The Death of the Hired Man

Original Text: 
Robert Frost, North of Boston, 2nd edn. (New York: Henry Holt, 1915), pp. 14-23. PS 3511 R94N6 ROBA.
1Mary sat musing on the lamp-flame at the table
2Waiting for Warren. When she heard his step,
3She ran on tip-toe down the darkened passage
4To meet him in the doorway with the news
5And put him on his guard. "Silas is back."
6She pushed him outward with her through the door
7And shut it after her. "Be kind," she said.
8She took the market things from Warren's arms
9And set them on the porch, then drew him down
10To sit beside her on the wooden steps.
11"When was I ever anything but kind to him?
12But I'll not have the fellow back," he said.
13"I told him so last haying, didn't I?
14'If he left then,' I said, 'that ended it.'
15What good is he? Who else will harbour him
16At his age for the little he can do?
17What help he is there's no depending on.
18Off he goes always when I need him most.
19'He thinks he ought to earn a little pay,
20Enough at least to buy tobacco with,
21So he won't have to beg and be beholden.'
22'All right,' I say, 'I can't afford to pay
23Any fixed wages, though I wish I could.'
24'Someone else can.' 'Then someone else will have to.'
25I shouldn't mind his bettering himself
26If that was what it was. You can be certain,
27When he begins like that, there's someone at him
28Trying to coax him off with pocket-money,--
29In haying time, when any help is scarce.
30In winter he comes back to us. I'm done."
31"Sh! not so loud: he'll hear you," Mary said.
32"I want him to: he'll have to soon or late."
33"He's worn out. He's asleep beside the stove.
34When I came up from Rowe's I found him here,
35Huddled against the barn-door fast asleep,
36A miserable sight, and frightening, too--
37You needn't smile--I didn't recognise him--
38I wasn't looking for him--and he's changed.
39Wait till you see."
40                    "Where did you say he'd been?"
41"He didn't say. I dragged him to the house,
42And gave him tea and tried to make him smoke.
43I tried to make him talk about his travels.
44Nothing would do: he just kept nodding off."
45"What did he say? Did he say anything?"
46"But little."
47                    "Anything? Mary, confess
48He said he'd come to ditch the meadow for me."
49"Warren!"
50                    "But did he? I just want to know."
51"Of course he did. What would you have him say?
52Surely you wouldn't grudge the poor old man
53Some humble way to save his self-respect.
54He added, if you really care to know,
55He meant to clear the upper pasture, too.
56That sounds like something you have heard before?
57Warren, I wish you could have heard the way
58He jumbled everything. I stopped to look
59Two or three times--he made me feel so queer--
60To see if he was talking in his sleep.
61He ran on Harold Wilson--you remember--
62The boy you had in haying four years since.
63He's finished school, and teaching in his college.
64Silas declares you'll have to get him back.
65He says they two will make a team for work:
66Between them they will lay this farm as smooth!
67The way he mixed that in with other things.
68He thinks young Wilson a likely lad, though daft
69On education--you know how they fought
70All through July under the blazing sun,
71Silas up on the cart to build the load,
72Harold along beside to pitch it on."
73"Yes, I took care to keep well out of earshot."
74"Well, those days trouble Silas like a dream.
75You wouldn't think they would. How some things linger!
76Harold's young college boy's assurance piqued him.
77After so many years he still keeps finding
78Good arguments he sees he might have used.
79I sympathise. I know just how it feels
80To think of the right thing to say too late.
81Harold's associated in his mind with Latin.
82He asked me what I thought of Harold's saying
83He studied Latin like the violin
84Because he liked it--that an argument!
85He said he couldn't make the boy believe
86He could find water with a hazel prong--
87Which showed how much good school had ever done him.
88He wanted to go over that. But most of all
89He thinks if he could have another chance
90To teach him how to build a load of hay----"
91"I know, that's Silas' one accomplishment.
92He bundles every forkful in its place,
93And tags and numbers it for future reference,
94So he can find and easily dislodge it
95In the unloading. Silas does that well.
96He takes it out in bunches like big birds' nests.
97You never see him standing on the hay
98He's trying to lift, straining to lift himself."
99"He thinks if he could teach him that, he'd be
100Some good perhaps to someone in the world.
101He hates to see a boy the fool of books.
102Poor Silas, so concerned for other folk,
103And nothing to look backward to with pride,
104And nothing to look forward to with hope,
105So now and never any different."
106Part of a moon was falling down the west,
107Dragging the whole sky with it to the hills.
109And spread her apron to it. She put out her hand
110Among the harp-like morning-glory strings,
111Taut with the dew from garden bed to eaves,
113That wrought on him beside her in the night.
114"Warren," she said, "he has come home to die:
115You needn't be afraid he'll leave you this time."
116"Home," he mocked gently.
117                    "Yes, what else but home?
118It all depends on what you mean by home.
119Of course he's nothing to us, any more
120Than was the hound that came a stranger to us
121Out of the woods, worn out upon the trail."
122"Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
123They have to take you in."
124                    "I should have called it
125Something you somehow haven't to deserve."
126Warren leaned out and took a step or two,
127Picked up a little stick, and brought it back
128And broke it in his hand and tossed it by.
129"Silas has better claim on us you think
130Than on his brother? Thirteen little miles
131As the road winds would bring him to his door.
132Silas has walked that far no doubt to-day.
134A somebody--director in the bank."
135"He never told us that."
136                    "We know it though."
137"I think his brother ought to help, of course.
138I'll see to that if there is need. He ought of right
139To take him in, and might be willing to--
140He may be better than appearances.
141But have some pity on Silas. Do you think
143Or anything he looked for from his brother,
144He'd keep so still about him all this time?"
145"I wonder what's between them."
146                    "I can tell you.
147Silas is what he is--we wouldn't mind him--
148But just the kind that kinsfolk can't abide.
149He never did a thing so very bad.
150He don't know why he isn't quite as good
152To please his brother, worthless though he is."
153"I can't think Si ever hurt anyone."
154"No, but he hurt my heart the way he lay
155And rolled his old head on that sharp-edged chair-back.
156He wouldn't let me put him on the lounge.
157You must go in and see what you can do.
158I made the bed up for him there to-night.
159You'll be surprised at him--how much he's broken.
160His working days are done; I'm sure of it."
161"I'd not be in a hurry to say that."
162"I haven't been. Go, look, see for yourself.
163But, Warren, please remember how it is:
164He's come to help you ditch the meadow.
165He has a plan. You mustn't laugh at him.
166He may not speak of it, and then he may.
167I'll sit and see if that small sailing cloud
168Will hit or miss the moon."
169                    It hit the moon.
170Then there were three there, making a dim row,
171The moon, the little silver cloud, and she.
172Warren returned--too soon, it seemed to her,
173Slipped to her side, caught up her hand and waited.
174"Warren," she questioned.
175                    "Dead," was all he answered.

Notes

108] saw: saw it (in Robert Frost, Collected Poems, Prose, & Plays [Library of America, 1995], p. 43, a later, revised text). Back to Line
112] the: some (Library of America edition). Back to Line
133] didn't: doesn't (Library of America edition). Back to Line
142] he'd: he (Library of America edition). Back to Line
151] He ..is: Worthless though he is / He won't be made ashamed to please his brother (Library of America edition). Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1914
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.
Rhyme: