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Monday, September 07, 2009

A Poem For Labor Day


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 had 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 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
The 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 of earth on outspread feet,
The life of muscles rocking soft
And smooth and moist in vernal heat.

Out of the wood 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,
The 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.


I've always loved the close of this poem: Only where love and need are one/And work is play for mortal stakes. Isn't that what really, really good work feels like? When I'm writing a brief and I really believe that I'm right and the other side is wrong, when I'm fighting for a cause in which I really believe, it's just so damn FUN. When work is play, for mortal stakes. When, in Kipling's words, [Y]ou can make one heap of all your winnings. And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings, And never breathe a word about your loss, those are some of the times when one can feel truly, truly alive.

Maybe I'm wrong; maybe this isn't a general experience. Maybe it's just me. Law is, by nature, a v competitive blood sport and that's a huge part of its attraction for me. I just adore the actual spade work of the law, reading the cases, seeing where the other side exposed its flank, choosing the right word, drawing blood, winning. It's, no doubt, a sign of how singularly unevolved I am that I just get such a rush from it. Writing what I know is a good brief, winning in a way that leaves the other side longing to settle, getting the Court of Appeals or SCOTUS opinion that makes good law for decades and decades into the future, that's almost as good as v good sex, as good as the skilled and knowledgeable cooperation w Nature that is good gardening, as good as cold, crisp air on an early Winter morning, as good as bright stars on a late, late Autumn night. Practicing law often reminds me of a line from Dune: Some days it's melange; some days, bitter spice." But on it's best days, on the days where they leave me alone, let me read the cases, let me play the Glass Bead Game, and let me write . . . on those days, it's such a gift and I have so much fun doing it, I can scarce believe that they pay me to have this much fun.

What do you love about the work that you do?

Picture found here. Warning: Wingnut site.

5 comments:

Lee said...

I don't think you are unevolved. I think we all need to acknowledge that side of us--the wild predator. We are animals, after all, part of the Whole.

liminal-spaces said...

One of my favorites of Frost's work, along with "Birches" and "The Witch of Coos". I have to admit that the entire last stanza is one of my favorites, especially "...My purpose in living is to unite / My avocation and my vocation / As my two eyes make one in sight." One could do worse than that as part of a personal ethos (pagan or not). I am also blessed by a job that can be way too much fun -- selling a book to someone and having them come back and say "I loved it!" is one of the best feelings in the world.

Iritar said...

What I love about my work is that I get a chance to see the results of people changing their lives and empowering themselves. It is very rewarding and with love. Thank you for the post!

Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE said...

I love the fact that the organizations I support do good in the world.

I love contributing to the body of knowledge in my field.

I love nurturing and working with young professionals.

Great topic!

Thalia Took said...

Woke up with this in my head:

Bugger this game
I know who's to blame
and that's work

...What four-letter word d'you know like
work?


I hate work. Always have and always will, and so far have never found a way to get paid for what I love and still love it.

I suppose I should clarify. Getting paid for the process makes what I love hateful to me. Getting paid after I've made the art is different, and that's the compromise I've had to make. But the art cannot be being made with work in mind. Because it's Work, not work.

If I had the choice I would not work at all, ever.