I love this poem; I've loved it from the first day that I read it, almost twenty years ago. I live a curious life, grounded physically on the East coast, but grounded business-wise and, in many ways, intellectually, on the West coast, in the land of Califia, the Amazon Queen. On both coasts, April is a month of such liminal spaces, perhaps this year more than in many other years. Frost (the poet, not the personfication of cold), old man that he is, captures this so perfectly when he says: "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."
What Frost says at the end has guided my life in important ways, as well. "[Y]ield 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."
You've been there, haven't you? Where love and need are one, and work is play for mortal stakes? To me, that's a classic definition of the practice of law, but I guess that it's the definition of any job that you love.
How did Frost know so much? What was it about the daily practice of chopping wood and writing poems that taught him to be so wise? And wouldn't I love, at some level, to be a tramp in mud time?
Robert Frost - Two Tramps In Mud Time
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 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
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,
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.