The Star-splitter

Original Text: 
Robert Frost, New Hampshire: A Poem with Notes and Grace Notes (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1923), pp. 27-30. D-11 0397 Fisher Library.
1You know Orien always comes up sideways.
2Throwing a leg up over our fence of mountains,
3And rising on his hands, he looks in on me
4Busy outdoors by lantern-light with something
5I should have done by daylight, and indeed,
6After the ground is frozen, I should have done
7Before it froze, and a gust flings a handful
8Of waste leaves at my smoky lantern chimney
9To make fun of my way of doing things,
10Or else fun of Orion's having caught me.
11Has a man, I should like to ask, no rights
12These forces are obliged to pay respect to?"
13So Brad McLaughlin mingled reckless talk
14Of heavenly stars with hugger-mugger farming,
15Till having failed at hugger-mugger farming,
16He burned his house down for the fire insurance
17And spent the proceeds on a telescope
18To satisfy a life-long curiosity
19About our place among the infinities.
20"What do you want with one of those blame things?"
21I asked him well beforehand. "Don't you get one!"
22"Don't call it blamed; there isn't anything
23More blameless in the sense of being less
24A weapon in our human fight," he said.
25"I'll have one if I sell my farm to buy it."
26There where he moved the rocks to plow the ground
28Few farms changed hands; so rather than spend years
29Trying to sell his farm and then not selling,
30He burned his house down for the fire insurance
31And bought the telescope with what it came to.
32He had been heard to say by several:
33"The best thing that we're put here for's to see;
34The strongest thing that's given us to see with's
35A telescope. Someone in every town
36Seems to me owes it to the town to keep one.
37In Littleton it may as well be me."
38After such loose talk it was no surprise
39When he did what he did and burned his house down.
40Mean laughter went about the town that day
41To let him know we weren't the least imposed on,
42And he could wait--we'd see to him to-morrow.
43But the first thing next morning we reflected
44If one by one we counted people out
45For the least sin, it wouldn't take us long
46To get so we had no one left to live with.
47For to be social is to be forgiving.
48Our thief, the one who does our stealing from us,
49We don't cut off from coming to church suppers,
50But what we miss we go to him and ask for.
51He promptly gives it back, that is if still
52Uneaten, unworn out, or undisposed of.
53It wouldn't do to be too hard on Brad
54About his telescope. Beyond the age
56He had to take the best way he knew how
57To find himself in one. Well, all we said was
58He took a strange thing to be roguish over.
59Some sympathy was wasted on the house,
60A good old-timer dating back along;
61But a house isn't sentient; the house
62Didn't feel anything. And if it did,
63Why not regard it as a sacrifice,
64And an old-fashioned sacrifice by fire,
65Instead of a new-fashioned one at auction?
66Out of a house and so out of a farm
67At one stroke (of a match), Brad had to turn
68To earn a living on the Concord railroad,
69As under-ticket-agent at a station
70Where his job, when he wasn't selling tickets,
71Was setting out up track and down, not plants
72As on a farm, but planets, evening stars
73That varied in their hue from red to green.
74He got a good glass for six hundred dollars.
75His new job gave him leisure for star-gazing.
76Often he bid me come and have a look
77Up the brass barrel, velvet black inside,
78At a star quaking in the other end.
79I recollect a night of broken clouds
80And underfoot snow melted down to ice,
81And melting further in the wind to mud.
82Bradford and I had out the telescope.
84Pointed our thoughts the way we pointed it,
85And standing at our leisure till the day broke,
87That telescope was christened the Star-splitter,
88Because it didn't do a thing but split
89A star in two or three the way you split
90A globule of quicksilver in your hand
91With one stroke of your finger in the middle.
92It's a star-splitter if there ever was one
93And ought to do some good if splitting stars
94'Sa thing to be compared with splitting wood.
95We've looked and looked, but after all where are we?
96Do we know any better where we are,
97And how it stands between the night to-night
98And a man with a smoky lantern chimney?
99How different from the way it ever stood?


27] move, (comma not present in 1923; supplied from Robert Frost, Collected Poems, Prose, & Plays [Library of America, 1995], p. 166). Back to Line
55] one's gift for Christmas: one for Christmas gift (Library of America). Back to Line
83] his: its (Library of America). Back to Line
86] Frost footnotes this line as follows: "Cf. page 21, `A Star in a Stone-boat;' and page 73, `I Will Sing You One-O.'" Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.