a farm

Behind the mountain, with a mother and son,

Two old-believers. They did all the talking.

Mother. Folks think a witch who has familiar spirits

She could call up to pass a winter evening,

But won’t, should be burned at the stake or something.

Summoning spirits isn’t “Button, button,

Who’s got the button,” I would have them know.

Son. Mother can make a common table rear

And kick with two legs like an army mule.

Mother. And when I’ve done it, what good have I done?

Rather than tip a table for you, let me

Tell you what Ralle the Sioux Control once told me.

He said the dead had souls, but when I asked him

How could that be—I thought the dead were souls,

He broke my trance. Don’t that make you suspicious

That there’s something the dead are keeping back?

Yes, there’s something the dead are keeping back.

Son. You wouldn’t want to tell him what we have

Up attic, mother?

Mother. Bones—a skeleton.


Son. But the headboard of mother’s bed is pushed

Against the attic door: the door is nailed.

It’s harmless. Mother hears it in the night

Halting perplexed behind the barrier

Of door and headboard. Where it wants to get

Is back into the cellar where it came from.

Mother. We’ll never let them, will we, son? We’ll never!

Son. It left the cellar forty years ago

And carried itself like a pile of dishes

Up one flight from the cellar to the kitchen,

Another from the kitchen to the bedroom,

Another from the bedroom to the attic,

Right past both father and mother, and neither stopped it.

Father had gone upstairs; mother was downstairs.

I was a baby: I don’t know where I was.

Mother. The only fault my husband found with me—

I went to sleep before I went to bed,

Especially in winter when the bed

Might just as well be ice and the clothes snow.

The night the bones came up the cellar-stairs

Toffile had gone to bed alone and left me,

But left an open door to cool the room off

So as to sort of turn me out of it.

I was just coming to myself enough

To wonder where the cold was coming from,

When I heard Toffile upstairs in the bedroom

And thought I heard him downstairs in the cellar.


The board we had laid down to walk dry-shod on

When there was water in the cellar in spring

Struck the hard cellar bottom. And then someone

Began the stairs, two footsteps for each step,

The way a man with one leg and a crutch,

Or a little child, comes up. It wasn’t Toffile:

It wasn’t anyone who could be there.

The bulkhead double-doors were double-locked

And swollen tight and buried under snow.

The cellar windows were banked up with sawdust

And swollen tight and buried under snow.

It was the bones. I knew them—and good reason.

My first impulse was to get to the knob

And hold the door. But the bones didn’t try

The door; they halted helpless on the landing,

Waiting for things to happen in their favor.

The faintest restless rustling ran all through them.

I never could have done the thing I did

If the wish hadn’t been too strong in me

To see how they were mounted for this walk.

I had a vision of them put together

Not like a man, but like a chandelier.

So suddenly I flung the door wide on him.

A moment he stood balancing with emotion,

And all but lost himself. (A tongue of fire

Flashed out and licked along his upper teeth.

Smoke rolled inside the sockets of his eyes.)

Then he came at me with one hand outstretched,

The way he did in life once; but this time

I struck the hand off brittle on the floor,

And fell back from him on the floor myself.

The finger-pieces slid in all directions.

(Where did I see one of those pieces lately?


Hand me my button-box—it must be there.)

I sat up on the floor and shouted, “Toffile,

It’s coming up to you.” It had its choice

Of the door to the cellar or the hall.

It took the hall door for the novelty,

And set off briskly for so slow a thing,

Still going every which way in the joints, though,

So that it looked like lightning or a scribble,

From the slap I had just now given its hand.

I listened till it almost climbed the stairs

From the hall to the only finished bedroom,

Before I got up to do anything;

Then ran and shouted, “Shut the bedroom door,

Toffile, for my sake!” “Company,” he said,

“Don’t make me get up; I’m too warm in bed.”

So lying forward weakly on the handrail

I pushed myself upstairs, and in the light

(The kitchen had been dark) I had to own

I could see nothing. “Toffile, I don’t see it.

It’s with us in the room though. It’s the bones.”

“What bones?” “The cellar bones—out of the grave.”

That made him throw his bare legs out of bed

And sit up by me and take hold of me.

I wanted to put out the light and see

If I could see it, or else mow the room,

With our arms at the level of our knees,

And bring the chalk-pile down. “I’ll tell you what—

It’s looking for another door to try.

The uncommonly deep snow has made him think

Of his old song, The Wild Colonial Boy,

He always used to sing along the tote-road.

He’s after an open door to get out-doors.


Let’s trap him with an open door up attic.”

Toffile agreed to that, and sure enough,

Almost the moment he was given an opening,

The steps began to climb the attic stairs.

I heard them. Toffile didn’t seem to hear them.

“Quick!” I slammed to the door and held the knob.

“Toffile, get nails.” I made him nail the door shut,

And push the headboard of the bed against it.

Then we asked was there anything

Up attic that we’d ever want again.

The attic was less to us than the cellar.

If the bones liked the attic, let them have it,

Let them stay in the attic. When they sometimes

Come down the stairs at night and stand perplexed

Behind the door and headboard of the bed,

Brushing their chalky skull with chalky fingers,

With sounds like the dry rattling of a shutter,

That’s what I sit up in the dark to say—

To no one any more since Toffile died.

Let them stay in the attic since they went there.

I promised Toffile to be cruel to them

For helping them be cruel once to him.

Son. We think they had a grave down in the cellar.

Mother. We know they had a grave down in the cellar.

Son. We never could find out whose bones they were.

Mother. Yes, we could too, son. Tell the truth for once.

They were a man’s his father killed for me.

I mean a man he killed instead of me.

The least I could do was to help dig their grave.


We were about it one night in the cellar.

Son knows the story: but ’twas not for him

To tell the truth, suppose the time had come.

Son looks surprised to see me end a lie

We’d kept all these years between ourselves

So as to have it ready for outsiders.

But tonight I don’t care enough to lie—

I don’t remember why I ever cared.

Toffile, if he were here, I don’t believe

Could tell you why he ever cared himself . . .

She hadn’t found the finger-bone she wanted

Among the buttons poured out in her lap.

I verified the name next morning: Toffile.

The rural letter-box said Toffile Lajway.


Now that they’ve got it settled whose I be,

I’m going to tell them something they won’t like:

They’ve got it settled wrong, and I can prove it.

Flattered I must be to have two towns fighting

To make a present of me to each other.

They don’t dispose me, either one of them,

To spare them any trouble. Double trouble’s

Always the witch’s motto anyway.

I’ll double theirs for both of them—you watch me.

They’ll find they’ve got the whole thing to do over,

That is, if facts is what they want to go by.

They set a lot (now don’t they?) by a record

Of Arthur Amy’s having once been up

For Hog Reeve in March Meeting here in Warren.


I could have told them any time this twelvemonth

The Arthur Amy I was married to

Couldn’t have been the one they say was up

In Warren at March Meeting for the reason

He wa’n’t but fifteen at the time they say.

The Arthur Amy I was married to

Voted the only times he ever voted,

Which wasn’t many, in the town of Wentworth.

One of the times was when ’twas in the warrant

To see if the town wanted to take over

The tote road to our clearing where we lived.

I’ll tell you who’d remember—Heman Lapish.

Their Arthur Amy was the father of mine.

So now they’ve dragged it through the law courts once

I guess they’d better drag it through again.

Wentworth and Warren’s both good towns to live in,

Only I happen to prefer to live

In Wentworth from now on; and when all’s said,

Right’s right, and the temptation to do right

When I can hurt someone by doing it

Has always been too much for me, it has.

I know of some folks that’d be set up

At having in their town a noted witch:

But most would have to think of the expense

That even I would be. They ought to know

That as a witch I’d often milk a bat

And that’d be enough to last for days.

It’d make my position stronger, think,

If I was to consent to give some sign

To make it surer that I was a witch?

It wa’n’t no sign, I s’pose, when Mallice Huse

Said that I took him out in his old age

And rode all over everything on him


Until I’d had him worn to skin and bones.

And if I’d left him hitched unblanketed

In front of one Town Hall, I’d left him hitched

In front of every one in Grafton County.

Some cried shame on me not to blanket him,

The poor old man. It would have been all right

If some one hadn’t said to gnaw the posts

He stood beside and leave his trade mark on them,

So they could recognize them. Not a post

That they could hear tell of was scarified.

They made him keep on gnawing till he whined.

Then that same smarty someone said to look—

He’d bet Huse was a cribber and had gnawed

The crib he slept in—and as sure’s you’re born

They found he’d gnawed the four posts of his bed,

All four of them to splinters. What did that prove?

Not that he hadn’t gnawed the hitching posts

He said he had besides. Because a horse

Gnaws in the stable ain’t no proof to me

He don’t gnaw trees and posts and fences too.

But everybody took it for a proof.

I was a strapping girl of twenty then.

The smarty someone who spoiled everything

Was Arthur Amy. You know who he was.

That was the way he started courting me.

He never said much after we were married,

But I mistrusted he was none too proud

Of having interfered in the Huse business.

I guess he found he got more out of me

By having me a witch. Or something happened

To turn him round. He got to saying things

To undo what he’d done and make it right,

Like, “No, she ain’t come back from kiting yet.


Last night was one of her nights out. She’s kiting.

She thinks when the wind makes a night of it

She might as well herself.” But he liked best

To let on he was plagued to death with me:

If anyone had seen me coming home

Over the ridgepole, ’stride of a broomstick,

As often as he had in the tail of the night,

He guessed they’d know what he had to put up with.

Well, I showed Arthur Amy signs enough

Off from the house as far as we could keep

And from barn smells you can’t wash out of ploughed ground

With all the rain and snow of seven years;

And I don’t mean just skulls of Roger’s Rangers

On Moosilauke, but woman signs to man,

Only bewitched so I would last him longer.

Up where the trees grow short, the mosses tall,

I made him gather me wet snow berries

On slippery rocks beside a waterfall.

I made him do it for me in the dark.

And he liked everything I made him do.

I hope if he is where he sees me now

He’s so far off he can’t see what I’ve come to.

You can come down from everything to nothing.

All is, if I’d a-known when I was young

And full of it, that this would be the end,

It doesn’t seem as if I’d had the courage

To make so free and kick up in folks’ faces.

I might have, but it doesn’t seem as if.



I stay;

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,

Alias John,

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 wind-break

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 head shake

Over so much bay

Thrown away

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 he failed,

And nothing came of all he sailed.

It’s to say, “You and I”

To such a ghost,

“You and I

Off here

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.”



Old Davis owned a solid mica mountain

In Dalton that would some day make his fortune.

There’d been some Boston people out to see it:

And experts said that deep down in the mountain

The mica sheets were big as plate glass windows.

He’d like to take me there and show it to me.

“I’ll tell you what you show me. You remember

You said you knew the place where once, on Kinsman,

The early Mormons made a settlement

And built a stone baptismal font outdoors—

But Smith, or some one, called them off the mountain

To go West to a worse fight with the desert.

You said you’d seen the stone baptismal font.

Well, take me there.”

“Some day I will.”


“Huh, that old bath-tub, what is that to see?

Let’s talk about it.”

“Let’s go see the place.”

“To shut you up I’ll tell you what I’ll do:

I’ll find that fountain if it takes all summer,

And both of our united strengths, to do it.”


“You’ve lost it, then?”

“Not so but I can find it.

No doubt it’s grown up some to woods around it.

The mountain may have shifted since I saw it

In eighty-five.”

“As long ago as that?”

“If I remember rightly, it had sprung

A leak and emptied then. And forty years

Can do a good deal to bad masonry.

You won’t see any Mormon swimming in it.

But you have said it, and we’re off to find it.

Old as I am, I’m going to let myself

Be dragged by you all over everywhere—”

“I thought you were a guide.”

“I am a guide,

And that’s why I can’t decently refuse you.”

We made a day of it out of the world,

Ascending to descend to reascend.

The old man seriously took his bearings,

And spoke his doubts in every open place.

We came out on a look-off where we faced

A cliff, and on the cliff a bottle painted,

Or stained by vegetation from above,

A likeness to surprise the thrilly tourist.

“Well, if I haven’t brought you to the fountain,

At least I’ve brought you to the famous Bottle.”


“I won’t accept the substitute. It’s empty.”

“So’s everything.”

“I want my fountain.”

“I guess you’d find the fountain just as empty.

And anyway this tells me where I am.”

“Hadn’t you long suspected where you were?”

“You mean miles from that Mormon settlement?

Look here, you treat your guide with due respect

If you don’t want to spend the night outdoors.

I vow we must be near the place from where

The two converging slides, the avalanches,

On Marshall, look like donkey’s ears.

We may as well see that and save the day.”

“Don’t donkey’s ears suggest we shake our own?”

“For God’s sake, aren’t you fond of viewing nature?

You don’t like nature. All you like is books.

What signify a donkey’s ears and bottle,

However natural? Give you your books!

Well then, right here is where I show you books.

Come straight down off this mountain just as fast

As we can fall and keep a-bouncing on our feet.

It’s hell for knees unless done hell-for-leather.”

“Be ready,” I thought, “for almost anything.”

We struck a road I didn’t recognize,

But welcomed for the chance to lave my shoes

In dust once more. We followed this a mile,


Perhaps, to where it ended at a house

I didn’t know was there. It was the kind

To bring me to for broad-board panelling.

I never saw so good a house deserted.

“Excuse me if I ask you in a window

That happens to be broken,” Davis said.

“The outside doors as yet have held against us.

I want to introduce you to the people

Who used to live here. They were Robinsons.

You must have heard of Clara Robinson,

The poetess who wrote the book of verses

And had it published. It was all about

The posies on her inner window sill,

And the birds on her outer window sill,

And how she tended both, or had them tended:

She never tended anything herself.

She was ‘shut in’ for life. She lived her whole

Life long in bed, and wrote her things in bed.

I’ll show you how she had her sills extended

To entertain the birds and hold the flowers.

Our business first’s up attic with her books.”

We trod uncomfortably on crunching glass

Through a house stripped of everything

Except, it seemed, the poetess’s poems.

Books, I should say!—if books are what is needed.

A whole edition in a packing-case,

That, overflowing like a horn of plenty,

Or like the poetess’s heart of love,

Had spilled them near the window toward the light,

Where driven rain had wet and swollen them.

Enough to stock a village library—


Unfortunately all of one kind, though.

They had been brought home from some publisher

And taken thus into the family.

Boys and bad hunters had known what to do

With stone and lead to unprotected glass:

Shatter it inward on the unswept floors.

How had the tender verse escaped their outrage?

By being invisible for what it was,

Or else by some remoteness that defied them

To find out what to do to hurt a poem.

Yet oh! the tempting flatness of a book,

To send it sailing out the attic window

Till it caught the wind, and, opening out its covers,

Tried to improve on sailing like a tile

By flying like a bird (silent in flight,

But all the burden of its body song),

Only to tumble like a stricken bird,

And lie in stones and bushes unretrieved.

Books were not thrown irreverently about.

They simply lay where some one now and then,

Having tried one, had dropped it at his feet

And left it lying where it fell rejected.

Here were all those the poetess’s life

Had been too short to sell or give away.

“Take one,” Old Davis bade me graciously.

“Why not take two or three?”

“Take all you want.

Good-looking books like that.” He picked one fresh

In virgin wrapper from deep in the box,

And stroked it with a horny-handed kindness.


He read in one and I read in another,

Both either looking for or finding something.

The attic wasps went missing by like bullets.

I was soon satisfied for the time being.

All the way home I kept remembering

The small book in my pocket. It was there.

The poetess had sighed, I knew, in heaven

At having eased her heart of one more copy—

Legitimately. My demand upon her,

Though slight, was a demand. She felt the tug.

In time she would be rid of all her books.



It was long I lay

Awake that night

Wishing the tower

Would name the hour

And tell me whether

To call it day

(Though not yet light)

And give up sleep.

The snow fell deep

With the hiss of spray;

Two winds would meet,

One down one street,

One down another,

And fight in a smother

Of dust and feather.

I could not say,

But feared the cold

Had checked the pace

Of the tower clock

By tying together

Its hands of gold

Before its face.

Then came one knock!

A note unruffled

Of earthly weather,

Though strange and muffled.


The tower said, “One!”

And then a steeple.

They spoke to themselves

And such few people

As winds might rouse

From sleeping warm

(But not unhouse).

They left the storm

That struck en masse

My window glass

Like a beaded fur.

In that grave One

They spoke of the sun

And moon and stars,

Saturn and Mars

And Jupiter.

Still more unfettered,

They left the named

And spoke of the lettered,

The sigmas and taus

Of constellations.

They filled their throats

With the furthest bodies

To which man sends his


Beyond which God is;

The cosmic motes

Of yawning lenses.

Their solemn peals

Were not their own:

They spoke for the clock

With whose vast wheels

Theirs interlock.


In that grave word

Uttered alone

The utmost star

Trembled and stirred,

Though set so far

Its whirling frenzies

Appear like standing

In one self station.

It has not ranged,

And save for the wonder

Of once expanding

To be a nova,

It has not changed

To the eye of man

On planets over

Around and under

It in creation

Since man began

To drag down man

And nation nation.





Why make so much of fragmentary blue

In here and there a bird, or butterfly,

Or flower, or wearing-stone, or open eye,

When heaven presents in sheets the solid hue?

Since earth is earth, perhaps, not heaven (as yet)—

Though some savants make earth include the sky;

And blue so far above us comes so high,

It only gives our wish for blue a whet.



Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.



The living come with grassy tread

To read the gravestones on the hill;

The graveyard draws the living still,

But never any more the dead.

The verses in it say and say:

“The ones who living come today

To read the stones and go away

Tomorrow dead will come to stay.”

So sure of death the marbles rhyme,

Yet can’t help marking all the time

How no one dead will seem to come.

What is it men are shrinking from?

It would be easy to be clever

And tell the stones: Men hate to die

And have stopped dying now forever.

I think they would believe the lie.



The way a crow

Shook down on me

The dust of snow

From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart

A change of mood

And saved some part

Of a day I had rued.


TO E. T.

I slumbered with your poems on my breast

Spread open as I dropped them half-read through

Like dove wings on a figure on a tomb

To see, if in a dream they brought of you,

I might not have the chance I missed in life

Through some delay, and call you to your face

First soldier, and then poet, and then both,

Who died a soldier-poet of your race.

I meant, you meant, that nothing should remain

Unsaid between us, brother, and this remained—

And one thing more that was not then to say:

The Victory for what it lost and gained.

You went to meet the shell’s embrace of fire

On Vimy Ridge; and when you fell that day

The war seemed over more for you than me,

But now for me than you—the other way.

How over, though, for even me who knew

The foe thrust back unsafe beyond the Rhine,

If I was not to speak of it to you

And see you pleased once more with words of mine?



Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.



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 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.”



Before man came to blow it right

The wind once blew itself untaught,

And did its loudest day and night

In any rough place where it caught.

Man came to tell it what was wrong:

It hadn’t found the place to blow;

It blew too hard—the aim was song.

And listen—how it ought to go!

He took a little in his mouth,

And held it long enough for north

To be converted into south,

And then by measure blew it forth.

By measure. It was word and note,

The wind the wind had meant to be—

A little through the lips and throat.

The aim was song—the wind could see.



Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound’s the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.



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.



It is blue-butterfly day here in spring,

And with these sky-flakes down in flurry on flurry

There is more unmixed color on the wing

Than flowers will show for days unless they hurry.

But these are flowers that fly and all but sing:

And now from having ridden out desire

They lie closed over in the wind and cling

Where wheels have freshly sliced the April mire.



Always the same, when on a fated night

At last the gathered snow lets down as white

As may be in dark woods, and with a song

It shall not make again all winter long

Of hissing on the yet uncovered ground,

I almost stumble looking up and round,

As one who overtaken by the end

Gives up his errand, and lets death descend

Upon him where he is, with nothing done

To evil, no important triumph won,

More than if life had never been begun.

Yet all the precedent is on my side:

I know that winter death has never tried

The earth but it has failed: the snow may heap

In long storms an undrifted four feet deep

As measured against maple, birch and oak,

It cannot check the peeper’s silver croak;

And I shall see the snow all go down hill

In water of a slender April rill

That flashes tail through last year’s withered brake

And dead weeds, like a disappearing snake.

Nothing will be left white but here a birch,

And there a clump of houses with a church.



Love at the lips was touch

As sweet as I could bear;

And once that seemed too much;

I lived on air

That crossed me from sweet things,

The flow of—was it musk

From hidden grapevine springs

Down hill at dusk?

I had the swirl and ache

From sprays of honeysuckle

That when they’re gathered shake

Dew on the knuckle.

I craved strong sweets, but those

Seemed strong when I was young;

The petal of the rose

It was that stung.

Now no joy but lacks salt

That is not dashed with pain

And weariness and fault;

I crave the stain

Of tears, the aftermark

Of almost too much love,

The sweet of bitter bark

And burning clove.


When stiff and sore and scarred

I take away my hand

From leaning on it hard

In grass and sand,

The hurt is not enough:

I long for weight and strength

To feel the earth as rough

To all my length.



This saying good-bye on the edge of the dark

And cold to an orchard so young in the bark

Reminds me of all that can happen to harm

An orchard away at the end of the farm

All winter, cut off by a hill from the house.

I don’t want it girdled by rabbit and mouse,

I don’t want it dreamily nibbled for browse

By deer, and I don’t want it budded by grouse.

(If certain it wouldn’t be idle to call

I’d summon grouse, rabbit, and deer to the wall

And warn them away with a stick for a gun.)

I don’t want it stirred by the heat of the sun.

(We made it secure against being, I hope,

By setting it out on a northerly slope.)

No orchard’s the worse for the wintriest storm;

But one thing about it, it mustn’t get warm.

“How often already you’ve had to be told,

Keep cold, young orchard. Good-bye and keep cold.

Dread fifty above more than fifty below.”

I have to be gone for a season or so.

My business awhile is with different trees,

Less carefully nourished, less fruitful than these,

And such as is done to their wood with an axe—

Maples and birches and tamaracks.

I wish I could promise to lie in the night


And think of an orchard’s arboreal plight

When slowly (and nobody comes with a light)

Its heart sinks lower under the sod.

But something has to be left to God.



Love and forgetting might have carried them

A little further up the mountain side

With night so near, but not much further up.

They must have halted soon in any case

With thoughts of the path back, how rough it was

With rock and washout, and unsafe in darkness;

When they were halted by a tumbled wall

With barbed-wire binding. They stood facing this,

Spending what onward impulse they still had

In one last look the way they must not go,

On up the failing path, where, if a stone

Or earthslide moved at night, it moved itself;

No footstep moved it. “This is all,” they sighed,

“Good-night to woods.” But not so; there was more.

A doe from round a spruce stood looking at them

Across the wall, as near the wall as they.

She saw them in their field, they her in hers.

The difficulty of seeing what stood still,

Like some up-ended boulder split in two,

Was in her clouded eyes: they saw no fear there.

She seemed to think that two thus they were safe.

Then, as if they were something that, though strange,

She could not trouble her mind with too long,

She sighed and passed unscared along the wall.

This, then, is all. What more is there to ask?”

But no, not yet. A snort to bid them wait.

A buck from round the spruce stood looking at them


Across the wall as near the wall as they.

This was an antlered buck of lusty nostril,

Not the same doe come back into her place.

He viewed them quizzically with jerks of head,

As if to ask, “Why don’t you make some motion?

Or give some sign of life? Because you can’t.

I doubt if you’re as living as you look.”

Thus till he had them almost feeling dared

To stretch a proffering hand—and a spell-breaking.

Then he too passed unscared along the wall.

Two had seen two, whichever side you spoke from.

“This must be all.” It was all. Still they stood,

A great wave from it going over them,

As if the earth in one unlooked-for favor

Had made them certain earth returned their love.



They sent him back to her. The letter came

Saying . . . And she could have him. And before

She could be sure there was no hidden ill

Under the formal writing, he was in her sight,

Living. They gave him back to her alive—

How else? They are not known to send the dead—

And not disfigured visibly. His face?

His hands? She had to look, to ask,

“What is it, dear?” And she had given all

And still she had all—they had—they the lucky!

Wasn’t she glad now? Everything seemed won,

And all the rest for them permissible ease.

She had to ask, “What was it, dear?”


Yet not enough. A bullet through and through,

High in the breast. Nothing but what good care

And medicine and rest, and you a week,

Can cure me of to go again.” The same

Grim giving to do over for them both.

She dared no more than ask him with her eyes

How was it with him for a second trial.

And with his eyes he asked her not to ask.

They had given him back to her, but not to keep.



The farm house lingers, though averse to square

With the new city street it has to wear

A number in. But what about the brook

That held the house as in an elbow-crook?

I ask as one who knew the brook, its strength

And impulse, having dipped a finger length

And made it leap my knuckle, having tossed

A flower to try its currents where they crossed.

The meadow grass could be cemented down

From growing under pavements of a town;

The apple trees be sent to hearth-stone flame.

Is water wood to serve a brook the same?

How else dispose of an immortal force

No longer needed? Staunch it at its source

With cinder loads dumped down? The brook was thrown

Deep in a sewer dungeon under stone

In fetid darkness still to live and run—

And all for nothing it had ever done

Except forget to go in fear perhaps.

No one would know except for ancient maps

That such a brook ran water. But I wonder

If from its being kept forever under

The thoughts may not have risen that so keep

This new-built city from both work and sleep.



Builder, in building the little house,

In every way you may please yourself;

But please please me in the kitchen chimney:

Don’t build me a chimney upon a shelf.

However far you must go for bricks,

Whatever they cost a-piece or a pound,

Buy me enough for a full-length chimney,

And build the chimney clear from the ground.

It’s not that I’m greatly afraid of fire,

But I never heard of a house that throve

(And I know of one that didn’t thrive)

Where the chimney started above the stove.

And I dread the ominous stain of tar

That there always is on the papered walls,

And the smell of fire drowned in rain

That there always is when the chimney’s false.

A shelf’s for a clock or vase or picture,

But I don’t see why it should have to bear

A chimney that only would serve to remind me

Of castles I used to build in air.



The west was getting out of gold,

The breath of air had died of cold,

When shoeing home across the white,

I thought I saw a bird alight.

In summer when I passed the place

I had to stop and lift my face;

A bird with an angelic gift

Was singing in it sweet and swift.

No bird was singing in it now.

A single leaf was on a bough,

And that was all there was to see

In going twice around the tree.

From my advantage on a hill

I judged that such a crystal chill

Was only adding frost to snow

As gilt to gold that wouldn’t show.

A brush had left a crooked stroke

Of what was either cloud or smoke

From north to south across the blue;

A piercing little star was through.



He halted in the wind, and—what was that

Far in the maples, pale, but not a ghost?

He stood there bringing March against his thought,

And yet too ready to believe the most.

“Oh, that’s the Paradise-in-bloom,” I said;

And truly it was fair enough for flowers

Had we but in us to assume in March

Such white luxuriance of May for ours.

We stood a moment so in a strange world,

Myself as one his own pretense deceives;

And then I said the truth (and we moved on):

A young beech clinging to its last year’s leaves.



From where I lingered in a lull in March

Outside the sugar-house one night for choice,

I called the fireman with a careful voice

And bade him leave the pan and stoke the arch:

“O fireman, give the fire another stoke,

And send more sparks up chimney with the smoke.”

I thought a few might tangle, as they did,

Among bare maple boughs, and in the rare

Hill atmosphere not cease to glow,

And so be added to the moon up there.

The moon, though slight, was moon enough to show

On every tree a bucket with a lid,

And on black ground a bear-skin rug of snow.

The sparks made no attempt to be the moon.

They were content to figure in the trees

As Leo, Orion, and the Pleiades.

And that was what the boughs were full of soon.



Spades take up leaves

No better than spoons,

And bags full of leaves

Are light as balloons.

I make a great noise

Of rustling all day

Like rabbit and deer

Running away.

But the mountains I raise

Elude my embrace,

Flowing over my arms

And into my face.

I may load and unload

Again and again

Till I fill the whole shed,

And what have I then?

Next to nothing for weight;

And since they grew duller

From contact with earth,

Next to nothing for color.

Next to nothing for use.

But a crop is a crop,

And who’s to say where

The harvest shall stop?



The sound of the closing outside door was all.

You made no sound in the grass with your footfall,

As far as you went from the door, which was not far;

But you had awakened under the morning star

The first song-bird that awakened all the rest.

He could have slept but a moment more at best.

Already determined dawn began to lay

In place across a cloud the slender ray

For prying beneath and forcing the lids of sight,

And loosing the pent-up music of over-night.

But dawn was not to begin their “pearly-pearly”

(By which they mean the rain is pearls so early,

Before it changes to diamonds in the sun),

Neither was song that day to be self-begun.

You had begun it, and if there needed proof—

I was asleep still under the dripping roof,

My window curtain hung over the sill to wet;

But I should awake to confirm your story yet;

I should be willing to say and help you say

That once you had opened the valley’s singing day.



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 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.



To think to know the country and not know

The hillside on the day the sun lets go

Ten million silver lizards out of snow!

As often as I’ve seen it done before

I can’t pretend to tell the way it’s done.

It looks as if some magic of the sun

Lifted the rug that bred them on the floor

And the light breaking on them made them run.

But if I thought to stop the wet stampede,

And caught one silver lizard by the tail,

And put my foot on one without avail,

And threw myself wet-elbowed and wet-kneed

In front of twenty others’ wriggling speed,—

In the confusion of them all aglitter,

And birds that joined in the excited fun

By doubling and redoubling song and twitter,

I have no doubt I’d end by holding none.

It takes the moon for this. The sun’s a wizard

By all I tell; but so’s the moon a witch.

From the high west she makes a gentle cast

And suddenly, without a jerk or twitch,

She has her spell on every single lizard.

I fancied when I looked at six o’clock

The swarm still ran and scuttled just as fast.

The moon was waiting for her chill effect.

I looked at nine: the swarm was turned to rock


In every lifelike posture of the swarm,

Transfixed on mountain slopes almost erect.

Across each other and side by side they lay.

The spell that so could hold them as they were

Was wrought through trees without a breath of storm

To make a leaf, if there had been one, stir.

It was the moon’s: she held them until day,

One lizard at the end of every ray.

The thought of my attempting such a stay!



A plow, they say, to plow the snow.

They cannot mean to plant it, though—

Unless in bitterness to mock

At having cultivated rock.


(To hear us talk)

The tree the tempest with a crash of wood

Throws down in front of us is not to bar

Our passage to our journey’s end for good,

But just to ask us who we think we are

Insisting always on our own way so.

She likes to halt us in our runner tracks,

And make us get down in a foot of snow

Debating what to do without an axe.

And yet she knows obstruction is in vain:

We will not be put off the final goal

We have it hidden in us to attain,

Not though we have to seize earth by the pole

And, tired of aimless circling in one place,

Steer straight off after something into space.



It snowed in spring on earth so dry and warm

The flakes could find no landing place to form.

Hordes spent themselves to make it wet and cold,

And still they failed of any lasting hold.

They made no white impression on the black.

They disappeared as if earth sent them back.

Not till from separate flakes they changed at night

To almost strips and tapes of ragged white

Did grass and garden ground confess it snowed,

And all go back to winter but the road.

Next day the scene was piled and puffed and dead.

The grass lay flattened under one great tread.

Borne down until the end almost took root,

The rangey bough anticipated fruit

With snowballs cupped in every opening bud.

The road alone maintained itself in mud,

Whatever its secret was of greater heat

From inward fires or brush of passing feet.

In spring more mortal singers than belong

To any one place cover us with song.

Thrush, bluebird, blackbird, sparrow, and robin throng;

Some to go further north to Hudson’s Bay,

Some that have come too far north back away,

Really a very few to build and stay.

Now was seen how these liked belated snow.

The fields had nowhere left for them to go;


They’d soon exhausted all there was in flying;

The trees they’d had enough of with once trying

And setting off their heavy powder load.

They could find nothing open but the road.

So there they let their lives be narrowed in

By thousands the bad weather made akin.

The road became a channel running flocks

Of glossy birds like ripples over rocks.

I drove them under foot in bits of flight

That kept the ground, almost disputing right

Of way with me from apathy of wing,

A talking twitter all they had to sing.

A few I must have driven to despair

Made quick asides, but having done in air

A whir among white branches great and small

As in some too much carven marble hall

Where one false wing beat would have brought down all,

Came tamely back in front of me, the Drover,

To suffer the same driven nightmare over.

One such storm in a lifetime couldn’t teach them

That back behind pursuit it couldn’t reach them;

None flew behind me to be left alone.

Well, something for a snowstorm to have shown

The country’s singing strength thus brought together,

That though repressed and moody with the weather

Was none the less there ready to be freed

And sing the wildflowers up from root and seed.



It went many years,

But at last came a knock,

And I thought of the door

With no lock to lock.

I blew out the light,

I tip-toed the floor,

And raised both hands

In prayer to the door.

But the knock came again.

My window was wide;

I climbed on the sill

And descended outside.

Back over the sill

I bade a “Come in”

To whatever the knock

At the door may have been.

So at a knock

I emptied my cage

To hide in the world

And alter with age.



The house had gone to bring again

To the midnight sky a sunset glow.

Now the chimney was all of the house that stood,

Like a pistil after the petals go.

The barn opposed across the way,

That would have joined the house in flame

Had it been the will of the wind, was left

To bear forsaken the place’s name.

No more it opened with all one end

For teams that came by the stony road

To drum on the floor with scurrying hoofs

And brush the mow with the summer load.

The birds that came to it through the air

At broken windows flew out and in,

Their murmur more like the sigh we sigh

From too much dwelling on what has been.

Yet for them the lilac renewed its leaf,

And the aged elm, though touched with fire;

And the dry pump flung up an awkward arm;

And the fence post carried a strand of wire.

For them there was really nothing sad.

But though they rejoiced in the nest they kept,

One had to be versed in country things

Not to believe the phoebes wept.



[1]Cf. page 37, “The Axe-helve.”
[2]Cf. line 5, page 21, “A Star in a Stone-boat.”
[3]Cf. page 56, “The Witch of Coös.”
[4]Cf. line 31, page 25, “The Census-Taker;” line 26, page 27, “The Star-splitter;” and line 21, page 21, “A Star in a Stone-boat.”
[5]Cf. page 49, “Wild Grapes.”
[6]Cf. page 67, “A Fountain, a Bottle, a Donkey’s Ears and Some Books.”
[7]Cf. page 31, “Maple.”
[8]Cf. page 61, “The Pauper Witch of Grafton.”
[9]Cf. page 24, “The Census-taker.”
[10]Cf. page 41, “The Grindstone.”
[11]Cf. page 37, “The Axe-helve.”
[12]Cf. page 27, “The Star-splitter.”
[13]Cf. page 64, “The Pauper Witch of Grafton.”
[14]Cf. line 27, page 50, “Wild Grapes.”
[15]Cf. page 27, “The Star-splitter.”
[16]Cf. page 44, “Paul’s Wife.”
[17]Cf. page 65, “An Empty Threat.”
[18]Cf. page 67, “A Fountain, a Bottle, a Donkey’s Ears and Some Books.”
[19]Cf. page 21, “A Star in a Stone-boat;” and page 73, “I Will Sing You One-O.”

Transcriber’s Notes