The Tuft of Flowers – Robert Frost

The Tuft of Flowers

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 bewildered 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.

The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
By leaving them to flourish, not for us,

Nor yet to draw one though 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.’

Robert Frost

Robert Frost wrote this poem at the end of the nineteenth century when grass was cut by hand using a scythe. He worked on farmland and this is probably a first hand reflection when he had the job of turning cut meadow grass.

The flower festival in Canberra has just ended and all the bulbs will be taken out so it is a fitting poem for this time of year. Whether the gardeners will leave some form of memory of the magnificence of the spring showing is another matter.

Often when we work with nature there is something of beauty we must destroy … there is always a desire to keep something of what we are taking … this is clearly evident in the work of the reaper … he wants to keep something of that beauty … it is of course a message too to another who may come that way.

But the main thought that came through was that when we take on a job following the work of another … which is always the case … there is always a connection something left behind … and hopefully something to enjoy … no empty coke cans lying in the furrows … and even if there are negatives can we find a positive and maybe first the butterfly to lead us to that positive … and in that sense we are never alone as we incorporate the connecting positives in our own work.

I do like that word ‘tuft’ – a small bunch of hair, grass, feathers, or fibres held or growing together at the base.

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