Robert Frost and Wendell Berry

The Pasture 

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.

Robert Frost 1874-1963

Stay Home

I will wait here in the fields
to see how well the rain
brings on the grass.
In the labor of the fields
longer than a man’s life
I am at home. Don’t come with me.
You stay home too.
I will be standing in the woods
where the old trees
move only with the wind
and then with gravity.
In the stillness of the trees
I am at home. Don’t come with me.
You stay home too.      Wendell Berry  1934-

Berry follows and develops Frost. Separated by a half-century and by half the continent–Vermont to Kentucky–these two work outdoors and work on the reader with outdoor commentary. The Frost poem seems like a friendly beckoning  of a visitor to take a walk. There’s not much planned, not much going on: raking a few leaves, bringing a calf into the barn. The Berry poem is a long view, a lifetime measured against the seasons, in the shade of old trees, by forces that keep life in place.

There’s an emptiness in Frost’s invitation. We cannot come, of course, we have other things to do, but we are happy to have heard about the calf. There is the usual ethical sternness in Berry, and the agri-elitism of a man with a farm. He warns us and, at the same time, invites us: stay in your place. There is of course the long-standing stewardship of the family farm in Berry and the good music that has come from him over the years on account of that.

2 thoughts on “Robert Frost and Wendell Berry

  1. I used to read Berry all the time. I was a lot more of an agri-elitist back then, too. He does strike me as quite stern here. On the other hand I think Frost captures perfectly the actual joy of letting people in. I think of my nieces who visit our farm. At first they are tentative and hang back, but with a little gentle nudging they happily involve themselves in the smallest of barnyard tasks. It is the only time I get with these little girls and for some reason there’s something so intimate and satisfying about seeing them gather potatoes or feed the chickens.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!



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