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Poem by Robert Lee Frost

The Generations of Men

A governor it was proclaimed this time, 
When all who would come seeking in New Hampshire 
Ancestral memories might come together. 
And those of the name Stark gathered in Bow, 
A rock-strewn town where farming has fallen off, 
And sprout-lands flourish where the axe has gone. 
Someone had literally run to earth 
In an old cellar hole in a by-road 
The origin of all the family there. 
Thence they were sprung, so numerous a tribe 
That now not all the houses left in town 
Made shift to shelter them without the help 
Of here and there a tent in grove and orchard. 
They were at Bow, but that was not enough: 
Nothing would do but they must fix a day 
To stand together on the craters verge 
That turned them on the world, and try to fathom 
The past and get some strangeness out of it. 
But rain spoiled all. The day began uncertain, 
With clouds low trailing and moments of rain that misted. 
The young folk held some hope out to each other 
Till well toward noon when the storm settled down 
With a swish in the grass. What if the others 
Are there, they said. It isnt going to rain. 
Only one from a farm not far away 
Strolled thither, not expecting he would find 
Anyone else, but out of idleness. 
One, and one other, yes, for there were two. 
The second round the curving hillside road 
Was a girl; and she halted some way off 
To reconnoitre, and then made up her mind 
At least to pass by and see who he was, 
And perhaps hear some word about the weather. 
This was some Stark she didnt know. He nodded. 
No f^ete to-day, he said. 
It looks that way. 
She swept the heavens, turning on her heel. 
I only idled down. 
I idled down. 
Provision there had been for just such meeting 
Of stranger cousins, in a family tree 
Drawn on a sort of passport with the branch 
Of the one bearing it done in detail-- 
Some zealous ones laborious device. 
She made a sudden movement toward her bodice, 
As one who clasps her heart. They laughed together. 
Stark? he inquired. No matter for the proof. 
Yes, Stark. And you? 
Im Stark. He drew his passport. 
You know we might not be and still be cousins: 
The town is full of Chases, Lowes, and Baileys, 
All claiming some priority in Starkness. 
My mother was a Lane, yet might have married 
Anyone upon earth and still her children 
Would have been Starks, and doubtless here to-day. 
You riddle with your genealogy 
Like a Viola. I dont follow you. 
I only mean my mother was a Stark 
Several times over, and by marrying father 
No more than brought us back into the name. 
One ought not to be thrown into confusion 
By a plain statement of relationship, 
But I own what you say makes my head spin. 
You take my card--you seem so good at such things-- 
And see if you can reckon our cousinship. 
Why not take seats here on the cellar wall 
And dangle feet among the raspberry vines? 
Under the shelter of the family tree. 
Just so--that ought to be enough protection. 
Not from the rain. I think its going to rain. 
Its raining. 
No, its misting; lets be fair. 
Does the rain seem to you to cool the eyes? 
The situation was like this: the road 
Bowed outward on the mountain half-way up, 
And disappeared and ended not far off. 
No one went home that way. The only house 
Beyond where they were was a shattered seedpod. 
And below roared a brook hidden in trees, 
The sound of which was silence for the place. 
This he sat listening to till she gave judgment. 
On fathers side, it seems, were--let me see---- 
Dont be too technical.--You have three cards. 
Four cards, one yours, three mine, one for each branch 
Of the Stark family Im a member of. 
Dyou know a person so related to herself 
Is supposed to be mad. 
I may be mad. 
You look so, sitting out here in the rain 
Studying genealogy with me 
You never saw before. What will we come to 
With all this pride of ancestry, we Yankees? 
I think were all mad. Tell me why were here 
Drawn into town about this cellar hole 
Like wild geese on a lake before a storm? 
What do we see in such a hole, I wonder. 
The Indians had a myth of Chicamoztoc, 
Which means The Seven Caves that We Came out of. 
This is the pit from which we Starks were digged. 
You must be learned. Thats what you see in it? 
And what do you see? 
Yes, what do I see? 
First let me look. I see raspberry vines---- 
Oh, if youre going to use your eyes, just hear 
What I see. Its a little, little boy, 
As pale and dim as a match flame in the sun; 
Hes groping in the cellar after jam, 
He thinks its dark and its flooded with daylight. 
Hes nothing. Listen. When I lean like this 
I can make out old Grandsir Stark distinctly,-- 
With his pipe in his mouth and his brown jug-- 
Bless you, it isnt Grandsir Stark, its Granny, 
But the pipes there and smoking and the jug. 
Shes after cider, the old girl, shes thirsty; 
Heres hoping she gets her drink and gets out safely. 
Tell me about her. Does she look like me? 
She should, shouldnt she, youre so many times 
Over descended from her. I believe 
She does look like you. Stay the way you are. 
The nose is just the same, and sos the chin-- 
Making allowance, making due allowance. 
You poor, dear, great, great, great, great Granny! 
See that you get her greatness right. Dont stint her. 
Yes, its important, though you think it isnt. 
I wont be teased. But see how wet I am. 
Yes, you must go; we cant stay here for ever. 
But wait until I give you a hand up. 
A bead of silver water more or less 
Strung on your hair wont hurt your summer looks. 
I wanted to try something with the noise 
That the brook raises in the empty valley. 
We have seen visions--now consult the voices. 
Something I must have learned riding in trains 
When I was young. I used the roar 
To set the voices speaking out of it, 
Speaking or singing, and the band-music playing. 
Perhaps you have the art of what I mean. 
Ive never listened in among the sounds 
That a brook makes in such a wild descent. 
It ought to give a purer oracle. 
Its as you throw a picture on a screen: 
The meaning of it all is out of you; 
The voices give you what you wish to hear. 
Strangely, its anything they wish to give. 
Then I dont know. It must be strange enough. 
I wonder if its not your make-believe. 
What do you think youre like to hear to-day? 
From the sense of our having been together-- 
But why take time for what Im like to hear? 
Ill tell you what the voices really say. 
You will do very well right where you are 
A little longer. I mustnt feel too hurried, 
Or I cant give myself to hear the voices. 
Is this some trance you are withdrawing into? 
You must be very still; you mustnt talk. 
Ill hardly breathe. 
The voices seem to say---- 
Im waiting. 
Dont! The voices seem to say: 
Call her Nausicaa, the unafraid 
Of an acquaintance made adventurously. 
I let you say that--on consideration. 
I dont see very well how you can help it. 
You want the truth. I speak but by the voices. 
You see they know I havent had your name, 
Though what a name should matter between us---- 
I shall suspect---- 
Be good. The voices say: 
Call her Nausicaa, and take a timber 
That you shall find lies in the cellar charred 
Among the raspberries, and hew and shape it 
For a door-sill or other corner piece 
In a new cottage on the ancient spot. 
The life is not yet all gone out of it. 
And come and make your summer dwelling here, 
And perhaps she will come, still unafraid, 
And sit before you in the open door 
With flowers in her lap until they fade, 
But not come in across the sacred sill---- 
I wonder where your oracle is tending. 
You can see that theres something wrong with it, 
Or it would speak in dialect. Whose voice 
Does it purport to speak in? Not old Grandsirs 
Nor Grannys, surely. Call up one of them. 
They have best right to be heard in this place. 
You seem so partial to our great-grandmother 
(Nine times removed. Correct me if I err.) 
You will be likely to regard as sacred 
Anything she may say. But let me warn you, 
Folks in her day were given to plain speaking. 
You think youd best tempt her at such a time? 
It rests with us always to cut her off. 
Well then, its Granny speaking: I dunnow! 
Mebbe Im wrong to take it as I do. 
There aint no names quite like the old ones though, 
Nor never will be to my way of thinking. 
One mustnt bear too hard on the new comers, 
But theres a dite too many of them for comfort. 
I should feel easier if I could see 
More of the salt wherewith theyre to be salted. 
Son, you do as youre told! You take the timber-- 
Its as sound as the day when it was cut-- 
And begin over---- There, shed better stop. 
You can see what is troubling Granny, though. 
But dont you think we sometimes make too much 
Of the old stock? What counts is the ideals, 
And those will bear some keeping still about. 
I can see we are going to be good friends. 
I like your going to be. You said just now 
Its going to rain. 
I know, and it was raining. 
I let you say all that. But I must go now. 
You let me say it? on consideration? 
How shall we say good-bye in such a case? 
How shall we? 
Will you leave the way to me? 
No, I dont trust your eyes. Youve said enough. 
Now give me your hand up.--Pick me that flower. 
Where shall we meet again? 
Nowhere but here 
Once more before we meet elsewhere. 
In rain? 
It ought to be in rain. Sometime in rain. 
In rain to-morrow, shall we, if it rains? 
But if we must, in sunshine. So she went.

Robert Lee Frost

Robert Lee Frost's other poems:
  1. Wild Grapes
  2. Two Look at Two
  3. A Hundred Collars
  4. Place for a Third
  5. The Cocoon

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