The Exposed Nest

Robert Frost - 1874-1963

You were forever finding some new play. 
So when I saw you down on hands and knees 
In the meadow, busy with the new-cut hay, 
Trying, I thought, to set it up on end, 
I went to show you how to make it stay, 
If that was your idea, against the breeze, 
And, if you asked me, even help pretend 
To make it root again and grow afresh. 
But 'twas no make-believe with you to-day, 
Nor was the grass itself your real concern, 
Though I found your hand full of wilted fern, 
Steel-bright June-grass, and blackening heads of clover. 
'Twas a nest full of young birds on the ground 
The cutter-bar had just gone champing over 
(Miraculously without tasting flesh) 
And left defenseless to the heat and light. 
You wanted to restore them to their right 
Of something interposed between their sight 
And too much world at once—could means be found. 
The way the nest-full every time we stirred 
Stood up to us as to a mother-bird 
Whose coming home has been too long deferred, 
Made me ask would the mother-bird return 
And care for them in such a change of scene 
And might our meddling make her more afraid. 
That was a thing we could not wait to learn. 
We saw the risk we took in doing good, 
But dared not spare to do the best we could 
Though harm should come of it; so built the screen 
You had begun, and gave them back their shade. 
All this to prove we cared. Why is there then 
No more to tell? We turned to other things. 
I haven't any memory—have you?—
Of ever coming to the place again 
To see if the birds lived the first night through, 
And so at last to learn to use their wings. 

More by Robert Frost

Design

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth--
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth--
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?--
If design govern in a thing so small.

Mending Wall

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs.  The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side.  It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors.'
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors?  Isn't it
Where there are cows?  But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.'  I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself.  I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, 'Good fences make good neighbors.'

Birches

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay 
As ice-storms do.  Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain.  They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust--
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows--
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer.  He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground.  He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return.  Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Related Poems

Why Not Say

What happened. This terrible breaking, this blow. Then slow
     the dogwood strewn like tissue along the black road.
No the busy pollinators the breeze in the pine shadows
     in the aftermath where I drove back there. And two bones
of smoke lifting ahead along the shoulder in the high new
     green weed-bank running beside the asphalt. No
I had come from my father. Nothing more common nothing more
     than such. I could not breathe for the longest time
over and again. There was something deadly, she said, in it.
     Of the genus buteo, as b. harlani, as Harlan’s red-tail.
Blocky in shape, goes the book, blood or brick-red but white
     I am sure underneath, white along its wing, which was not smoke
but rising now one bird. I was coming back and couldn’t breathe
     and him bruised torn bedridden tubed taken to the brink
by his body and carried aloft. There he had fallen.
     This is what happened said the medical team. Fallen:
and ripped aortal stenosis in the process of their repair.   
     No the white bird strained, as trying to lift, to a slight
dihedral, the deepest deliberate wing beats, and barely
    above the snow-white-lipped grasses and the shoulder
until I thought I would hit it. It happened or
     it did not, in the way of my thinking. And now why
I saw. Two lengths of snake helical and alive in the talons
     heavy there, writhing, so the big bird strained for the length
of time that it takes. Like the oiled inner organs
     of a live thing heaving in shreds, the dogwoods
the doctors, and did I say the horrible winds all before.
     Now the air after storm. The old road empty. Swept white,
by blossoms by headlights, my father hovering still:
     why it flew so close, why it was so terribly slow.
I think I hoped it would tear me to pieces. Lift me,
     of my genus helpless, as wretched. And drop me away.
I turned back to the animal. No it turned its back to me.