“Two Tramps in Mud Time”

by Robert Frost


Out of the mud two strangers came

And caught me splitting wood in the yard.

And one of them put me off my aim

By hailing cheerily, ‘Hit them hard!’

I knew pretty well why he dropped behind

And let the other go on a way.

I knew pretty well what he had in mind:

He wanted to take my job for pay.


Good blocks of oak it was I split,

As large around as the chopping block;

And every piece I squarely hit

Fell splinterless as a cloven rock.

The blows that a life of self-control

Spares to strike for the common good

That day, giving a loose to my soul,

I spent on the unimportant wood.


The sun was warm but the wind was chill.

You know how it is with an April day

When the sun is out and the wind is still,

You’re one month on in the middle of May.

But if you so much as dare to speak,

A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,

A wind comes off a frozen peak

And you’re two months back in the middle of March.


A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight

And turns to the wind to unruffle a plume

His song so pitched as not to excite

A single flower as yet to bloom.


It is snowing a flake: and he half knew

Winter was only playing possum.

Except in color he isn’t blue,

But he wouldn’t advise a thing to blossom.


The water for which we may have to look

In summertime with a witching-wand,

In every wheelrut’s now a brook,

In every print of a hoof a pond.

Be glad of water, but don’t forget

The lurking frost in the earth beneath

That will steal forth after the sun is set

And show on the water its crystal teeth.


The time when most I loved my task

These two must make me love it more

By coming with what they came to ask.

You’d think I never had felt before

The weight of an ax-head poised aloft,

The grip on earth of outspread feet.

The life of muscles rocking soft

And smooth and moist in vernal heat.


Out of the woods two hulking tramps

(From sleeping God knows where last night,

But not long since in the lumber camps).

They thought all chopping was theirs of right.

Men of the woods and lumberjacks,

They judged me by their appropriate tool.

Except as a fellow handled an ax,

They had no way of knowing a fool.


Nothing on either side was said.

They knew they had but to stay their stay

And all their logic would fill my head:

As that I had no right to play

With what was another man’s work for gain.

My right might be love but theirs was need.

And where the two exist in twain

Theirs was the better right–agreed.


But yield who will to their separation,

My object in living is to unite

My avocation and my vocation

As my two eyes make one in sight.

Only where love and need are one,

And the work is play for mortal stakes,

Is the deed ever really done

For Heaven and the future’s sakes.



About six months ago I posted the Robert Frost poem “The Lesson for Today” in its entirety. I followed it up with some commentary (“I had a lover’s quarrel with the world”). The former proved much more popular than the latter (not surprising at all).

Lately “The Lesson for Today” has become even more popular on this blog, receiving many more hits than anything else I have ever posted, particularly over the past three days. I am not sure why that happened. But if you liked “The Lesson for Today,” chances are you will like “Two Tramps in Mud Time” for the same reasons. At least I HOPE so, and that is why I decided to post the latter tonight. Enjoy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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3 Responses to “Two Tramps in Mud Time”

  1. Pingback: “The Lesson for Today” | Boojum's Bonanza

  2. Maureen Dowd in her NYTimes column quoted a the lines from “Lesson from Today” about Obama:

    “I’m liberal. You, you aristocrat,

    Won’t know exactly what I mean by that

    I mean so altruistically moral

    I never take my own side in a quarrel.”

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