Mowing by Robert Frost
Table of Contents
Mowing is the one of finest lyrics of Robert Frost included in the volume, A Boy’s Will (1913). The sonnet that the poem is may be summed up in a single sentence, “The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.” It was written in the year of its appearance.
Mowing by Robert Frost Theme
The poem highlights the dignity of labour. The poet completely identifies himself with his work. At the time of ‘mowing the poet knew only about his ‘long scythe’, the heat of the sun’, his labour and the hay’. This sonnet may be read along with Birches, After Apple Picking, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening , Come In, etc. for its theme. Mowing goes with ‘earnest love’, and this is its theme. In Birches, the poet says that “Earth’s the right place for love.” In Two Tramps in Mud Time, he declares his object to be
“My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.”
This theme of work combined with love is recurrent in Frost. In the poet’s own words, the poem may be interpreted thus:
“The youth takes up life simply with the small tasks.”
Mowing by Robert Frost Line by Line Analysis
There was never a sound…….. but one.
Beside the wood, where the work was going on, no sound was audible except that of mowing with scythe.
Whispered-It is in accord with “There was never a sound.” The scythe did not speak, but ‘whispered’.
It was no dream….. idle hours-Being busy in ‘mowing the scythe did not think of the leisure that it would enjoy when the work was over.
Or easy gold…..fay or elf- The scythe has been expressed through metaphorical use of ‘fay’ bringing in ‘easy gold’ or the possible wealth. The scythe was not thinking of the wealth that it would bring to the mower-poet.
Anything more than the truth- the truth is “the sweetest dream that labor knows” of the line thirteenth in this sonnet.
The earnest love- love of sincere labour. According to Brower, it is like “the prayer in all action of which Emerson speaks in Self-Reliance.” The prayer of the farmer kneeling in his field to weed it, the prayers heard throughout nature, though for cheap ends.” The earnest love is a source of great pleasure.
Nor without……. green snake- The imagery is taken here from the world of Nature. In the words of Thompson, “Objects and sords, the grass, the woods, the mower, the steadily whispering swish of the scythe cutting the hay, the sunlight, the snake, the flowers-all these combine to accentuate the intense pleasure within the mower himself.” The mower-poet tries to record and classify the spikes of flower here. He was able to scare “a bright green snake’ while mowing.
Pale orchises- ripe flowering plants.
Mowing by Robert Frost Summary
Beside the wood no sound except that of the mower-poet’s long scythe was to be heard. The scythe seemed whispering, not speaking loudly, to the earth. The poet knows nothing as to what the scythe whispered. He begins guessing about its whispering-that it might have been about the burning rays of the sum, or it might have been in the form of a complaint about the lack of any other sound. Now doing its work, the scythe could not indulge in day-dreaming which is the gift or the result of idle moments. Neither could it dream of the possible wealth to come from its industry. Nothing could be compared with the sincere love that went in the act of mowing except the truth of labour.
In brief, love and labour alone can complete with each other in cutting the grass and keeping it in rows. The mower saw before him the bunches of ripe, hence weak, flowers falling when he was mowing. He was intensely delighted by the beauty of the flowers, and was able to scare a bright green snake. The great truth, referred to in the ninth line, is that work makes man’s life full of sweet dreams. The mower’s delight springs entirely from doing, and the sweetest dream is the truth. Again he remembers the whispering scythe, and leaves the grass to turn dry.
Mowing by Robert Frost Analysis
Mowing is a sonnet. It reads as a companion poem to Birches in its moral. For theme it should be read along with Mending Wall and Come in. The sonnet raises the honour of labour that goes with love. By dedicating himself to mowing, by identifying himself with the scythe, the poet would have us believe that the earth is the right place for ‘love’ and ‘labor’.
Lawrence Thomson is all praise for the rich rhyme pattern of this sonnet. According to this critic, the initial effect of the sonnet is one of mood, in which “the reverie of the worker picks up for contemplation the tactile and visual and audial images in terms of action and of cherishing. The sensuous response is heightened and enriched not only by the speaking tones and modulations and rhythms struck across the underlying metrical pattern of iambics but also by the intricate and irregular sonnet rhyme-scheme: a-b-c-d-e-f-g.”
About the thirteenth line, the same critic says that the reader is likely to return to it, puzzling over it and feeling slightly teased by the possible ambiguities. If the fact-as-dream is interpreted as indicating that the entire reverie reflects an intensely sensuous joy in the immediate human experience, that such pleasurable experience constitutes and end in itself, the poem obviously makes sense in those terms.
Taken thus, the poem is clearly related to that fundamental theme of love and cherishing which runs throughout Frost’s poetry. Any other meaning found ought not to displace or cancel that. But if the fact-as-dream might also be interpreted to represent the act of mowing as a means to an end as well as an end in itself, it could serve to symbolize not only a process of being but also a process of becoming, within the farmer-poet’s life. The grass is cut and the hay is left to make for an ulterior purpose.
The sonnet has a moral in the thirteenth line-“The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.” In this respect, it may be grouped with Mending Wall, Two Tramps in Mud Time, Birches, etc. But the sonnet is free from didacticism. Elizabeth Jennings is also of the same opinion. No ‘palpable design’ is discernible in it, and this adds to its aesthetic pleasure. Strong feeling of the poet in his attachment with the scythe has been remarkably distilled into the texture of the poem without any resource to idealization or preaching. Mowing is a poem that shows Frost’s acute power of perception.
The sonnet abounds in figures of speech, particularly in the use of personification and metaphor. The Scythe in the poem is addressed as though it were a living creature.’ The metaphorical expression has been used in the line :
“Or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf:”
The scythe is mutely likened to a ‘fay or elf” in it. Thus, Mowing is a poem which underlines the significance of work, and which, at the same time, contains artistic excellences.