A Message from the Mower in the Dew

tuft of flowers

As I was mowing our yard yesterday afternoon, I saw a tuft of grass that I had missed in the previous mowing and suddenly was taken back to Robert Frost’s “Tuft of Flowers” and the summer of 2000. That was the summer following the death of my eldest son, and I would think of that poem as I mowed the grass. I remember hating the thought of cutting down the buttercups scattered throughout the yard. Life seemed altogether too fragile.

As sparing the buttercups would have meant not mowing our yard at all, I compromised by always leaving a swath of grass and flowers uncut. I saw myself as the unknown reaper in the poem:

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 leveled 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.’ 

Reflecting upon what must have drawn me to the poem, I now think it was the image of the bewildered butterfly looking at the suddenly desolate landscape:

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 told myself at the time that I was sparing the scythe for the sake of the butterflies. Now, however, I think that I left those flowers untouched because I wanted to believe that life would continue, even if all I could see at the time was death. I was the one searching frantically on tremulous wing and, by leaving a tuft of flowers, I was giving myself a symbol of hope. Maybe the impulse to protect came from a life force deep within, reassuring me that death didn’t have the last word. Maybe I was hearing a message from the dawn.

Poetry is the strangest thing. It gives us a framework to wrestle with our deepest questions, but we can’t tell ahead of time which poems we will turn to or how we will use them. Without those poems, however, life would be too dark altogether.

This entry was posted in Frost (Robert) and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.
  • Susan Schmidt

    What a powerful companioning poem. We all have those bewildering moments when we are cut adrift, or our flowers are cut…What small graces can sustain us.

  • Robin

    Looking back, Sue, I realize that I never went back and reread the poem–in college, I believe–so I was going by memory. I read the poem more deeply than I realized.

  • Kathy_V

    A swath of undisturbed nature is such an enduring form of remembrance — a renewing one. Many of us keep tokens, as I’ve kept my mother’s jewelry and china since she died. These are buried, chipped, not the next generation’s taste. Your swath of unmowed field has more power, shared with all and growing each year. I’m touched by your tribute.

  • Robin

    I’m imagining your mother’s jewelry, Kathy. I seem to recollect that Bachelard writes about the numinous quality of such objects.


  • AVAILABLE NOW!

  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

  • Sign up for weekly newsletter

    Your email will not be shared or sold.
    * = required field

    powered by MailChimp!
  • Twitter Authentication data is incomplete