The Tuft of Flowers
BY ROBERT FROST
I went to turn the grass once after one
Who mowed it in the dew before the sun.
The dew was gone that made his blade so keen
Before I came to view the levelled scene.
I looked for him behind an isle of trees;
I listened for his whetstone on the breeze.
But he had gone his way, the grass all mown,
And I must be, as he had been,—alone,
As all must be,’ I said within my heart,
Whether they work together or apart.’
But as I said it, swift there passed me by
On noiseless wing a ‘wildered butterfly,
Seeking with memories grown dim o’er night
Some resting flower of yesterday’s delight.
And once I marked his flight go round and round,
As where some flower lay withering on the ground.
And then he flew as far as eye could see,
And then on tremulous wing came back to me.
I thought of questions that have no reply,
And would have turned to toss the grass to dry;
But he turned first, and led my eye to look
At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook,
A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared
Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.
I left my place to know them by their name,
Finding them butterfly weed when I came.
The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
By leaving them to flourish, not for us,
Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him.
But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.
The butterfly and I had lit upon,
Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,
That made me hear the wakening birds around,
And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground,
And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
So that henceforth I worked no more alone;
But glad with him, I worked as with his aid,
And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;
And dreaming, as it were, held brotherly speech
With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.
Men work together,’ I told him from the heart,
Whether they work together or apart.’
Another example of a Robert Frost poem is “The Tuft of Flowers,” an even more challenging read than the first two. As for form, the poem has a continuous rhyme scheme of aa. This scheme occurs in succeeding couplets. The fact of two lines being together may point to one of the poem’s dominating themes: friendship. But before the speaker comes to the optimistic realization that he is never alone, he must first face loneliness. I’m going to try to piece this poem apart the best I can.
The speaker searches for the mower who went leveling out the grass after the brink of dawn, a traditional way of farming. But the speaker cannot find his fellow man: “But he had gone his way, the grass all mown/ And I must be, as he had been, -alone” (lines 7-8). The word “alone” occurs at an effective place, just after a caesura. The word being singled out in the line emphasizes the speaker’s new-found loneliness. The speaker feels that his loneliness is an inescapable predicament, a universal one, since the mower was alone himself in traveling the fields. He has reached a seeming conclusion: whether people are together or not, they will be lonely. Either humans cannot understand each other fully despite their closeness, or death itself will ultimately isolate people from one another permanently. Death seems to be present in the poem; the mower uses a “scythe” to level the grass, a term with a sharp, vicious sound, often associated as the grim reaper’s tool of demise. In lines 23-24, the speaker mentions that the scythe has spared a tuft of flowers while “baring” a nearby brook. In the same way, death, being an unpredictable force in the world, spares some while destroying others. And maybe the mower represents God, who is sovereign over the power of death. But most seem to think that the mower is merely a fellow man with whom the speaker wishes to identify.
But then a butterfly appears to the speaker, coming to be a symbol of the speaker himself. Frost describes the butterfly as “seeking with memories grown dim o’er night/ Some resting flower of yesterday’s delight” (lines 13-14). The speaker is in a similar situation as the butterfly, for he wants to find some hope in his present state, wanting to return to a time when he didn’t feel isolated. The butterfly flies as far as the speaker can see, then returns to him, flapping his wings nervously (lines 17-18). The speaker, similarly, searches for an answer to his isolation, trying to think as deeply as possible, but comes back to himself just as frightened and vulnerable as ever.
On seeing the tuft of flowers the butterfly points out, however, the speaker obtains a new sense of not being abandoned. In the third to last stanza, the poem says “But glad with him, I worked as with his aid.” And in the last stanza, the speaker’s new conclusion is that men work together whether they are apart or together. Seeing the tuft of flowers still around signals to the speaker that there is still a certain sense of companionship to be embraced. Not all is lost. If the mower shares the same destiny as he, then he needn’t feel isolated. Humans share common bonds no matter their distance. This gives us a small but interesting comfort in the face of the “scythe.” The speaker can live his life as a single individual, content in his place, knowing that there will always be someone out there sharing in his sufferings. The butterfly’s arrival, if nothing else, is the sure sign that he isn’t alone. That’s what I got for tonight folks! See you later.