Waiting To Watch The Water Clear: On Robert Frost’s "The Pasture"

The Pasture
Robert Frost

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.

I’m going out to fetch the little calf
That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.

Commentary:

In beginnings there are endings. To allow something to return to its natural purity, a purity that might never have been afforded it by circumstances if not for an intervention, seems an ending and a beginning. Certainly it is an ending, but as it was never the case before, it is another sort of beginning: a true beginning, that which is an origin as opposed to an original. The clearing of water mirrors the clearing of the soul, and whenever purification of water happens, it is a new life.

But an invitation is not merely being expressed for one stanza. We are presented with infancy and frailty in the next stanza, and it is always curious how at the end of life we revert in many ways to how we were as infants. To give aid at the end of life, mere human aid, sometimes hurts more than it helps. Monuments of unaging intellect are frail in other ways besides physical, and a former independence cannot be replaced by a salve. The speaker’s action, again, is extraordinary. That calf would not leave on its own; it would not attempt to go to a better place if it were not called and fetched.

The invitation this poem gives, then, is for us to share with the speaker the whole of life. What is perhaps most puzzling is the speaker: his actions seem above the human, metaphorically speaking, yet his understanding is very human. Aquinas held we understood the divine through analogy only: human rule implied the existence of divine rule, for example, but what human rule actually taught about divine rule we needed to know from Revelation alone. There was only one Truth, but it had to be grasped from without if it were not given to us.

Something like that might be going on here. Our speaker is pious in the midst of tending a pasture, but the analogy is to be wondered at more than resolved.

2 Comments

  1. I really can’t find anything deep in this poem other than it’s a sort of ode to the wonder of nature. Frost merely invites us along for the adventure of it, and I find pleasure in the trip.

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