‘The Tuft of Flowers’ by Robert Frost

Robert Frost

I went to turn the grass once after one

Who mowed it in the dew before the sun.

The dew was gone that made his blade so keen

Before I came to view the leveled scene.

I looked for him behind an isle of trees;

I listened for his whetstone on the breeze.

But he had gone his way, the grass all mown,

And I must be, as he had been,–alone,

“As all must be,” I said within my heart,

“Whether they work together or apart.”

But as I said it, swift there passed me by

On noiseless wing a ‘wildered butterfly,

Seeking with memories grown dim o’er night

Some resting flower of yesterday’s delight.

And once I marked his flight go round and round,

As where some flower lay withering on the ground.

And then he flew as far as eye could see,

And then on tremulous wing came back to me.

I thought of questions that have no reply,

And would have turned to toss the grass to dry;

But he turned first, and led my eye to look

At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook,

A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared

Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.

I left my place to know them by their name,

Finding them butterfly weed when I came.

The mower in the dew had loved them thus,

By leaving them to flourish, not for us,

Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him,

But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.

The butterfly and I had lit upon,

Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,

That made me hear the wakening birds around,

And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground.

And feel a spirit kindred to my own;

So that henceforth I worked no more alone;

But glad with him, I worked as with his aid,

And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;

And dreaming as it were, held brotherly speech

With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.

“Men work together,” I told him from the heart,

“Whether they work together or apart.”

In this poem, Frost the poet, as opposed to the man, has a reversal of understanding: he moves from idealizing solitude, to desiring fellowship.

As an introverted reader, I often overemphasize solitude as something truly wonderful. On the one hand, I recharge when with only myself, or in the company of only a few close friends or family members. On the other, I cannot possibly live without other, flesh and blood human beings.

So, I am joyful to hear such a great poet have this reversal of understanding within the poem. But we can’t take what he says too seriously. While the poet does move from a desire for solitude to a desire for fellowship, the poem ends with him still in solitude (save the butterfly and the tuft of flowers). I merely say this because I know from personal experience that the idea of a friend is not the same as a real friend. We are at risk in solitude to become like Dostoevsky’s dreamer in White Nights. We cannot live dreaming of fellowship–that is not enough.

Maybe it is too early for the poet. Maybe real fellowship is to come.

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