Farms are little worlds of their own. Life happens on farms, often from beginning to end. Lots of new life emerges in the nooks and crannies and stalls and pastures of farms, and just as naturally many creatures breathe their last on farms. This week one of my little banty chicks died, and the poor little fellow took a long time to expire as he (or she) made a quite dramatic exit.
That sad occurrence got me to thinking about death and dying, particularly deaths on a farm. That ground, I assumed, would be a rich one for poets to have run their spades and shovels through. But instead of an ode to a farm animal's death, I came across Robert Frost's The Death of the Hired Man, a classic that the poet penned a century ago in 1914.
This poem is a story of sorts. Warren and Mary are an old farm couple in Frost's New England. While Warren is out one day, a former employee, a farm hand who left at a critical time in order to earn some "pocket money" (and whom Warren had told not to return) shows up at the farm and Mary, feeling sorry for the decrepit old man, takes him in and lets him sleep by the stove. Warren comes home and a discussion ensues between him and Mary. The Death of the Hired Man relates the gist of that discussion.
This is a beautiful poem that has quite a lot to say about the human condition and what exactly "home" is. Silas, the hired man, had other choices, but he chose to make a long walk in cold weather to reach the little farm that he regarded as home. Mary believes he has come "home" to die. Warren ponders why Silas considers their farm his home, and concludes:
‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.’
(Yes, considering that last week's selection, Mending Wall, was also by Robert Frost - and written in 1914 - it feels like I have some sort of Frost buzz on. Perhaps The Death of the Hired Man will get it out of my system. We'll just have to see if it does!)
Please enjoy this work by one of America's greatest poets.
The Death of the Hired Man
by Robert Frost