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Poem by Robert Lee Frost

A Servant to Servants

I didnít make you know how glad I was 
To have you come and camp here on our land. 
I promised myself to get down some day 
And see the way you lived, but I donít know! 
With a houseful of hungry men to feed 
I guess youíd find.... It seems to me 
I canít express my feelings any more 
Than I can raise my voice or want to lift 
My hand (oh, I can lift it when I have to). 
Did ever you feel so? I hope you never. 
Itís got so I donít even know for sure 
Whether I am glad, sorry, or anything. 
Thereís nothing but a voice-like left inside 
That seems to tell me how I ought to feel, 
And would feel if I wasnít all gone wrong. 
You take the lake. I look and look at it. 
I see itís a fair, pretty sheet of water. 
I stand and make myself repeat out loud 
The advantages it has, so long and narrow, 
Like a deep piece of some old running river 
Cut short off at both ends. It lies five miles 
Straight away through the mountain notch 
From the sink window where I wash the plates, 
And all our storms come up toward the house, 
Drawing the slow waves whiter and whiter and whiter. 
It took my mind off doughnuts and soda biscuit 
To step outdoors and take the water dazzle 
A sunny morning, or take the rising wind 
About my face and body and through my wrapper, 
When a storm threatened from the Dragonís Den, 
And a cold chill shivered across the lake. 
I see itís a fair, pretty sheet of water, 
Our Willoughby! How did you hear of it? 
I expect, though, everyoneís heard of it. 
In a book about ferns? Listen to that! 
You let things more like feathers regulate 
Your going and coming. And you like it here? 
I can see how you might. But I donít know! 
It would be different if more people came, 
For then there would be business. As it is, 
The cottages Len built, sometimes we rent them, 
Sometimes we donít. Weíve a good piece of shore 
That ought to be worth something, and may yet. 
But I donít count on it as much as Len. 
He looks on the bright side of everything, 
Including me. He thinks Iíll be all right 
With doctoring. But itís not medicine-- 
Lowe is the only doctorís dared to say so-- 
Itís rest I want--there, I have said it out-- 
From cooking meals for hungry hired men 
And washing dishes after them--from doing 
Things over and over that just wonít stay done. 
By good rights I ought not to have so much 
Put on me, but there seems no other way. 
Len says one steady pull more ought to do it. 
He says the best way out is always through. 
And I agree to that, or in so far 
As that I can see no way out but through-- 
Leastways for me--and then theyíll be convinced. 
Itís not that Len donít want the best for me. 
It was his plan our moving over in 
Beside the lake from where that day I showed you 
We used to live--ten miles from anywhere. 
We didnít change without some sacrifice, 
But Len went at it to make up the loss. 
His workís a manís, of course, from sun to sun, 
But he works when he works as hard as I do-- 
Though thereís small profit in comparisons. 
(Women and men will make them all the same.) 
But work ainít all. Len undertakes too much. 
Heís into everything in town. This year 
Itís highways, and heís got too many men 
Around him to look after that make waste. 
They take advantage of him shamefully, 
And proud, too, of themselves for doing so. 
We have four here to board, great good-for-nothings, 
Sprawling about the kitchen with their talk 
While I fry their bacon. Much they care! 
No more put out in what they do or say 
Than if I wasnít in the room at all. 
Coming and going all the time, they are: 
I donít learn what their names are, let alone 
Their characters, or whether they are safe 
To have inside the house with doors unlocked. 
Iím not afraid of them, though, if theyíre not 
Afraid of me. Thereís two can play at that. 
I have my fancies: it runs in the family. 
My fatherís brother wasnít right. They kept him 
Locked up for years back there at the old farm. 
Iíve been away once--yes, Iíve been away. 
The State Asylum. I was prejudiced; 
I wouldnít have sent anyone of mine there; 
You know the old idea--the only asylum 
Was the poorhouse, and those who could afford, 
Rather than send their folks to such a place, 
Kept them at home; and it does seem more human. 
But itís not so: the place is the asylum. 
There they have every means proper to do with, 
And you arenít darkening other peopleís lives-- 
Worse than no good to them, and they no good 
To you in your condition; you canít know 
Affection or the want of it in that state. 
Iíve heard too much of the old-fashioned way. 
My fatherís brother, he went mad quite young. 
Some thought he had been bitten by a dog, 
Because his violence took on the form 
Of carrying his pillow in his teeth; 
But itís more likely he was crossed in love, 
Or so the story goes. It was some girl. 
Anyway all he talked about was love. 
They soon saw he would do someone a mischief 
If he waínít kept strict watch of, and it ended 
In fatherís building him a sort of cage, 
Or room within a room, of hickory poles, 
Like stanchions in the barn, from floor to ceiling,-- 
A narrow passage all the way around. 
Anything they put in for furniture 
Heíd tear to pieces, even a bed to lie on. 
So they made the place comfortable with straw, 
Like a beastís stall, to ease their consciences. 
Of course they had to feed him without dishes. 
They tried to keep him clothed, but he paraded 
With his clothes on his arm--all of his clothes. 
Cruel--it sounds. I íspose they did the best 
They knew. And just when he was at the height, 
Father and mother married, and mother came, 
A bride, to help take care of such a creature, 
And accommodate her young life to his. 
That was what marrying father meant to her. 
She had to lie and hear love things made dreadful 
By his shouts in the night. Heíd shout and shout 
Until the strength was shouted out of him, 
And his voice died down slowly from exhaustion. 
Heíd pull his bars apart like bow and bow-string, 
And let them go and make them twang until 
His hands had worn them smooth as any ox-bow. 
And then heíd crow as if he thought that childís play-- 
The only fun he had. Iíve heard them say, though, 
They found a way to put a stop to it. 
He was before my time--I never saw him; 
But the pen stayed exactly as it was 
There in the upper chamber in the ell, 
A sort of catch-all full of attic clutter. 
I often think of the smooth hickory bars. 
It got so I would say--you know, half fooling-- 
ĒItís time I took my turn upstairs in jailĒ-- 
Just as you will till it becomes a habit. 
No wonder I was glad to get away. 
Mind you, I waited till Len said the word. 
I didnít want the blame if things went wrong. 
I was glad though, no end, when we moved out, 
And I looked to be happy, and I was, 
As I said, for a while--but I donít know! 
Somehow the change wore out like a prescription. 
And thereís more to it than just window-views 
And living by a lake. Iím past such help-- 
Unless Len took the notion, which he wonít, 
And I wonít ask him--itís not sure enough. 
I íspose Iíve got to go the road Iím going: 
Other folks have to, and why shouldnít I? 
I almost think if I could do like you, 
Drop everything and live out on the ground-- 
But it might be, come night, I shouldnít like it, 
Or a long rain. I should soon get enough, 
And be glad of a good roof overhead. 
Iíve lain awake thinking of you, Iíll warrant, 
More than you have yourself, some of these nights. 
The wonder was the tents werenít snatched away 
From over you as you lay in your beds. 
I havenít courage for a risk like that. 
Bless you, of course, youíre keeping me from work, 
But the thing of it is, I need to be kept. 
Thereís work enough to do--thereís always that; 
But behindís behind. The worst that you can do 
Is set me back a little more behind. 
I shaínít catch up in this world, anyway.
Iíd rather youíd not go unless you must.

Robert Lee Frost

Robert Lee Frost's other poems:
  1. The Vantage Point
  2. Wild Grapes
  3. On Going Unnoticed
  4. Hyla Brook
  5. The Self-Seeker

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