- I do not see why I should e'er turn back,
Or those should not set forth upon my track
To overtake me, who should miss me here
And long to know if still I held them dear.
They would not find me changed from him they knew —
Only more sure of all I thought was true.
- Into My Own, st. 4 (1913)
- Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?
- Reluctance, st. 4 (1913)
- 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.
- The Pasture, st. 1 (1914)
- And nothing to look backward to with pride,
And nothing to look forward to with hope.
- The Death of the Hired Man (1914)
- Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.
- The Death of the Hired Man (1914)
- 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 pretence 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.
- Home Burial (1914)
- Most of the change we think we see in life
Is due to truths being in and out of favor.
- The Black Cottage (1914)
- The best way out is always through.
- A Servant to Servants (1914)
- Pressed into service means pressed out of shape.
- The Self-seeker (1914)
- Forgive me my nonsense as I also forgive the nonsense of those who think they talk sense.
- Letter to Louis Untermeyer (1915-07-08)
- A poem...begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. It is a reaching-out toward expression; an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where an emotion finds the thought and the thought finds the words.
- Letter to Louis Untermeyer (January 1, 1916)
- I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
- The Road Not Taken, st. 4 (1916)
- The Hyla breed
That shouted in the mist a month ago,
Like ghost of sleigh-bells in a ghost of snow.
- Hyla Brook (1920)
- We love the things we love for what they are.
- Hyla Brook
- 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.
- Birches (1920)
- 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.
- I shall set forth for somewhere,
I shall make the reckless choice
Some day when they are in voice
And tossing so as to scare
The white clouds over them on.
I shall have less to say,
But I shall be gone.
- The Sound of the Trees (1920)
- Do you know,
Considering the market, there are more
Poems produced than any other thing?
No wonder poets sometimes have to seem
So much more businesslike than businessmen.
Their wares are so much harder to get rid of.
- New Hampshire (1923)
- The Vermont mountains stretch extended straight;
New Hampshire mountains curl up in a coil.
- New Hampshire
- Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
- Nothing Gold Can Stay (1923)
- The snake stood up for evil in the Garden.
- The Ax-Helve (1923)
- Why make so much of fragmentary blue
In here and there a bird, or butterfly,
Or flower, or wearing-stone, or open eye,
When heaven presents in sheets the solid hue.
- Fragmentary Blue, st. 1 (1923)
- Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
- Fire and Ice (1923)
- The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
- Dust of Snow (1923)
- And then we saw him bolt.
We heard the miniature thunder where he fled,
And we saw him, or thought we saw him, dim and gray,
Like a shadow across instead of behind the flakes.
- The Runaway (1923)
- Love at the lips was touch
As sweet as I could bear;
And once that seemed too much;
I lived on air
- To Earthward, st. 1 (1923)
- 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.
- To Earthward, st. 5,6
- How often already you've had to be told,
Keep cold, young orchard. Good-bye and keep cold.
Dread fifty above more than fifty below.
I have to be gone for a season or so.
- Goodbye and Keep Cold (1923)
- It is absurd to think that the only way to tell if a poem is lasting is to wait and see if it lasts. The right reader of a good poem can tell the moment it strikes him that he has taken an immortal wound—that he will never get over it.
- The Poetry of Amy Lowell, From the Christian Science Monitor (May 16, 1925)
- You could not tell, and yet it looked as if
The shore was lucky in being backed by cliff,
The cliff in being backed by continent;
It looked as if a night of dark intent
Was coming, and not only a night, an age.
Someone had better be prepared for rage.
There would be more than ocean-water broken
Before God's last Put out the Light was spoken.
- Once by the Pacific (1928)
- Tree at my window, window tree,
My sash is lowered when night comes on;
But let there never be curtain drawn
Between you and me.
- Tree at My Window (1928)
- That day she put our heads together,
Fate had her imagination about her,
Your head so much concerned with outer,
Mine with inner, weather.
- Tree at My Window
- One luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
- Acquainted with the Night (1928)
- If, as they say, some dust thrown in my eyes
Will keep my talk from getting overwise,
I'm not the one for putting off the proof.
Let it be overwhelming, off a roof
And round a corner, blizzard snow for dust,
And blind me to a standstill if it must.
- Dust in the Eyes (1928)
- Everything written is as good as it is dramatic. It need not declare itself in form, but it is drama or nothing.
- A Way Out, preface (1929)
- Poetry begins in trivial metaphors, pretty metaphors, "grace" metaphors, and goes on to the profoundest thinking that we have. Poetry provides the one permissible way of saying one thing and meaning another. People say, "Why don’t you say what you mean?" We never do that, do we, being all of us too much poets. We like to talk in parables and in hints and in indirections — whether from diffidence or some other instinct.
- Education by Poetry, speech delivered at Amherst College and subsequently revised for publication in the Amherst Graduates’ Quarterly (February 1931)
- Don’t join too many gangs. Join few if any.
Join the United States and join the family —
But not much in between, unless a college.
- Build Soil (1932)
- Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down.
- Address at Milton Academy, Massachusetts (May 17, 1935)
- The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You´re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you´re two months back in the middle of March.
- Two Tramps in Mud Time, st. 3 (1936)
- But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For heaven and the future´s sakes.
- Two Tramps in Mud Time, st. 9
- No memory of having starred
Atones for later disregard,
Or keeps the end from being hard.
Better to go down dignified
With boughten friendship at your side
Than none at all. Provide, provide!
- Provide, Provide, st. 6,7 (1936)
- The old dog barks backward without getting up;
I can remember when he was a pup.
- The Span of Life (1936)
- When I see young men doing so wonderfully well in athletics, I don’t feel angry at them. I feel jealous of them. I wish that some of my boys in writing would do the same thing.... You must have form — performance. The thing itself is indescribable, but it is felt like athletic form. To have form, feel form in sports — and by analogy feel form in verse. One works and waits for form in both. As I said, the person who spends his time criticizing the play around him will never write poetry. He will write criticism.
- Originally delivered at a poetry reading at Princeton University (October 26, 1937)
- The land was ours before we were the land's.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people.
- The Gift Outright (1941)
- Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.
- The Gift Outright
- She is as in a field of silken tent
At midday when the sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease.
- The Silken Tent (1942)
- But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To every thing on earth the compass round,
And only by one's going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightest bondage made aware.
- The Silken Tent
- Happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length.
- Title of poem (1942)
- Far in the pillared dark
Thrush music went —
Almost like a call to come in
To the dark and lament.
But no, I was out for stars;
I would not come in.
I meant not even if asked;
And I hadn't been.
- Come In, st. 4,5 (1942)
- If this uncertain age in which we dwell
Were really as dark as I hear sages tell,
And I convinced that they were really sages,
I should not curse myself with it to hell.
- The Lesson for Today (1942)
- And were an epitaph to be my story
I'd have a short one ready for my own.
I would have written of me on my stone:
I had a lover's quarrel with the world.
- The Lesson for Today
- We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.
- The Secret Sits (1942)
- Have I not walked without an upward look
Of caution under stars that very well
Might not have missed me when they shot and fell?
It was a risk I had to take—and took.
- Bravado (1947)
- For any eye is an evil eye
That looks in onto a mood apart.
- A Mood Apart (1947)
- All those who try to go it sole alone,
Too proud to be beholden for relief,
Are absolutely sure to come to grief.
- Haec Fabula Docet (1947)
- It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height.
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may take something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.
- Take Something Like a Star (1949)
- A poet never takes notes. You never take notes in a love affair.
- BBC Interview with Cecil Day Lewis (13 September 1957); transcripts published in http://www.frostfriends.org/FFL/Periodicals/Interview-lewis.html"It Takes a Hero to Make a Poem" in the Claremont Quarterly (Spring 1958)
- People are inexterminable — like flies and bed-bugs. There will always be some that survive in cracks and crevices — that’s us.
- London Observer (March 29, 1959)
- Summoning artists to participate
In the august occasions of the state
Seems something artists ought to celebrate.
Today is for my cause a day of days.
- For John F. Kennedy His Inauguration (1960)
- Forgive, O Lord, my little jokes on Thee
And I'll forgive Thy great big one on me.
- In the Clearing (1962)
- I am assured at any rate
Man's practically inexterminate.
Someday I must go into that.
There's always been an Ararat
Where someone someone else begat
To start the world all over at.
- A-Wishing Well (1962)
- It takes all sorts of in and outdoor schooling
To get adapted to my kind of fooling.
- It Takes All Sorts (1962)
- Unless I'm wrong
I but obey
The urge of a song:
And I may return
With what I learn
From having died.
- Away!, st. 5,6 (1962)
- You don’t have to deserve your mother’s love. You have to deserve your father’s. He’s more particular.... The father is always a Republican towards his son, and his mother’s always a Democrat.
- Interview in Writers at Work (1963)
- All out of doors looked darkly in at him
Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars,
That gathers on the pane in empty rooms.
- The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,
Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.
- "Don't let him cut my hand off—
The doctor, when he comes. Don't let him, sister!"
So. But the hand was gone already.
- Out, Out–
- I always have felt strange when we came home
To the dark house after so long an absence,
And the key rattled loudly into place
Seemed to warn someone to be getting out
At one door as we entered at another.
- Her crop was a miscellany
When all was said and done,
A little bit of everything,
A great deal of none.
- A Girl's Garden
- Take care to sell your horse before he dies.
The art of life is passing losses on.
- The Ingenuities of Debt
- She drew back; he was calm
"It is this that had the power,"
And he lashed his open palm
With the tender-headed flower.
- But he sent her Good-by,
And said to be good,
And wear her red hood,
And look for skunk tracks
In the snow with an ax —
And do everything!
- There was never a sound beside the wood but one,
And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground.
- To warm the frozen swamp as best it could
With the slow smokeless burning of decay.
- My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still.
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
- Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.
- After Apple Picking
- The birds that came to it through the air
At broken windows flew out and in,
Their murmur more like the sigh we sigh
From too much dwelling on what has been.
- It must be the brook
Can trust itself to go by contraries
The way I can with you — and you with me —
Because we’re — we’re — I don’t know
What we are.
- West-running Brook
- Our life runs down in sending up the clock.
The brook runs down in sending up our life.
The sun runs down in sending up the brook.
And there is something sending up the sun.
- West-running Brook
- Something inspires the only cow of late
To make no more of a wall than an open gate,
And think no more of wall-builders than fools.
- The world has room to make a bear feel free;
The universe seems cramped to you and me.
- The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be —
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea.
- Neither Out Far nor In Deep
- Nobody was ever meant
To remember or invent
What he did with every cent.
- The Hardship of Accounting
- He would declare and could himself believe
That the birds there in all the garden round
From having heard the daylong voice of Eve
Had added to their own an oversound,
Her tone of meaning but without the words.
- Never Again Would Birds’ Song Be the Same
- We disparage reason.
But all the time it’s what we’re most concerned with.
There’s will as motor and there’s will as brakes.
Reason is, I suppose, the steering gear.
- A Masque of Reason
- Deliver us from committees.
- A Masque of Reason
- Wind goes from farm to farm in wave on wave,
But carries no cry of what is hoped to be.
There may be little or much beyond the grave,
But the strong are saying nothing until they see.
- The Strong Are Saying Nothing
- ‘Twas Age imposed on poems
Their gather-roses burden
To warn against the danger
That overtaken lovers
From being overflooded
With happiness should have it
And yet not know they have it.
- Carpe Diem
- Till we came to be
There was not a trace
Of a thinking race
Anywhere in space.
- Kitty Hawk
- It is the future that creates his present.
All is an interminable chain of longing.
- Escapist — Never
- “Well, who begun it?”
That’s what at the end of a war
We always say not who won it,
Or what it was foughten for.
- Lines Written in Dejection on the Eve of Great Success
- Two such as you with such a master speed
Cannot be parted nor be swept away
From one another once you are agreed
That life is only life forevermore
Together wing to wing and oar to oar.
- The Master Speed, Inscribed on the gravestone of Frost and his wife, Elinor.
Mending Wall (1914)
- 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.
- My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbours."
- 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 offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.
- 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 neighbours.”
Home Burial (1915)
- 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 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."
- The little graveyard where my people are!
So small the window frames the whole of it.
- 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."
- "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 womenfolk. 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 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.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening (1923)
- Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
- St. 1
- My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
- St. 2
- He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
- St. 3
- The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
- St. 4
The Figure a Poem Makes (1939)Preface to Collected Poems
- It should be of the pleasure of a poem itself to tell how it can. The figure a poem makes. It begins in delight and ends in wisdom. The figure is the same for love.
- No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.
- Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting...Read it a hundred times; it will forever keep its freshness as a metal keeps its fragrance. It can never lose its sense of a meaning that once unfolded by surprise as it went.
- Scholars and artists thrown together are often annoyed at the puzzle of where they differ. Both work from knowledge; but I suspect they differ most importantly in the way their knowledge is come by. Scholars get theirs with conscientious thoroughness along projected lines of logic; poets theirs cavalierly and as it happens in and out of books. They stick to nothing deliberately, but let what will stick to them like burrs where they walk in the fields.
- Full text online
- Back out of all this now too much for us,
Back in a time made simple by the loss
Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off
Like graveyard marble sculpture in the weather,
There is a house that is no more a house
Upon a farm that is no more a farm
And in a town that is no more a town.
The road there, if you'll let a guide direct you
Who only has at heart your getting lost,
May seem as if it should have been a quarry –
Great monolithic knees the former town
Long since gave up pretense of keeping covered.
And there's a story in a book about it…
- Back out of all this now too much for us,
- As for the woods' excitement over you
That sends light rustle rushes to their leaves,
Charge that to upstart inexperience.
Where were they all not twenty years ago?
They think too much of having shaded out
A few old pecker-fretted apple trees.
- The height of the adventure is the height
Of country where two village cultures faded
Into each other. Both of them are lost.
And if you're lost enough to find yourself
By now, pull in your ladder road behind you
And put a sign up CLOSED to all but me.
- First there's the children's house of make-believe,
Some shattered dishes underneath a pine,
The playthings in the playhouse of the children.
Weep for what little things could make them glad.
- This was no playhouse but a house in earnest.
Your destination and your destiny's
A brook that was the water of the house,
Cold as a spring as yet so near its source,
Too lofty and original to rage.
(We know the valley streams that when aroused
Will leave their tatters hung on barb and thorn.)
- I have kept hidden in the instep arch
Of an old cedar at the waterside
A broken drinking goblet like the Grail
Under a spell so the wrong ones can't find it,
So can't get saved, as Saint Mark says they mustn't.
(I stole the goblet from the children's playhouse.)
Here are your waters and your watering place.
Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.
- How many times it thundered before Franklin took the hint! How many apples fell on Newton's head before he took the hint! Nature is always hinting at us. It hints over and over again. And suddenly we take the hint.
- It is only a moment here and a moment there that the greatest writer has.
- Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.
- Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat.
- Talking is a hydrant in the yard and writing is a faucet upstairs in the house. Opening the first takes all the pressure off the second.
- The greatest thing in family life is to take a hint when a hint is intended—and not to take a hint when a hint isn't intended.
- Always fall in with what you're asked to accept. Take what is given, and make it over your way. My aim in life has always been to hold my own with whatever's going. Not against: with.