Sunday, September 8, 2019

Poetry Sunday: The Need of Being Versed in Country Things by Robert Frost

Here's a poem by Robert Frost that I don't recall ever having read until last week. It tells the story of a house in the country that burned until only the chimney stood, while the barn across the way survived. What touched me about this poem is its last stanza.

When I was growing up on the farm, every year we had Eastern Phoebes that built their mud and straw nests under the eaves of our house. I enjoyed watching them, although my mother hated the mess they made. As soon as they were gone in the fall, she would clean it all up, and in the spring the birds would be back to build anew. 

Frost had undoubtedly experienced the phoebes building their nests on a house. They enjoy living in close proximity to humans. His last stanza addresses the phoebes' tragedy in contrast to the birds who had their nests elsewhere.
For them there was really nothing sad.
But though they rejoiced in the nest they kept,
One had to be versed in country things
Not to believe the phoebes wept
The Need of Being Versed in Country Things
by Robert Frost
The house had gone to bring again
To the midnight sky a sunset glow.
Now the chimney was all of the house that stood,
Like a pistil after the petals go.
The barn opposed across the way,
That would have joined the house in flame
Had it been the will of the wind, was left
To bear forsaken the place’s name.
No more it opened with all one end
For teams that came by the stony road
To drum on the floor with scurrying hoofs
And brush the mow with the summer load.
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.
Yet for them the lilac renewed its leaf,
And the aged elm, though touched with fire;
And the dry pump flung up an awkward arm:
And the fence post carried a strand of wire.
For them there was really nothing sad.
But though they rejoiced in the nest they kept,
One had to be versed in country things
Not to believe the phoebes wept

4 comments:

  1. As is always the case with Frost, it is evocative verse, and captures well the plight of many farms today, though not originating in fire perhaps, but still with derelict houses and crumbling barns. As for Eastern Phoebes they seem to prefer human structures in preference to all others. I suspect it gives them some degree of protection from predators at the nest, and as you point out they are prone to return to the same nest site year after year. They are the earliest of the flycatchers to arrive in our area, and so lay claim to their nest from the previous year and build on top of it. They are delightful little birds!

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    Replies
    1. Eastern Phoebes have always been among my favorites, possibly because of my childhood association with them.

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  2. I loved your memory of the phoebes from your childhood. I can see why this poem touched you.

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