In the Home Stretch

- 1874-1963

She stood against the kitchen sink, and looked
Over the sink out through a dusty window
At weeds the water from the sink made tall.
She wore her cape; her hat was in her hand.
Behind her was confusion in the room,
Of chairs turned upside down to sit like people
In other chairs, and something, come to look,
For every room a house has—parlor, bed-room,
And dining-room—thrown pell-mell in the kitchen.
And now and then a smudged, infernal face
Looked in a door behind her and addressed
Her back. She always answered without turning.

“Where will I put this walnut bureau, lady?”
“Put it on top of something that’s on top
Of something else,” she laughed. “Oh, put it where
You can to-night, and go. It’s almost dark;
You must be getting started back to town.”
Another blackened face thrust in and looked
And smiled, and when she did not turn, spoke gently,
“What are you seeing out the window, lady?”

“Never was I beladied so before.
Would evidence of having been called lady
More than so many times make me a lady
In common law, I wonder.”

“But I ask,
What are you seeing out the window, lady?”

“What I’ll be seeing more of in the years
To come as here I stand and go the round
Of many plates with towels many times.”

“And what is that? You only put me off.”

“Rank weeds that love the water from the dish-pan
More than some women like the dish-pan, Joe;
A little stretch of mowing-field for you;
Not much of that until I come to woods
That end all. And it’s scarce enough to call
A view.”

“And yet you think you like it, dear?”

“That’s what you’re so concerned to know! You hope
I like it. Bang goes something big away
Off there upstairs. The very tread of men
As great as those is shattering to the frame
Of such a little house. Once left alone,
You and I, dear, will go with softer steps
Up and down stairs and through the rooms, and none
But sudden winds that snatch them from our hands
Will ever slam the doors.”

“I think you see
More than you like to own to out that window.”

“No; for besides the things I tell you of,
I only see the years. They come and go
In alternation with the weeds, the field,
The wood.”

“What kind of years?”
“Why, latter years—
Different from early years.”
“I see them, too.
You didn’t count them?”
“No, the further off
So ran together that I didn’t try to.
It can scarce be that they would be in number
We’d care to know, for we are not young now.
And bang goes something else away off there.
It sounds as if it were the men went down,
And every crash meant one less to return
To lighted city streets we, too, have known,
But now are giving up for country darkness.”

“Come from that window where you see too much for me,
And take a livelier view of things from here.
They’re going. Watch this husky swarming up
Over the wheel into the sky-high seat,
Lighting his pipe now, squinting down his nose
At the flame burning downward as he sucks it.”

“See how it makes his nose-side bright, a proof
How dark it’s getting. Can you tell what time
It is by that? Or by the moon? The new moon!
What shoulder did I see her over? Neither.
A wire she is of silver, as new as we
To everything. Her light won’t last us long.
It’s something, though, to know we’re going to have her
Night after night and stronger every night
To see us through our first two weeks. But, Joe,
The stove! Before they go! Knock on the window;
Ask them to help you get it on its feet.
We stand here dreaming. Hurry! Call them back!”

“They’re not gone yet.”

“We’ve got to have the stove,
Whatever else we want for. And a light.
Have we a piece of candle if the lamp
And oil are buried out of reach?”
Again
The house was full of tramping, and the dark,
Door-filling men burst in and seized the stove.
A cannon-mouth-like hole was in the wall,
To which they set it true by eye; and then
Came up the jointed stovepipe in their hands,
So much too light and airy for their strength
It almost seemed to come ballooning up,
Slipping from clumsy clutches toward the ceiling.
“A fit!” said one, and banged a stovepipe shoulder.
“It’s good luck when you move in to begin
With good luck with your stovepipe. Never mind,
It’s not so bad in the country, settled down,
When people ’re getting on in life, You’ll like it.”
Joe said: “You big boys ought to find a farm,
And make good farmers, and leave other fellows
The city work to do. There’s not enough
For everybody as it is in there.”
“God!” one said wildly, and, when no one spoke:
“Say that to Jimmy here. He needs a farm.”
But Jimmy only made his jaw recede
Fool-like, and rolled his eyes as if to say
He saw himself a farmer. Then there was a French boy
Who said with seriousness that made them laugh,
“Ma friend, you ain’t know what it is you’re ask.”
He doffed his cap and held it with both hands
Across his chest to make as ’twere a bow:
“We’re giving you our chances on de farm.”
And then they all turned to with deafening boots
And put each other bodily out of the house.
“Goodby to them! We puzzle them. They think—
I don’t know what they think we see in what
They leave us to: that pasture slope that seems
The back some farm presents us; and your woods
To northward from your window at the sink,
Waiting to steal a step on us whenever
We drop our eyes or turn to other things,
As in the game ‘Ten-step’ the children play.”

“Good boys they seemed, and let them love the city.
All they could say was ‘God!’ when you proposed
Their coming out and making useful farmers.”

“Did they make something lonesome go through you?
It would take more than them to sicken you—
Us of our bargain. But they left us so
As to our fate, like fools past reasoning with.
They almost shook me.”

“It’s all so much
What we have always wanted, I confess
It’s seeming bad for a moment makes it seem
Even worse still, and so on down, down, down.
It’s nothing; it’s their leaving us at dusk.
I never bore it well when people went.
The first night after guests have gone, the house
Seems haunted or exposed. I always take
A personal interest in the locking up
At bedtime; but the strangeness soon wears off.”
He fetched a dingy lantern from behind
A door. “There’s that we didn’t lose! And these!”—
Some matches he unpocketed. “For food—
The meals we’ve had no one can take from us.
I wish that everything on earth were just
As certain as the meals we’ve had. I wish
The meals we haven’t had were, anyway.
What have you you know where to lay your hands on?”

“The bread we bought in passing at the store.
There’s butter somewhere, too.”

“Let’s rend the bread.
I’ll light the fire for company for you;
You’ll not have any other company
Till Ed begins to get out on a Sunday
To look us over and give us his idea
Of what wants pruning, shingling, breaking up.
He’ll know what he would do if he were we,
And all at once. He’ll plan for us and plan
To help us, but he’ll take it out in planning.
Well, you can set the table with the loaf.
Let’s see you find your loaf. I’ll light the fire.
I like chairs occupying other chairs
Not offering a lady—”

“There again, Joe!
You’re tired.”

“I’m drunk-nonsensical tired out;
Don’t mind a word I say. It’s a day’s work
To empty one house of all household goods
And fill another with ’em fifteen miles away,
Although you do no more than dump them down.”

“Dumped down in paradise we are and happy.”

“It’s all so much what I have always wanted,
I can’t believe it’s what you wanted, too.”

“Shouldn’t you like to know?”

“I’d like to know
If it is what you wanted, then how much
You wanted it for me.”

“A troubled conscience!
You don’t want me to tell if I don’t know.”

“I don’t want to find out what can’t be known.

But who first said the word to come?”

“My dear,
It’s who first thought the thought. You’re searching, Joe,
For things that don’t exist; I mean beginnings.
Ends and beginnings—there are no such things.
There are only middles.”

“What is this?”
“This life?
Our sitting here by lantern-light together
Amid the wreckage of a former home?
You won’t deny the lantern isn’t new.
The stove is not, and you are not to me,
Nor I to you.”

“Perhaps you never were?”

“It would take me forever to recite
All that’s not new in where we find ourselves.
New is a word for fools in towns who think
Style upon style in dress and thought at last
Must get somewhere. I’ve heard you say as much.
No, this is no beginning.”

“Then an end?”

“End is a gloomy word.”
“Is it too late
To drag you out for just a good-night call
On the old peach trees on the knoll to grope
By starlight in the grass for a last peach
The neighbors may not have taken as their right
When the house wasn’t lived in? I’ve been looking:
I doubt if they have left us many grapes.
Before we set ourselves to right the house,
The first thing in the morning, out we go
To go the round of apple, cherry, peach,
Pine, alder, pasture, mowing, well, and brook.
All of a farm it is.”

“I know this much:
I’m going to put you in your bed, if first
I have to make you build it. Come, the light.”

When there was no more lantern in the kitchen,
The fire got out through crannies in the stove
And danced in yellow wrigglers on the ceiling,
As much at home as if they’d always danced there.

 

More by Robert Frost

Home Burial

He saw her from the bottom of the stairs
Before she saw him.  She was starting down,
Looking back over her shoulder at some fear.
She took a doubtful step and then undid it
To raise herself and look again.  He spoke
Advancing toward her:  'What is it you see
From up there always--for I want to know.'
She turned and sank upon her skirts at that,
And her face changed from terrified to dull.
He said to gain time:  'What is it you see,'
Mounting until she cowered under him.
'I will find out now--you must tell me, dear.'
She, in her place, refused him any help
With the least stiffening of her neck and silence.
She let him look, sure that he wouldn't see,
Blind creature; and awhile he didn't see.
But at last he murmured, 'Oh,' and again, 'Oh.'

'What is it--what?' she said.
					'Just that I see.'

'You don't,' she challenged.  'Tell me what it is.'

'The wonder is I didn't see at once.
I never noticed it from here before.
I must be wonted to it--that's the reason.
The little graveyard where my people are!
So small the window frames the whole of it.
Not so much larger than a bedroom, is it?
There are three stones of slate and one of marble,
Broad-shouldered little slabs there in the sunlight
On the sidehill.  We haven't to mind those.
But I understand:  it is not the stones,
But the child's mound--'

				'Don't, don't, don't, don't,' she cried.

She withdrew shrinking from beneath his arm
That rested on the bannister, and slid downstairs;
And turned on him with such a daunting look,
He said twice over before he knew himself:
'Can't a man speak of his own child he's lost?'

'Not you!  Oh, where's my hat?  Oh, I don't need it!
I must get out of here.  I must get air.
I don't know rightly whether any man can.'

'Amy!  Don't go to someone else this time.
Listen to me.  I won't come down the stairs.'
He sat and fixed his chin between his fists.
'There's something I should like to ask you, dear.'

'You don't know how to ask it.'

					'Help me, then.'

Her fingers moved the latch for all reply.

'My words are nearly always an offense.
I don't know how to speak of anything
So as to please you.  But I might be taught
I should suppose.  I can't say I see how.
A man must partly give up being a man
With women-folk.  We could have some arrangement
By which I'd bind myself to keep hands off
Anything special you're a-mind to name.
Though I don't like such things 'twixt those that love.
Two that don't love can't live together without them.
But two that do can't live together with them.'
She moved the latch a little.  'Don't--don't go.
Don't carry it to someone else this time.
Tell me about it if it's something human.
Let me into your grief.  I'm not so much
Unlike other folks as your standing there
Apart would make me out.  Give me my chance.
I do think, though, you overdo it a little.
What was it brought you up to think it the thing
To take your mother--loss of a first child
So inconsolably--in the face of love.
You'd think his memory might be satisfied--'

'There you go sneering now!'

					'I'm not, I'm not!
You make me angry.  I'll come down to you.
God, what a woman!  And it's come to this,
A man can't speak of his own child that's dead.'

'You can't because you don't know how to speak.
If you had any feelings, you that dug
With your own hand--how could you?--his little grave;
I saw you from that very window there,
Making the gravel leap and leap in air,
Leap up, like that, like that, and land so lightly
And roll back down the mound beside the hole.
I thought, Who is that man?  I didn't know you.
And I crept down the stairs and up the stairs
To look again, and still your spade kept lifting.
Then you came in.  I heard your rumbling voice
Out in the kitchen, and I don't know why,
But I went near to see with my own eyes.
You could sit there with the stains on your shoes
Of the fresh earth from your own baby's grave
And talk about your everyday concerns.
You had stood the spade up against the wall
Outside there in the entry, for I saw it.'

'I shall laugh the worst laugh I ever laughed.
I'm cursed.  God, if I don't believe I'm cursed.'

'I can repeat the very words you were saying.
"Three foggy mornings and one rainy day
Will rot the best birch fence a man can build."
Think of it, talk like that at such a time!
What had how long it takes a birch to rot
To do with what was in the darkened parlor.
You couldn't care!  The nearest friends can go
With anyone to death, comes so far short
They might as well not try to go at all.
No, from the time when one is sick to death,
One is alone, and he dies more alone.
Friends make pretense of following to the grave,
But before one is in it, their minds are turned
And making the best of their way back to life
And living people, and things they understand.
But the world's evil.  I won't have grief so
If I can change it.  Oh, I won't, I won't!'

'There, you have said it all and you feel better.
You won't go now.  You're crying.  Close the door.
The heart's gone out of it:  why keep it up.
Amy!  There's someone coming down the road!'

'You--oh, you think the talk is all.  I must go--
Somewhere out of this house.  How can I make you--'

'If--you--do!'  She was opening the door wider.
'Where do you mean to go?  First tell me that.
I'll follow and bring you back by force.  I will!--'

To Earthward

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
Downhill 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. 

Christmas Trees

A Christmas circular letter
  
  
The city had withdrawn into itself  
And left at last the country to the country;  
When between whirls of snow not come to lie  
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove  
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,   
Yet did in country fashion in that there  
He sat and waited till he drew us out,  
A-buttoning coats, to ask him who he was.  
He proved to be the city come again  
To look for something it had left behind   
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.  
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;  
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place  
Where houses all are churches and have spires.  
I hadn't thought of them as Christmas trees.    
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment  
To sell them off their feet to go in cars  
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,  
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.  
I'd hate to have them know it if I was.      
Yet more I'd hate to hold my trees, except  
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,  
Beyond the time of profitable growth—  
The trial by market everything must come to.  
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.      
Then whether from mistaken courtesy  
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether  
From hope of hearing good of what was mine,  
I said, "There aren't enough to be worth while."
  
"I could soon tell how many they would cut,     
You let me look them over."  
 
                                    "You could look.  
But don't expect I'm going to let you have them."  
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close  
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few     
Quite solitary and having equal boughs  
All round and round. The latter he nodded "Yes" to,  
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,  
With a buyer's moderation, "That would do."  
I thought so too, but wasn't there to say so.   
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,  
And came down on the north. 
 
                                    He said, "A thousand."  
  
"A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?"  
  
He felt some need of softening that to me:       
"A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars."  
  
Then I was certain I had never meant  
To let him have them. Never show surprise!  
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside  
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents    
(For that was all they figured out apiece)—   
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends  
I should be writing to within the hour  
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,  
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools     
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
  
A thousand Christmas trees I didn't know I had!  
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,  
As may be shown by a simple calculation.  
Too bad I couldn't lay one in a letter.       
I can't help wishing I could send you one,  
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.