[In this post, Adam Cooper gives his response to the questions posed here. It’s never too late to give your own! -ed.]
The Pasture, by Robert Frost
I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.
I’m going out to fetch the little calf
That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.
Someone once said, “Two are better than one.” The whole poem knows this, so quietly, from beginning to end: “You come too.”
But the poem also experiences this truth. It learns it more deeply as it goes. One reason poetry is worth it is that it helps us experience the truths we already possess, yet still don’t possess deeply enough.
The speaker invites another to share one or two of his daily tasks. He promises her the things that seem specially fine or moving to him, as his quietly live imagination searches what the pasture has to offer. Because he take his attitude from another, inviting her like this, he is able to recall in radiant freshness the actual beauties of his tasks. His good work becomes better in the prospect of sharing it with her.
There is a progression in the stanzas, the first (seemingly complete in itself) in fact clears the way for the second. This is true literally. The spring is cleared so that the mother cow and calf can drink pure water. To refresh the spring is on its own a good thing, but it’s a better thing to do it out of care for the animals who drink and pasture here.
The progress works on another level too. The beauty of waters clearing themselves of clouds caused by raked up leaves is a lonely kind of beauty. It’s a movement from confusion to clarity, turmoil to stillness, from the turgidness of life to an elemental simplicity. The speaker wants to share this contemplative moment–that would be good. But in the clarity that pours over him to recollect it in her presence, something better occurs to him.
To share a moment of solitary purity is good. To share a moment of active care is better. A cow licks her calf to clean it, but also to make its muscles wake up, tingle, ache and grow strong. We move toward our truer selves not only as angels are sometimes imagined to do, by staring into the clear heart of things. We need images of a love that wants to help, and can help with the daily work of living–a love with all the rough tenderness that is communicated by the motherly lick of a cow-tongue, so that one can totter upright.
To be together in the clear apartness that we know when we stare into the mystery of things; to be together to look after each other, to move each other awkwardly forward, even lick each other into shape: these are two movements of a whole and single love. The first movement, good in itself, clears the way for the second, which is better.
The speaker knows, the moment after he speaks, that the prospect of seeing the small, gangly calf and its mother’s provident, coarse-textured care will startle and move his hearer (for it has startled and moved him). He need say no more. She will come now, or she won’t. And the tasks do need to get done.
One stanza was good, two were better. A third, and the poem might lose itself in empty shows of ingenuity. By falling silent, the speaker gives his listener a moment to decide, if she wants, to come too. He makes room for two.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor.”
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