Robert Frost’s “The Pasture”

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  • September 28 2011: Be sure and read the comment section, especially the comments by Richard Lawrence, who shares with us a seemingly lost verse from the original version of this poem.
  • July 18, 2009: New PostRobert Frost’s “Out, Out”
  • June 6 2009: Tweaked and expanded.

About the Pasture

I’ve been following the lead of my readers, noting on the Stats page what searches you use to find my blog. The most popular poet remains Robert Frost. And I’ve noticed several searches for Frost’s “The Pasture”.

Robert Frost's: The Pasture

Robert Frost recites The Pasture


There are few poems in the English language that can compare. Right now? I can’t think of one. In terms of brevity and memorability, it’s unsurpassed. Why? Subject matter, rhyme and meter are perfectly suited to each other.

Frost-NewmanRobert Frost himself, according to Lea Newman (book at left), stated that it was “a poem about love that’s new in treatment and effect. You won’t find anything in the range of English poetry just like that.”

I have several books on Robert Frost and all of them only mention this poem in passing – giving it short shrift. Lean Newman’s book, in terms of the poems themselves, remains the best of any of them. Her opening paragraph describes some of the inspiration for the poem:

One spring evening in 1905, Frost took a walk over those fields with his wife, Elinor, and their six-year-old daughter, Lesley. According to the notebook Lesley kept as a child, she and her mother picked apple and strawberry blossoms while her father went down to the southwest corner of the big cow pasture to check on how much water was in the spring. In 1910, when Frost wrote “The Pasture” he used a walk to a spring in a cow pasture as its centerpiece. The experience was still a favorite memory thirty years after he wrote about it. In 1940 he reminisced, “I never had a greater pleasure that coming on a neglected spring in a pasture in the woods.

Newman’s introduction to the poem continues and I wholly recommend the book as a companion to his poems. But what does the poem mean? (It never seems enough to say that the poem means what it says.) It’s a poem of invitation first and foremost – Frost chose this poem as a sort of introduction and invitation to his collected poems.  More than that, the poem typifies what many readers love the most about Frost: his connectedness with nature and the everyday; his contemplative ease; and, above all, the approachable  content of his thought and poetry. Frost was a poet with whom most everyone felt a kinship and understanding. He was comprehensible during a time when poetry was becoming increasingly incomprehensible. Saying he won’t be gone long could summarize his craft. There are depths to his poetry, but they are such that the reader returns. He won’t go too far. He won’t be gone too long. You come too, he says to the reader and to anyone who wants to go with him.

Meter and Rhyme

The internal rhyme that contributes to the poems lyricism is the most important and also the most difficult to describe, but I’ll try. And it may seem like  I’m making too much of vowel sounds, but sound is everything in poetry. Consider the following anecdote which occurred between Keats and Wordsworth (from John Keats: His Life and Poetry, His Friends, Critics and After-Fame by Sidney Colvin pp. 401-402):

keats-wordsworth-discuss-vowels

And here is another sample about Keats’s as related by his friend, Benjamin Bailey:

…one of Keats’ favorite topics of conversation was the principle of melody of verse, which he believed to consist in the adroit management in verse, which he believed to consist in the adroit management of open and close vowels. He had a theory that vowels could be as skillfully combined and interchanged as as differing notes of music, and that all sense of monotony was to be avoided, except when expressive of a special purpose. (Richard H. Fogle – The Imagery of Keats and Shelley, p. 63)

In point of a fact, I write my own poetry with the vowel sounds in mind. I hear words as music and tones, which makes me an “ear reader” rather than an “eye reader”, as Frost put it, and a very slow reader.

Keats was conscious of his choices, and Frost was too. (However, it’s definitely possible to read too much into “word sounds”, vowel sounds, percussive consonants and the like  – I’ve seen it done by plenty of critics and analysts.)  Such analytic overreaches are called Enactment Fallacies – a term I first came across in one of David Orr’s New York Times reviews. He defines it:  in the following passage:

Basically, this is the assignment of meaning to technical aspects of poetry that those aspects don’t necessarily possess. For example, in an otherwise excellent discussion of Yeats’s use of ottava rima (a type of eight-line stanza), Vendler attributes great effect to “the pacing” allegedly created by “a fierce set of enjambments” followed by a “violent drop” in the fourth stanza of the poem “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen.” Here’s the stanza in question:

Now days are dragon-ridden, the nightmare
Rides upon sleep: a drunken soldiery
Can leave the mother, murdered at her door,
To crawl in her own blood, and go scot-free;
The night can sweat with terror as before
We pieced our thoughts into philosophy,
And planned to bring the world under a rule,
Who are but weasels fighting in a hole.

“With each new verbal or participial theater of action of the stanza, there arrives a new agent,” Vendler writes, “making the clauses scramble helter-skelter, one after the other. The headlong pace is crucial.” Since the stanza involves words like “dragon,” “nightmare,” “murdered,” “blood” and “fighting,” it’s easy to see what she’s thinking here. But to make a more modest use of Vendler’s rewriting trick above, what if we kept the same enjambments, syntax, rhyme scheme and basic rhythm — yet changed some of the words? We might get this (my words, with apologies to I. A. Richards for adapting one of his tactics):

Now days are slow and easy, the summer
Sighs into fall: a purring bumble-bee
Can leave the flower, softened to a blur,
To soak in the noon sun, and fly carefree;
The night can breathe with pleasure as once more
We weave our visions into poetry
And seek to bring our thoughts under a rule,
Who are the mindful servants of the soul.

Not so “helter-skelter” now, is it? In a book review or essay, committing this particular fallacy is a minor error. Most critics do it regularly (I certainly have). In a book that sets out to explain why a poet makes particular formal choices, however, the mistake is more serious, because it replaces the complex relationships among a poem’s elements with just-so stories in which it always turns out — surprise! — that meaning has been mirrored by shape and sound. Think of it this way: we don’t enjoy a bowl of gumbo because it “feels” exactly the way it “tastes”; rather, we find the combination of “taste” and “feel” pleasing. Similarly, a particular stanza arrangement can reinforce our experience of a poem, but only because that arrangement is working in harmony with the poem’s other aspects.

I quote the better part of the passage because I think it’s something every novice in poetry and poetry criticism should be aware of. Read all criticism and analysis with skepticism. Including, obviously, mine; though I try to be reasonable in my assertions.

Anyway, back to Frost and The Pasture. Whether intentional or not, the first line’s variety of vowel sounds is lovely – no two are repeated.

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;

That in itself isn’t so remarkable, but what happens next, to me at least, beautifully sets off the first line.

I’ll only (stop) to rake the leaves (a) way
(And wait to (watch) the (wa)ter clear, I may) :

The two lines are rich with internal rhyme – the long A’s of rake, away, wait and may bracket the short, rhyming  vowel sounds of stop, away, watch and water. The Pasture - Manuscript Robert FrostThe effect of these internal rhymes (interlocking in the second line and bracketed in the third) will be different for different readers, though I think all readers, but those with tin ears, will register them. To me the internal rhyming creates a sort of sing-song effect in perfect keeping with the light-hearted, carefree, teasing tone of the poem. And, again for me, the “long A” vowel sound has a sort of easy-going and open feel to it. There’s no way to know whether Frost had this in mind, but I’m sure that the music in the lines, however he interpreted their effect, was intended.

I sha’n’t be gone long. (You) come (too).

Up to this point, the lines have been Iambic Pentameter. But the fourth line (repeated in the second stanza) is Iambic Tetrameter. The effect is lovely and though it can be imitated in free verse, it can’t be reproduced.

The first three lines could be spoken to an unnamed companion or to oneself. We read the poem in the same manner that we read first person narratives (where our presence is irrelevant to the narrator). But then Frost does something  magical. He talks explicitly to “you” and he does so in Iambic Tetrameter. “You come too”, he says, and the shortened tetrameter line has same effect as an aside in a play or drama – an effect of immediacy and personableness. Suddenly we find ourselves in the poem!

The internal rhyme of gone and long anticipate and are complimented by You and too. The musicality of the line heightens the feeling of intimacy, unselfconsciously inviting – the appeal of a close friend. And, as a final note, notice too how the Iambic pattern is broken in the last two feet (spondaic variant feet) of the Tetrameter line.

I sha’n’t |be gone |long. You |come too.

This too adds to the air of informality. The formal Iambic Pentameter is broken for the sake of a friendly aside. The ceasura (the break between the two sentences), occurs in the middle of the third foot, also disrupting the metrical pattern of the previous lines. It all contributes to the informal, intimate feel of the fourth line. Again, it’s an effect that free verse simply can’t equal.

Frost’s Colloquialisms

robert_frostOne of Robert Frost’s most powerful poetic figures (as in a rhetorical figure or figure of speech – also called figurative language) is anthimeria. It’s also one of my favorites and one of the truly beautiful ornaments in the toolbox of poetry – adding vitality and rigorousness when done well. (Shakespeare was one of the greatest users of this figure.) In short, anthimeria is the substitution of one part of speech for another – “when adjectives are used as adverbs, prepositions as adjectives, adjectives as nouns, nouns as adjectives” (Shakespeare’s Use of the Arts of Language p. 63) . Turning nouns into adjectives is Frost’s favorite substitution and he does this because, interestingly, this form of grammatical substitution is typical of New England dialects. (For a more thorough treatment of colloquialism in poetry, see my post Vernacular Colloquial Common Dialectal.)

So…

Instead of saying “I’m going out to clean the spring in the pasture”, he says “pasture spring”. Pasture, normally a noun, becomes an adjective modifying spring. Et viola! Anthimeria! If you read enough of Frost’s poetry you will see this figurative language recur again and again. And if you hang about Vermont, New Hampshire or Maine, and hear some old-timers, you will hear this same grammatical short-cut. I don’t know why it’s more prevalent in New England (more so than in other regions of the United States) but it may be a hold over from the speech patterns of a much older generation.

Anyway, Frost always keenly observed, recorded and remembered the speech habits of New Englanders and deliberately infused his own poetry with the patterns he heard. Techniques like anthimeria, the substitution of a noun for an adjective, helps give his poetry a dailectal and colloquial feel. In a similar vein, the contraction sha’n’t, for shall not, adds to the colloquial informality and intimacy of the poem. “I sha’n’t be gone long” is a style of speech that’s almost gone. Probably more typical of what was heard among an older generation of New Englanders if only because the region is where American English is the oldest.

I’m going out to fetch the little (calf)
That’s (stand)ing by the mother. It’s so young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I (sha’n’t) be gone long. You come too.

Again, I’ve tried to emphasize the play of internal rhyme – to make it visible. The short i sound of little is bolded. The short a sound of calf is italicized and (bracketed). The short u sound of young is underlined. I won’t belabor the same points I’ve already made discussing the previous stanza. The effects are the same. There are no internal rhymes within the first line of the stanza, as in the first line of the first stanza. The sing-song informality and intimacy created by the internal rhymes that occur in the lines that follow, once again, find completion and resolution in the final invitation:

You come too.

If this post has been helpful to you; if you enjoyed; if you have suggestions or questions; please comment!

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41 responses

  1. Pingback: ЧAN PASABSABAN « Raчraч Ŋuɲan’s (Rara Nguñan) Weblog

  2. Thank you for writing about this poem. The way you write about it makes me love it even more. I am glad to know a new term “anthimeria”. I also really like the way you looked into the sounds of the words and revealed the inner rhymes. Language is alive! The alliteration of …away, and wait to watch the water clear I may.. combined with the rhyming vowels as you pointed out is genius. I really enjoy reading your blog. Thank you again.

    • Hi Lolz, there is no hidden subtext or “meaning” in this poem – if that’s what you’re asking.

      It is what it is.

      The beauty and art of language, as a justification in and of itself for poetry, is something lost on the vast majority of modern poets (if not all but a half-dozen)- it’s language is the poem. Do you understand what I mean by that? The beauty of the poem is in it’s “catchiness”, as Frost himself might have put it. The simple rhythm and rhymes are the essence of poetry as Frost understood it – or, rather, one important aspect of it.

      A poem is made by more than what it means.

      How a poem is said matters as much as what is said.

  3. Thank—you for your perspective, it is very helpful. I too am a student writing a paper and have chosen this Frost poem,”The Pasture” for an explication. I have read many thoughts(perspectives) and continue to return to my own belief of the simplest form. All farming includes work — some less strenuous than others but none-the-less, “chores” keep the boat afloat. These “chores,” cleaning the spring and getting the calf are moments in time that allow distraction from the stresses or demands we as people may allow in to our thinking. There is much to be enjoyed in the simplest tasks if we are allowed to enjoy the process that goes along with “chores”. You come to, take a chance to enjoy the grandjuer that is right outside my door. It is really just to simple to believe I can appreciate “chores” and the potential distractions they will give me from the present.

    • Hi Alex, good thoughts. I’ve read that this poem was originally a love poem from Frost to his wife Elinor – a loving and playful invitation for his wife to join him in his daily tasks and, by extension, his life. However, the fact that he liked to place it at the beginning of his collected poetry suggests that he also considered it a more general invitation. In that light, cleaning the pasture spring (the daily chores of the farmer) would be like the act of writing poetry and poetry itself – a poet’s daily chore. He is inviting you, his friend and lover of poetry, to join him in his work as a poet. :-)

  4. I am a bit puzzled by the reference to the origin of this poem by Lea Newman. Frost had already written a poem (never published) entitled “The Pasture Fence” — A single stanza poem that he submitted and that was rejected by some magazine (I have forgotten which) that was one of the first to publish his poems. It went:

    “I’m going out to mend the pasture fence,
    I’ll only need to set a couple rails in place.
    Perhaps, I’ll have to fix a corner brace.
    I shan’t be gone long — you come too.”

    It was only much later that he added the stanza about the pasture spring (which may have been inspired by the walk in 1905 with his wife and daughter.) He submitted that and it was rejected for the second time. (Editors were not too bright apparently). It was only when he added a third stanza about the calf standing by its mother that they agreed to publish it, but only if he would drop the first stanza and change the title to “The Pasture”. Frost told us this when he visited our Senior Class back in 1956. And this story was repeated at least once at a gathering of students at SUNY, Plattsburgh, where Frost was a personal friend of Dean of Students, Dr. Redcay. and often went there to give a reading. The three stanza poem remained unpublished for several years after he wrote it because he was reluctant to drop the first stanza. But he finally relented, and it was accepted as one of his best poems. He admitted that original stanza was weak compared to the second stanza, but it was based on an actual event where he had invited his wife to come along with him while he fixed the fence. This first stanza was not mentioned in his autobiography, but the fact that the poem was rejected until he added the stanza about the calf standing by its mother was added, was mentioned in his autobiography. (The stanza added actually was just as weak a stanza poetically as the one dropped, but it had more general appeal as people could identify with it more (the image of a newborn calf teetering as it was licked by the mother’ tongue had more viatality than the image of a couple waiting for the clearing of water after it was stirred by the raking of leaves.) It could probably have been a success with just the stanza about the pasture spring with a title “The Pasture Spring”. One might notice that the last stanza is rarely quoted by itself but the first stanza is very often quoted by itsself.

    • It’s possible that Lea Newman never knew this history; or that, for one reason or another, she decided not to mention it.

      If I had known, I would have mentioned the matter myself. Unfortunately, I’m only as good as the sources I consult. Few critical books on Robert Frost mention the poem, let alone discuss it’s history. I also didn’t know that Frost wrote an autobiography? That said, I’m very, very grateful that you commented. It’s posts like yours that I really appreciate the most. I and other readers, I’m sure, have learned and will learn something new.

    • When I saw this stnaza about the fence written out here in italics, I realized that the second line was Not pentometer, (I thought perhaps the words “a couple” should have been “some” so I went back to the old book (whihh I have not looked at in a long time) and I had the right idea but I had both middle lines wrong.

      They should be:

      “I’ll set a couple rails in place at most,
      Perhaps, I’ll have to brace a corner post”

      So sorry, I should have checked it before I submitted but thought that I knew it.

    • Yes, the corrected rhyme is much better. Is this, then, how the poem “The Pasture Fence” appeared? Or did the third stanza come second?

      I’m going out to mend the pasture fence,
      I’ll set a couple rails in place at most,
      Perhaps, I’ll have to brace a corner post
      I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.

      I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
      I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
      (And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
      I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.

      I’m going out to fetch the little calf
      That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young,
      It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
      I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.

      I was going to confirm the extra syllable (in your first version) by looking up the stanza elsewhere but, on the internet at least, I couldn’t find a single reference to the poem, let alone the title. And there’s also not a trace of the corrected stanza! So once again it seems, and thanks to you, this may well be the first place a snippet of Frost has appeared anywhere on the worldwide web. Do you have a citation for the stanza?

  5. I recall that the poem was rejected when all it had was the first two stanzas (as you have shown them above) and only after the “calf standing by its mother” was added did they agree to publish it. So you have them in the order of creation as I understand it. It was never published (or even submitted as “The Pasture Fence” as far as I know), I only suggested in my comment that the second stanza could have been (and IMHO SHOULD have been) published by itself with that title and it still would have achieved a place in the history of great poems. The third verse (second as published under the title “The Pasture” about the calf) made it acceptable because (to those magazine editors who were too unsophisticated to appreciate the greatness and finesse of the verse about the spring) felt that the one about the calf had more general appeal (which is probably true). I guess we can be thankful that these Magazine editors didn’t request he drop both of the first two verses. (Although, I am sure that Frost would definitely not have gone along with that.)

    In the book you cited it stated that this was first published as in the 1915 book “North of Boston”. But I think Frost already had notoriety and fame by 1915 and so they would not have “dared” asked him to drop any stanza in the publishing of that book. So I am thinking the poem must have been published as is (with two verses) in some magazine years earlier before the publication of “North of Boston”. (That magazine probably has archives that could prove this toe be true.) I am only guessing about that but it seems to me to be a reasonable guess because people in charge of publishing a book of poems would have been sophisticated enough to considered that poem as publishable (without the calf and its mother). By that time, Frost had already accepted the weakness of the original verse and accepted its omission rather than restoring it for that book … And he, of course, would recognize the general appeal of the third verse — to please the majority of people who would not appreciate the finesse of the wording in the middle verse or the serenity of a couple (perhaps hand in hand) standing silently together watching the spring water to clear. “The Pasture” is primarily a love poem (in my opinion the greatest love poem ever written “I shan’t be gone long — you come too”) and a couple watching a new born calf totter as the mother licks it, stirs our innate love of nature and the miracle of birth is poignant, but NOT nearly as ROMANTIC as a couple standing together watching spring water clear.

    As far as citing a source I only recall the story Frost told the class and my only source right now is where I transferred it from a page I had ripped out of the high school text book (for which I got in trouble) to a book published by Holt Rinehart & Winston and Edited by Edward Connery Lathem entitled “The Poetry Of Robert Frost” which contained all the poems from his various books including “North of Boston” and it was the leading poem in the collection in a section of its own opposite a photo of Frost sitting on a stone wall. Below the poem I have penned “stanza missing!, “First stanza is: I,m going out to mend … “I do not know right now if that was a direct transfer from the page torn from the textbook. It may have been transferred to a paperback that I had earlier. I memorized this and many other of Frost’s poems (even could recite “The death of the hired man” at one time — which I consider Frost’s second best poem). And it may be at the time I wrote it into the HR&W book I just wrote it in from memory — but that should not make it less accurate because I am very precise (even in long poems) of getting every word exactly as it was written. I was never one to take notes in class — so I didn’t have a notebook to write in and that is why I wrote it into the lower margin of the textbook. There were three Frost Poems in that textbook –The Pasture, The Road Not Taken, Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening, and Once by the Pacific. That page was folded and tucked into another book which got lost somewhere along the way. HOWEVER, I think that the readings of Robert Frost that he gave at SUNY Plattsburgh were all taped, and may still exist in some archive and someone told me that he discussed the history of that poem during one of his readings there. So you might contact SUNY Plattsburgh and actually hear Frost tell the story in his own voice. That would be very special. I have a tape of Robert Frost reading some of his poems (including that one) but he didn’t comment on it.

    This is the best info I can give you — Also I am not sure the biography I read of Frost was an AUTObiography it may have been a biography written by someone else, I read it many years ago. But I recall that book did mention that poem and its being rejected until the “mother and calf” stanza was included.

  6. I have just gone on line trying to find what magazine Frost submitted his poems to in the early years (this poem had to have been written after he was married and was still on the farm) — and though it said he published some in magazines it did not name any particular magazine, but I seem to recall from the biography that he had one particular magazine (Perhaps “Harpers”?) that he submitted most of his early works to. If it was not an autobiography there may have been several biographies written about thsi famous man — I don’t even recall what libray I borrowed the book from. So there is probably little chance that we can find an archive with “The pasture” in it.
    This has sparked my curiosity and I am thinking of contacting Harpers to see if perhaps they have archives that included some of Frost’s early works.

    • Harmper’s Archives are searchable from 1850 to the present time and the only reference to Frost was in 1815 AFTER “North of Boston” was published so I struck out there.

  7. ANOTHER CORRECTION: I my lengthy post I stated
    . I meant to say It was (according to the story told to my high school class) submitted as a one stanza peom entitled “The Pasture Fence” but never published. (I would have titled it “You come too”.).. Perhaps it WAS the publishers of North of Boston who held out for the “mother and calf” stanza and canned the “fence” stanza — but I really doubt that. I think “The pasture” was published in some magazine years earlier. My guess would be between 05 and 08 — within a year or two of his walk with the wife and daughter where he cleaned the spring. But it was NOT Harper’s. .

  8. Notice in the stanza (“fence” and “spring”) in announcing his mission before inviting the companion to join him, he states that it should be of very short duration (on the second line) but then recants and cautions that it might be a little longer in the third line. “Perhaps I’ll have to ..” and “And wait to watch …”. And in both cases this extra time is NOT a certainty — “Perhaps …”and “I may” are the words that usher in the uncertainty. (There may have been parens around the third line of the original stanza. If so, they never made it into the the note I jotted down.) But he breaks with this in the “calf” stanza. The third line of the final staza does not indicate that the mission will be short in duration or caution that it might not be short.” Fetching a new born calf could take up some substantial time that clashes a little with “shan’t be gone long”. It is kind of as if Frost decided to pacify the editors with something, but didn’t want to continue this “it will probably be quick — but no promises of the first two stanzas.” . I had never really thought that deeply about it till now in repying to this blog. That might be another reason for dropping the first stanza (one stanza alone does not set a pattern but two of them do and the reader might expect this to continue into the third stanza. In any case — though it might be the mother with her calf that stands out in most readers mind as being memorable — it is the “first” stanza that makes this poem exceptional..
    Please let me know if you find out anything from SUNY archives regarding the history of this poem.

    • The third verse (second as published under the title “The Pasture” about the calf) made it acceptable because (to those magazine editors who were too unsophisticated to appreciate the greatness and finesse of the verse about the spring) felt that the one about the calf had more general appeal (which is probably true).

      Good morning, Richard! The stanza about the calf is definitely an improvement, not in any technical sense, but the calf is animate and living whereas the spring and the fence aren’t. That touch of life brings something to the poem that was missing before – love, life and, most importantly, rebirth. The calf gives not just a place to the poem, the farm, but a time, Spring. If the poem is as you say it was (prior to the calf) then it could have taken place midsummer, in the fall or even early winter (Frost is raking the leaves away). Giving the poem a season, as well as locale, makes it a much better poem.

      I think Frost already had notoriety and fame by 1915 and so they would not have “dared” asked him to drop any stanza in the publishing of that book.

      Frost had some recognition, but no more so than other published poets of the time. His real fame wasn’t really established until his 60′s and 70′s.

      …a couple watching a new born calf totter as the mother licks it, stirs our innate love of nature and the miracle of birth is poignant, but NOT nearly as ROMANTIC as a couple standing together watching spring water clear.

      Interesting that you say that. Not sure I would agree, but that’s the beauty of having a version for comparison. :-) The implication of rebirth has strong appeal to me.

      As far as citing a source I only recall the story Frost told the class and my only source right now is where I transferred it from a page I had ripped out of the high school text book…

      This is a great story and I feel privileged that you commented here. Memories like yours are a treasure. You’ve really given me and all my readers a gift.

      So you might contact SUNY Plattsburgh and actually hear Frost tell the story in his own voice.

      I’ll consider that, although it’s probably impractical unless one lives close by. They probably haven’t been transferred to digital media, but I’ll call. I live next door to Dartmouth who also recently discovered a trove of recorded Frost monologues. Easier to lick gold at Fort Knox than get anywhere near them.

      Also I am not sure the biography I read of Frost was an AUTObiography it may have been a biography written by someone else, I read it many years ago. But I recall that book did mention that poem and its being rejected until the “mother and calf” stanza was included.

      As far as I know, Frost didn’t write an autobiography. I wonder if your book reprinted the lost stanza? I doubt it. You might be one of the sole purveyors of that lost snippet.

      Harper’s Archives are searchable from 1850 to the present time and the only reference to Frost was in 1815 AFTER “North of Boston” was published so I struck out there.

      I’ve also been searching, via the net, and have found nothing. Finding out anything will have to be done the old fashioned way. :-) I’m going to call up some research librarians. I’ve tried this in the past without success. Back in January, I published (for the first time on the web) an older version of Nothing Gold Can Stay. I had to reconstruct it from snippets here and there, literally. No research librarian, Princeton, Dartmouth or Harvard, could find a record of the older poem.

      (There may have been parens around the third line of the original stanza. If so, they never made it into the the note I jotted down.)

      I’m going out to mend the pasture fence,
      I’ll set a couple rails in place at most,
      (Perhaps, I’ll have to brace a corner post)
      I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.

      I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
      I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
      (And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
      I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.

      I’m going out to fetch the little calf
      That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young,
      It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
      I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.

      I added the parenthesis. I think you’re right that the first two stanzas are too much alike. Frost tended to write like this in first drafts. Once he had a good thing going (and he could write fairly quickly) ’twas easy for him to run with it. It’s likely that he wrote the first stanza from memory, having thought of it fairly quickly, then wrote the second stanza on the same scaffolding with the same celerity. In most cases, I think, Frost would go back and revise. The parallel structure of the two verses (in thought, mood and intent) feel too static for the poem’s more warm-hearted and casual gestures.

  9. You said:
    “As far as I know, Frost didn’t write an autobiography. I wonder if your book reprinted the lost stanza? I doubt it. You might be one of the sole purveyors of that lost snippet.”

    I am not sure what you mean by “your book” in this sentence. I doubt if there is any book that reprints this lost stanza, because as far as I know it was not accepted for publication and apparently Frost was satisfied with omitting it at the time North of Boston was published.

    The only place it appears in “print” (that I know of) is where I wrote it into my Holt, Rinehart and Winston book (below the published stanzas). And now it is stated above in this blog. The biography I read only mentioned that the poem was rejected until the stanza about the calf was added. It never mentioned that there was a stanza concerning a fence that the editors wanted to drop. I am sure of that because I gave attention to that and still recall that it was not mentioned.

    I live very close to SUNY Plattsburgh — My home town is Keeseville, New York only a short way south of Plattsburgh and I am now living near the village of Schuyler Falls about a 15 minutes drive from the college. Frost did not have to go far out of his way on his way to visit his friend Dean Redcay in Plattsburgh to stop and visit our high school. Our teacher, Thomas Cook, a retired teacher from New York City who rode the school bus from his camp on Lake Champlain every morning and worked for a salary of $1.00 per year, taught only Senior English and the rest of the day was study hall monitor. He was an acquaintance of Frost (or claimed to be) and It was at his request that Frost went out his way one spring day to spend some time in our classroom before driving up to SUNY in Plattsburgh. He arrived early and spent some time visiting the famed Keeseville arch bridge. For the first 10 minutes or so he was “incognito” and posing as a substitute teacher. Only one member of our class who had seen pictures of Frost suspected it was him – especially since we were beyond the section of our book on poetry and he wanted to discuss poetry, and she had seen Mr. Cook talking to him earlier and Mr. Cook had said that he was going to see if he could get Frost to visit our class. After a few minutes of letting Frost have some fun playing the role of teacher, Mr. Cook came in and introduced him. We were not greatly impressed at the time — only knew of him from the few poems of his in our textbook. I recall I did not even mention it to my folks when I got home that day. It was mentioned very briefly in the village paper how a poet from Vermont had visited Keeseville as a guest of Thomas Cook and visited the arch bridge, and then it came up at dinner and I told them how he had visited our class and I had read him a poem I had written and he had praised me for it. He left before the period was over. This was the first time I heard his maxim that “a poem should begin in wisdom and end in delight.” Though I was not sufficiently impressed at the time, it now stands out as one of the highlights of my life. While incognito Frost asked which was our favorite poet and not everyone said, Frost. I recall that some said, “Sandburg” and some said “Poe” but most of those who answered (including me), said Frost. When he asked which of the Frosts poems we liked best (which I am not sure he asked before or after we knew who he was) most said, “Stopping by the woods on a snowy evening”, I think I was the only one who chose “The Pasture”, but I said “You come too” which I thought was the title. (It was at that time that he explained a little about the history of that poem.)

    Before the internet, I used to go to the SUNY Libaray often. I went there one time to have them scan in some Civil War letters written my a great grand uncle who died in the Civil War. And I know that they have extensive archives of various kinds. I am getting ready to
    fly to my winter home soon, but may find time to shoot over to the college and see if they have recordings of Frost’s readings. This was 1956 (before audio cassette recorders) and students didn’t have their own means of recording. There was just big cumbersome reel to reel recorders in those days — I was a senior in high school before I ever heard myself recorded on a tape. Our school had just one reel to reel recorder. I am sure the college had several.and because Frost was a BMIC, it is likely that if there were reel to reel tapes they would have been copied to audio cassettes by now and maybe even to CDs. Before going there I will give the librarian a call to get an appointment with someone who may be able to help. They are usually very cooperative at the library so if this session was recorded I will be able to listen to it. If it on CD they might even make a copy for me. But there may be laws that prevent this.

    You mention “Nothing Gold Can Stay” that is another of my favorites of Frost — he is riding on a train and sees some flower he is not quite sure of the name of and the idea that heaven is revealed only to those who are in a position not to look too closely at it. A brilliant thought that rings true in a lot of cases. Humorously, that poem came to mind in my youth when there was a girl in a bikini that was too far away to get a good look at and I did not have binoculars with me. More recently, in my old age, it applies to a couple of beautiful Blue Herons who make their home up near the pond where I walk my dog. They are very shy birds that I never get a chance to get a good look at. I only see them in flight getting as far away from myself and my dog as they can. Whoops — that is another poem (forgot its name now.) But I recognized that title “Nothing Gold Can Stay” as one of the very short poems I like. I could recite it at one time.

    Well, I have blathered on here long enough.

  10. You said:
    ” I think you’re right that the first two stanzas are too much alike.”

    I didn’t actually say that — (though it might be the case that they are too much alike) I said the pattern set up in the first two stanzas was not continued in the final stanza and that would be a reason for omitting the weaker of the two earlier ones. It seems to me that in a three stanza poem if you set up a pattern in the first two stanzas you are “obliged” to continue that pattern in the final stanza. But one stanza by itself does not firmly establish a pattern that needs to be carried forward — and this would be a reason for omitting one of the first two stanzas — and the weaker (less romantic) one would be the one to drop. In the”fence” and “spring” stanzas the second and third lines are each a complete sentence, whereas.In the “calf” stanza the first part of the second line is a continuation of the first line “… calf | that’s …” and third line is a continuation of the second part of the second line. “… so young | it totters …” The “I shan’t be gone long” goes better with the first two stanzas in that the task of mending a fence and cleaning a spring would be of much less duration than fetching a newborn calf that could take more than an hour. Although Frost could write verse quickly … I think the first stanza was written very quickly and left alone for a long time while he wrote other poems and then after his walk with the wife and daughter and the performing a task of cleaning a pasture spring he added to the one that sat dormant (maybe composing the new stanza in his head while he was waiting for the water to clear.) I don’t think he originally thought of the “You Come Too” poem to be more than a short one stanza poem — he tried to have it published as a single stanza and it was rejected. We will never know the exact timeline and history of this poem.
    I am quite sure he said that its first title was “The Pasture Fence” and it had just the one stanza..

    I don’t think that it was coincidence that he followed the pattern of the original stanza when he composed the second one. The idea that the sojourn his companion was being invited to accompany him on might be very brief, but was NOT a certainty and might take a little longer (if he had to “brace a corner post” or decided on a whim to “wait to watch the water clear”) — but, in any case, it wouldn’t take long, would be a key ingredient and very parallel — but this concept is totally missing from the “calf” stanza.and I think he abandoned any effort to follow that pattern and realized that a newborn calf image would provide more interest to the average reader (and to the editors who want to please the average reader.) I agree that the calf stanza is powerful and less “static” but poetically and romantically (if you consider this as a “love poem” as I do) the “spring” stanza is better. And it is more often quoted and really seems to be the product of more careful choice of words.

    It is the little mundane things in life that we share with our companion that are important — so I would love this poem had it remained as just about mending the fence and had been published. My wife and I occasionally mimic the final words of this poem and say to each other, “I shan’t be gone long — you come too!”. Now if I said” I am going out to watch the sunset (something that happens every cloudless day) — I shan’t be gone long — you come too!” OR I say, “I am going out to see the beginning of an eclipse of the moon (which happens quite rarely) — I shan’t be gone long — you come too!” The first is more romantic in my opinion. It is the fact that it is a mundane event that I want to share with my wife that adds to the romantic nature of the invitation. Watching a mother groom her newborn (not actually a rare event on a farm but not an every day thing either) is much more exciting in its own right — but that two loving partners can enjoy standing silently (hand in hand which I imagine when I read or recite the poem) is far less exciting than watching a cow groom her newborn, but it is the lack of excitement and the spending time together doing nothing special in a scenic setting perhaps noting the reflections of clouds in the surface of the spring water or listening to the rustle of leaves on tree from a breeze that gives this poem its soul. IMHO.

    • Good to read another comment from you, Richard; and thanks for the correction.

      If you’ve read my commentary on Shelley’s poem, Ozymandias, you’ll see that I’m not one to insist on a given interpretation. I think some interpretations may be more likely than others and, if so, I give a reason. I think your reasons for preferring Frost’s earlier version of the poem are a preference you are entitled to. Part of the enjoyment in discussing poetry is in seeing a poem or poetry through another’s ears and eyes.

      I think the first stanza was written very quickly and left alone for a long time while he wrote other poems and then after his walk with the wife and daughter and the performing a task of cleaning a pasture spring he added to the one that sat dormant (maybe composing the new stanza in his head while he was waiting for the water to clear.)

      You may be right. If he originally submitted the poem as a single stanza poem, as you say, then that also argues in your favor.

      It seems to me that in a three stanza poem if you set up a pattern in the first two stanzas you are “obliged” to continue that pattern in the final stanza.

      That could be the reason he omitted “the pasture fence” stanza. Speculating: He may not have wanted to rejigger the calf stanza.

      I think he abandoned any effort to follow that pattern and realized that a newborn calf image would provide more interest to the average reader (and to the editors who want to please the average reader.)

      Let’s not omit the possibility that he, himself, favored the “calf stanza”. (I’m not sure it was in Frost’s make-up to pander to readers or editors.) “I won’t go where I’m not the show”, was one of his famous quotes. If Frost had considered the earlier version of the poem the better poem, he certainly lived long enough to rectify the error. Hopefully, over time, other readers will read these comments and chime in.

  11. Yes, we all see poems in a different light. I must admit that when I first read the poem as a young man, not yet very critical of poetry (even though I had written a few myself and read poems my father had written) the calf,tottering as the mother cow licked off the birth fluid, stood out much more than the stanza regarding the cleaning of the pasture spring. It was only as an adult and further reading of Frost (and memorization of his poems during and after college years) that my maturity brought more meaning to the earlier stanza. I didn’t regard it primarily as a love poem at first glance, but just a cute poem with a nice rhythm and rhyme . Now when I recite the poem as I walk along with my dog (along with other of Frost’s Poems,) I sometimes just recite the the part about his cleaning the spring and waiting for the water to clear. The only ones that I now recite (other than “The Pasture”) are “Mending Wall” (and I have a different view of that than most), The Road Not Taken, Stopping by Woods on a snowy evening, The Hardship of Accounting, and Fire and Ice (for which the second line is a maverick and not in the rhythm of the other lines all of which are Iambic quadrature). It has allays been a mystery to me why the second line does not say “Others say in ice” (which would still only be three iambic groups not four, but it would retain the rhythm better.) Have you ever heard this discussed? I thought perhaps it was a typo in my book, but it is the same in other books as mine. But I recite it with “some” not “others” — who am I to reinvent Frost? .One I can still recite part of is Two Tramps in Mud Time.

    Is there another part of this forum that discusses “Mending Wall”?

    • I didn’t regard it primarily as a love poem at first glance, but just a cute poem with a nice rhythm and rhyme .

      I regard the poem as a masterpiece; and it sounds like you do too. As I wrote in my discussion of the poem, the sheer musicality of a poem is something the great poets strove for. (I question whether the same effect is possible in free verse without resort to internal rhyme and some metrical patterning, such as in Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poetry.)

      It has allays been a mystery to me why the second line does not say “Others say in ice”…

      The monosyllabic foot (which some deny exists) has, in this instance, a feeling of finality and assertiveness that the more mellifluous Others doesn’t. Frost, like Shakespeare, was not averse to breaking the meter when the emotional content merited such changes. (I mention Shakespeare because you can find similar examples in his poetry.) Yeats does the same thing.

      Is there another part of this forum that discusses “Mending Wall”?

      Yes, I discussed the poem here. Now that I look at the post, and with another year or so under my hat, I see that I want to add another thought to the interpretive portion. So, if you’re interested, stay tuned.

  12. I guess I am not sophisticated enough to appreciate why “Some” has a more intense emotional aspect than the word “others”. Of course, “others” can have a different meaning logically. Because, it dichotomizes the opinions. That is, others could mean ALL those who do not think the world will end in fire believe that it will end in ice. Whereas “some” leaves out a segment of people who have no particular opinion or who think the world will end in some way other than fire or ice. However, “Others” does not have to be dichotomizing. You often here “Some do and some don’t” you don’t as often here “Some do and others don’t”, so the “Some” contrasting with “Some” seems more natural and yet … I do not see what you see with regards emotional impact that justifies the breaking of the rhythm.. But you are probably correct. From my less perceptive point of view it seems like an error in choice of words poetically. But Frost must have done this deliberately so it has to be the better way.
    Tomorrow I am going to check into your text with regards to “Mending Wall”.

    • Think of it this way — :-)

      if you’re beloved wife said to you:

      Go to Hell!

      Isn’t that more effective than if she said:

      Go to Hades!

      There’s something about a single syllable that gives it a little extra umph.

  13. Well … I guess I see what you mean. A “Lady of ill repute” would probably rather be called a prostitute than a whore or a slut. :o) But if I am writing a limerick and I need something that rhymes with “ill repute” — I would not choose “slut” or “whore”. :o)

    There was a young poet from France
    Whose limericks were always askance
    And when asked why this was
    He replied its because
    I always try to squeeze as many meaningful words into the final line as a poet can possibly chance.

  14. Well … What, sir, pray tell, IS A DAMNED VILLANELLE?

    This old Limerick writer had wit
    But the Lim’ridks he wrote didn’t fit
    Thought their meter was tight,
    And their rhyming just right,
    They just were not dirty a bit.

    -RJLawrence
    (Wrote that just now just for this blog.)

    If I was a famous and renowned poet, (like Ogden Nash) I could have written the last line as
    “They were just not a bit dirty” … and critics would say it was fine and give some reason
    why it was better that way, even though both the rhyme and the meter were trashed ;o)
    “Well,” some critic might propose, “The clever reader would know how it should have been written and in the poet deliberately violated the rules for the sake of humor.”

    But being, neither famous or renowed (yet), I was obliged to follow the rules and invert the words from their more common syntax in order to preserve the meter and rhyme

    BTW — I think that this might be the frist of many Limerick;s I have written that wasn’t either dirty or right down filthy and obscene.. :o)

    .

    • Well … What, sir, pray tell, IS A DAMNED VILLANELLE?

      Wikipedia provides a tidy explanation here. You can click on the underlined blue text, as with the poem I mentioned in the previous comment. Full Disclosure: I detest Villanelles.

      Limericks are the literature of the bathroom stall. I don’t say that to degrade them. What other literary form serves so admirably and honorably in the most execrable locations? It is truly the common man’s sonnet. Glad you inverted the word order. Goes with the form. All Limericks should be part doggerel or the form has been wasted. And I can’t let an opportunity go by without a dig at free verse: Can you imagine a free verse Limerick?

      I should write a post on obscene Limericks.

  15. I like the statement you made about Limericks being the literature of (well I would have said “shit house”) bathroom walls, but I am not sure it can be considered the common man’s sonnet. “Bathroom” is a very polite word that is often applied to a room where there is only a toilet and no bath tub or shower — but usually a lav. When I was a tot in parochial school we called the toilet “the lavatory” (in one school) and in another “the basement”. And, of course, now we use the term “rest rooms” as if its were a place one goes to rest, rather than strain like hell to get things out. In a small boat it is called “The Head”, In a camping area it is called “The Latrine”. In the “days of aul lang syne” it was called the “out-house” or “the privy”. But if we are discussing LImerick’s and their rightful place of display. I would want to refer to the little cells where people relieve themselves as “shitting stalls” and urinals as “pissing wells”. Limerick’s are more popular with the common man than with nobility — yet Isaac Azimov and Ogden Nash and several other somewhat sophisticated individuals were fond of writing Limericks. Writing Limericks is very good exercise for the brain. One thing I strived for in writing Limericks was to try to make them as dirty as possible without actually using any obscene or vulgar words. I think you meant to say that the Limerick is the common mans poetic form, when you referred to them as the common man’s sonnet. I think of a sonnet as being a romaintic form, even though their are great sonnets having nothing to do with romance. One that comes to mind is EAR’s Cliff Klingenhagen. Most limericks are just a single stanza. But I have written several that have dozens of stanzas. I kept them all in a notebook stored in my storage shed that is on property I own about 20 minutes from my place of residence. About 10 or 15 years ago someone broke in there and made off with my notebook and also a book that was a compilation of hundreds of Limericks from all over the world — I book I won in a Limerick Writing Contest. That was all they took. I really felt bad about losing all the Limericks I had written over the years, but it would have been embarrassing to put out a reward for their return — I am sure some of them will become immortal. I used to try to write at least one Limerick each day — then in the early 80′s I turned to song writing and got honorable mention in a lyric writing contest (The American Soing Festival). But my bent for sexual humor entered into my song writing and my favorite song (both the lyrics and the melody) is a baudy (and quite descriptive) ditty entitled “Get Lots While You’re Young”. It is a “ballad” that tells about a couple who could not wait to get from the alter to the honeymoon suite and stopped at a cemetery along the way. The chorus goes like this:

    Get Lots While Your Young
    Read the sign they had hung
    We merely mistook what it said.
    How could we tell
    When it sounded so swell
    It meant burial plots for the dead. ;o)

    I have a copyright on all my songs including this
    but have never bothered to publish most of them yet.
    I just sing them to folks with my guitar as an accompaniment.

    A song I wrote that was really a serious song about infidelity (not at all obscene) was entitled
    “Dead End Motel” about a motel that was on a dead end road and charged by the hour rather than by the stay. I tried very hard to publish that one (spent tons of money in a studio making a demo of that and a couple others — and sent out about a 100 copies on cassettes. Got lots of rejection letters from those who were courteous enough to reply. A few were nice enough to return the cassette (one being Anne Murray). The majority never acknowledged receipt of the demo. I found out later that unknown song writers are very lucky to get a song published no matter how great their material. I know of a local fellow who tried for years with no success and then sold his trailer and moved to Nashville with his girlfriend and within two months had one of his songs on an album with Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn. Mack Davis could not get anything published until he made it as a singer and then sang his own stuff. He had tried to publish “Gee but its hard to be humble” with no success until he sang it himself and then everybody wanted to cover it.
    Well — I am way off topic here.

    I get that you detest Vilanelle;s but where is there a good example of one?

  16. I love Frost’s poetry. Your posts make me love his poetry more. I’m a scientist by trade, and my fellow grad science students aren’t much for poetry. Your analysis is my very favourite of all the bits and pieces I’ve looked at on the web. Please keep going. Perhaps onto Mowing or Reluctance.

    • Hi Rachel. Sorry I didn’t see your post sooner. It’s been too hot to so much as sit at the laptop.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I’ve been thinking I would like to take a look at ‘After Apple Picking’ next, but somewhere along the line I made myself a vow: I wouldn’t write up any more poetry until I completed a poem of my own. I should write about Mowing and Reluctance though.

      And my hat’s off to anyone who’s in the sciences. I love science.

  17. Oh, and I was also going to say that I’m happy to know about the fence stanza, but I’m glad that it was dropped somewhere along the way. In the other two verses, Frost seems to be inviting you to pause and admire something beautiful with him. He seems to do this often in his poetry–to take time to think about something lovely or fantastical in the midst of more common labour. The fence stanza is all work.

    • //Oh, and I was also going to say that I’m happy to know about the fence stanza…//

      Me too. Even the outtakes are enjoyable. I wish we had the sketches and outtakes of every poet who’d ever written.

  18. Pingback: The Pasture by Robert Frost | The Bard on the Hill

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