For live links, click to: riverhouses.org/2019-frost
Our River Houses poetry calendar for the 2019–2020 homeschool year is now available on our main calendar page (riverhouses.org/calendars). It’s a collection of forty-eight friends we get to know over the course of the year, and we invite you and your students to join us! Our poem for this second week of September, as summer begins changing to autumn, is Robert Frost’s “The Tuft of Flowers.”
Frost is a wonderful poet for younger people because his poems are generally well structured and use direct language. “The Tuft of Flowers” is a poem about mowing a field, and its characters are two farmhands and a butterfly. The first farmhand is the narrator; the second farmhand is “off stage” and never appears, although we learn something about him by seeing the work he has done; and the butterfly — the butterfly is the character who brings the two farmhands together.
The Tuft of Flowers
I went to turn the grass once after one
Who mowed it in the dew before the sun.
The dew was gone that made his blade so keen
Before I came to view the levelled scene.
I looked for him behind an isle of trees;
I listened for his whetstone on the breeze.
But he had gone his way, the grass all mown,
And I must be, as he had been, — alone,
‘As all must be,’ I said within my heart,
‘Whether they work together or apart.’
But as I said it, swift there passed me by
On noiseless wing a ’wildered butterfly,
Seeking with memories grown dim o’er night
Some resting flower of yesterday’s delight.
And once I marked his flight go round and round,
As where some flower lay withering on the ground.
And then he flew as far as eye could see,
And then on tremulous wing came back to me.
I thought of questions that have no reply,
And would have turned to toss the grass to dry;
But he turned first, and led my eye to look
At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook,
A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared
Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.
I left my place to know them by their name,
Finding them butterfly weed when I came.
The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
By leaving them to flourish, not for us,
Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him,
But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.
The butterfly and I had lit upon,
Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,
That made me hear the wakening birds around,
And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground,
And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
So that henceforth I worked no more alone;
But glad with him, I worked as with his aid,
And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;
And dreaming, as it were, held brotherly speech
With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.
‘Men work together,’ I told him from the heart,
‘Whether they work together or apart.’
Frost is always a careful observer, and his details are precise. Have your students ever watched someone mow a field with a scythe? The video below demonstrates the process very well. The man in this scene is performing the first step, which the poem’s “off-stage” character performed at dawn before the narrator arrived: he is cutting the grass and leaving it in rows. Either he or someone else will come back later to turn the rows over so the cut grass will dry and not rot:
“I listened for his whetstone on the breeze,” says Frost. Skip ahead in the video to the 2:25 mark and you’ll hear exactly what that sounded like (along with some “wakening birds around”).
“I left my place to know them [the flowers] by their name, / Finding them butterfly weed when I came.” Is “butterfly weed” an imaginary invention? Not at all. Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed) is a common field-flower of the northeastern United States that is particularly attractive to butterflies.
It’s now late summer, grading into autumn, and in many parts of the United States the Monarch butterfly migration is underway — I’ve probably seen at least twenty in the last couple of days. Perhaps you can find a few Monarchs in an open field near you this week and trace the paths they take on tremulous wing. Who knows where they may lead you. 🦋
What wonderful words have you found and what literary discoveries have you made in your homeschool lately? 😊
❡ Making a new friend: When you introduce your students to a new poem, especially one in a traditional form, take your time, and don’t worry about “getting” everything right away. A good poem is a friend for life, and as with any friend, it takes several meetings to get acquainted. Before you even start to think about “meaning,” take a look at the poem’s structure. How many lines does it have? Are the lines grouped into stanzas? How many lines in each stanza? How many syllables in each line? Many traditional poems are highly structured and fit together in an almost mathematical way, which you can discover by counting. Do the lines rhyme? What is the rhyme-scheme (ABAB, AABA, ABCD, or something else)? By uncovering these details of structure your students will come to appreciate good poems as carefully crafted pieces of literary labor. 🖋
❡ Whether they work together or apart: If a special line or turn of phrase happens to strike you in one of our weekly poems, just copy it onto your homeschool bulletin board for a few days and invite your students to speak it aloud — that’s all it takes to begin a new poetical friendship and learn a few lovely words that will stay with you for life. 😊
❡ Looking in the lexicon: There’s some good vocabulary in this week’s poem to look up in your family dictionary (riverhouses.org/books): whetstone, tremulous, and scythe. Send your students to the dictionary also for any poetical terminology they encounter: stanza, couplet, quatrain, sonnet, pentameter, hexameter, iambic, dactylic, and more — wonderful words, every one! 😊
❡ Explore more: The website of the Poetry Foundation includes biographical notes and examples of the work of many important poets (including Robert Frost) that are suitable for high school students and homeschool teachers. 🖋
❡ Here, said the year: This post is one of our regular homeschool poems-of-the-week. Print your own River Houses Poetry Calendar (riverhouses.org/calendars) and follow along with us as we visit forty-eight of our favorite friends. 📖