Tuesday Poem: “Mowing” by Robert Frost

Mowing

There was never a sound beside the wood but one,
And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground.
What was it it whispered? I knew not well myself;
Perhaps it was something about the heat of the sun,
Something, perhaps, about the lack of sound–
And that was why it whispered and did not speak.
It was no dream of the gift of idle hours,
Or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf:
Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak
To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows,
Not without feeble-pointed spikes of flowers
(Pale orchises), and scared a bright green snake.
The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.
My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make.

(Source: http://www.sonnets.org/frost.htm#004)

I discovered “Mowing”, a wonderful sonnet by Robert Frost, while reading an article about using field trips to help teach nature writing (for┬ámy PhD–this is not my usual bedtime reading!). In the article, the teacher taught his students how to mow a field using a scythe. Fun. The article also talks about Frost’s dedication to factual description of the countryside. For example, he names the flower in the poem as “Pale orchises”, not accidentally, but because he wanted to be true to the field that he has mown. “Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak”, he says. Robert Hass, who is the focus of my PhD thesis, is also persistent and┬áspecific in his descriptions of the natural world. I see it as a sort of homage; a purposeful naming to make others notice.

For other Tuesday Poems check out the hub.

7 thoughts on “Tuesday Poem: “Mowing” by Robert Frost

  1. I really admire that idea of being persistent, purposeful and specific that you bring up here, Sarah. Frost really always delivers that precision. The field trip where the students learnt to use a scythe is amazing – more of that should happen!

  2. I love Robert Frost’s poetry – even more after reading the biography of Edward Thomas and finding out how close their collaboration was. And by a strange coincidence have just started reading Robert Hass The Apple Trees at Olema. it’s the detail I love, a concentration of small things that somehow give the whole. Thanks for posting this.

  3. Vintage Frost – thank you Sarah – and also an intriguing sonnet form, scan-wise and rhyme scheme. Does it have a formal name-type or is it one that Frost has invented?

    • Hi Keith. I’m not sure about Frost’s sonnet form, it’s certainly not either of the traditional rhyming schemes. The article that I was reading called the poem a sonnet, and was probably using the term loosely, and I went with it.

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