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Poem by Robert Lee Frost

A Hundred Collars

Lancaster bore him--such a little town, 
Such a great man. It doesnt see him often 
Of late years, though he keeps the old homestead 
And sends the children down there with their mother 
To run wild in the summer--a little wild. 
Sometimes he joins them for a day or two 
And sees old friends he somehow cant get near. 
They meet him in the general store at night, 
Pre-occupied with formidable mail, 
Rifling a printed letter as he talks. 
They seem afraid. He wouldnt have it so: 
Though a great scholar, hes a democrat, 
If not at heart, at least on principle. 
Lately when coming up to Lancaster 
His train being late he missed another train 
And had four hours to wait at Woodsville Junction 
After eleven oclock at night. Too tired 
To think of sitting such an ordeal out, 
He turned to the hotel to find a bed. 
No room, the night clerk said. Unless---- 
Woodsvilles a place of shrieks and wandering lamps 
And cars that shook and rattle--and one hotel. 
You say unless. 
Unless you wouldnt mind 
Sharing a room with someone else. 
Who is it? 
A man. 
So I should hope. What kind of man? 
I know him: hes all right. A mans a man. 
Separate beds of course you understand. 
The night clerk blinked his eyes and dared him on. 
Whos that man sleeping in the office chair? 
Has he had the refusal of my chance? 
He was afraid of being robbed or murdered. 
What do you say? 
Ill have to have a bed. 
The night clerk led him up three flights of stairs 
And down a narrow passage full of doors, 
At the last one of which he knocked and entered. 
Lafe, heres a fellow wants to share your room. 
Show him this way. Im not afraid of him. 
Im not so drunk I cant take care of myself. 
The night clerk clapped a bedstead on the foot. 
This will be yours. Good-night, he said, and went. 
Lafe was the name, I think? 
Yes, Layfayette. 
You got it the first time. And yours? 
Doctor Magoon. 
A Doctor? 
Well, a teacher. 
Professor Square-the-circle-till-youre-tired? 
Hold on, theres something I dont think of now 
That I had on my mind to ask the first 
Man that knew anything I happened in with. 
Ill ask you later--dont let me forget it. 
The Doctor looked at Lafe and looked away. 
A man? A brute. Naked above the waist, 
He sat there creased and shining in the light, 
Fumbling the buttons in a well-starched shirt. 
Im moving into a size-larger shirt. 
Ive felt mean lately; means no name for it. 
I just found what the matter was to-night: 
Ive been a-choking like a nursery tree 
When it outgrows the wire band of its name tag. 
I blamed it on the hot spell weve been having. 
Twas nothing but my foolish hanging back, 
Not liking to own up Id grown a size. 
Number eighteen this is. What size do you wear? 
The Doctor caught his throat convulsively. 
Fourteen! You say so! 
I can remember when I wore fourteen. 
And come to think I must have back at home 
More than a hundred collars, size fourteen. 
Too bad to waste them all. You ought to have them. 
Theyre yours and welcome; let me send them to you. 
What makes you stand there on one leg like that? 
Youre not much furtherer than where Kike left you. 
You act as if you wished you hadnt come. 
Sit down or lie down, friend; you make me nervous. 
The Doctor made a subdued dash for it, 
And propped himself at bay against a pillow. 
Not that way, with your shoes on Kikes white bed. 
You cant rest that way. Let me pull your shoes off. 
Dont touch me, please--I say, dont touch me, please. 
Ill not be put to bed by you, my man. 
Just as you say. Have it your own way then. 
My man is it? You talk like a professor. 
Speaking of whos afraid of who, however, 
Im thinking I have more to lose than you 
If anything should happen to be wrong. 
Who wants to cut your number fourteen throat! 
Lets have a show down as an evidence 
Of good faith. There is ninety dollars. 
Come, if youre not afraid. 
Im not afraid. 
Theres five: thats all I carry. 
I can search you? 
Where are you moving over to? Stay still. 
Youd better tuck your money under you 
And sleep on it the way I always do 
When Im with people I dont trust at night. 
Will you believe me if I put it there 
Right on the counterpane--that I do trust you? 
Youd say so, Mister Man.--Im a collector. 
My ninety isnt mine--you wont think that. 
I pick it up a dollar at a time 
All round the country for the Weekly News, 
Published in Bow. You know the Weekly News? 
Known it since I was young. 
Then you know me. 
Now we are getting on together--talking. 
Im sort of Something for it at the front. 
My business is to find what people want: 
They pay for it, and so they ought to have it. 
Fairbanks, he says to me--hes editor-- 
Feel out the public sentiment--he says. 
A good deal comes on me when all is said. 
The only trouble is we disagree 
In politics: Im Vermont Democrat-- 
You know what that is, sort of double-dyed; 
The News has always been Republican. 
Fairbanks, he says to me, Help us this year, 
Meaning by us their ticket. No, I says, 
I cant and wont. Youve been in long enough: 
Its time you turned around and boosted us. 
Youll have to pay me more than ten a week 
If Im expected to elect Bill Taft. 
I doubt if I could do it anyway. 
You seem to shape the papers policy. 
You see Im in with everybody, know em all. 
I almost know their farms as well as they do. 
You drive around? It must be pleasant work. 
Its business, but I cant say its not fun. 
What I like bests the lay of different farms, 
Coming out on them from a stretch of woods, 
Or over a hill or round a sudden corner. 
I like to find folks getting out in spring, 
Raking the dooryard, working near the house. 
Later they get out further in the fields. 
Everythings shut sometimes except the barn; 
The familys all away in some back meadow. 
Theres a hay load a-coming--when it comes. 
And later still they all get driven in: 
The fields are stripped to lawn, the garden patches 
Stripped to bare ground, the apple trees 
To whips and poles. Theres nobody about. 
The chimney, though, keeps up a good brisk smoking. 
And I lie back and ride. I take the reins 
Only when someones coming, and the mare 
Stops when she likes: I tell her when to go. 
Ive spoiled Jemima in more ways than one. 
Shes got so she turns in at every house 
As if she had some sort of curvature, 
No matter if I have no errand there. 
She thinks Im sociable. I maybe am. 
Its seldom I get down except for meals, though. 
Folks entertain me from the kitchen doorstep, 
All in a family row down to the youngest. 
One would suppose they might not be as glad 
To see you as you are to see them. 
Because I want their dollar. I dont want 
Anything theyve not got. I never dun. 
Im there, and they can pay me if they like. 
I go nowhere on purpose: I happen by. 
Sorry there is no cup to give you a drink. 
I drink out of the bottle--not your style. 
Maynt I offer you----? 
No, no, no, thank you. 
Just as you say. Heres looking at you then.-- 
And now Im leaving you a little while. 
Youll rest easier when Im gone, perhaps-- 
Lie down--let yourself go and get some sleep. 
But first--lets see--what was I going to ask you? 
Those collars--who shall I address them to, 
Suppose you arent awake when I come back? 
Really, friend, I cant let you. You--may need them. 
Not till I shrink, when theyll be out of style. 
But really I--I have so many collars. 
I dont know who I rather would have have them. 
Theyre only turning yellow where they are. 
But youre the doctor as the saying is. 
Ill put the light out. Dont you wait for me: 
Ive just begun the night. You get some sleep. 
Ill knock so-fashion and peep round the door 
When I come back so youll know who it is. 
Theres nothing Im afraid of like scared people. 
I dont want you should shoot me in the head. 
What am I doing carrying off this bottle? 
There now, you get some sleep. 
He shut the door. 
The Doctor slid a little down the pillow.

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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