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Old 12-09-2001, 12:36 PM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Location: Fargo ND, USA
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Though I have mowed all my life, with everything from scythe to tractors, I've never written a mowing poem, perhaps because Frost's was so good. Here is his and two others I love.

Mowing by Robert Frost

There was never a sound beside the wood but one,
And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground.
What was it it whispered? I knew not well myself;
Perhaps it was something about the heat of the sun,
Something, perhaps, about the lack of sound-
And that was why it whispered and did not speak.
It was no dream of the gift of idle hours,
Or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf:
Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak
To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows,
Not without feeble-pointed spikes of flowers
(Pale orchises), and scared a bright green snake.
The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.
My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make.

Hay Fever by A.D. Hope

Time with his scythe honed fine,
Takes a pace forward, swings from the hips, the flesh
Crumples and falls in windrows curving away.
Waiting my turn as he swings (Not yet, not mine!)
I recall the sound of the scythe on an earlier day:
Late spring in my boyhood; learning to mow with the men;
Eight of us moving in echelon line,
Out of the lucerne patch and into the hay,
And I at the end on the left because I was fresh,
Because I was new to the game and young at the skill—
As though I were Time himself I remember it still.

The mild Tasmanian summer: the men are here
To mow for my minister father and make his hay.
They have brought a scythe for me. I hold it with pride.
The lucerne is up to my knee, the grass to my waist.
I set the blade into the grass as they taught me the way;
The still dewy stalks nod, tremble and tilt aside,
Cornflowers, lucerne and poppies, sugar-grass, summer-grass, laced
With red-stemmed dock; I feel the thin steel crunch
Through hollow-stalk milk thistle, self-sown oats and rye;
I snag on a fat-hen clump; chick-weed falls in a bunch,
But sorrel scatters; dandelion casts up a golden eye,
To a smell of cows chewing their cuds, the sweet hay-breath:
The boy with the scythe never thinks it the smell of death.

The boy with the scythe takes a stride forward, swings
From the hips, keeping place and pace, keeping time
By the sound of the scythes, by the swish and ripple, the sigh
Of the dying grass like an animal breathing, a rhyme
Falling pat on the ear that matches the steel as it sings
True through the tottering stems. Sweat runs into my eye.
How long to a break? How long can I hold out yet?
I nerve my arms to go on; I am running with, flooded with, sweat.

How long ago was it?—Why the scythe is as obsolete now
As arrows and bow. I have lived from one age to another;
And I have made hay while I could and sun still shone.
Time drives a harvester now: he does not depend on the weather.
Well, I have rolled in his hay, in my day, and now it is gone;
But I still have a barn stacked high with that good dry mow,
Shrivelled and fragrant stems, the grass and the flowers together
And a thistle or two in the pile for the prick of remorse.
It is good for a man when he comes to end of his course
In the barn of his brain to be able to romp like a boy in the heap…
To lie still in well-cured hay…to drift into sleep.

Timothy by Timothy Steele

Although the field lay cut in swaths,
Grass at the edge survived the crop:
Stiff stems, with lateral blades of leaf,
Dense cattail flower-spikes at the top.

If there was breeze and open sky,
We raked each swath into a row;
If not, we took the hay to dry
To the barn's golden-shimmering mow.

The hay we forked there from the truck
Was thatched resilience where it fell,
And I took pleasure in the thought
The fresh hay's name was mine as well.

Work was a soothing, rhythmic ache;
Hay stuck where skin or clothes were damp.
At length,the pickup truck would shake
Its last stack up the barn's wood ramp.

Pumping a handpump's iron arm,
I washed myself as best I could,
Then watched the acres of the farm
Draw lengthening shadows from the wood

Across the grass, which seemed a thing
In which the lonely and concealed
Had risen from its sorrowing
And flourished in the open field.

Aside from Marvell's The Mower's Song, I can think of no other treatments that fare so well. I'm curious to see how our members feel they stack up.

[This message has been edited by Tim Murphy (edited June 19, 2008).]
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Old 12-10-2001, 12:31 AM
jasonhuff jasonhuff is offline
Join Date: Aug 2001
Location: Beaumont, TX
Posts: 179

i sat in on sam's frost seminar this past summer. i hadn't read much of his poetry before that, but i loved his work. that seminar, which followed my first trip to west chester is what has me working on writing in meter.

i digress. mowing is one of my favorites of frost's. it's just a wonderful poem. i did like the other two you posted. i really haven't read much of steele's work, but i've liked what i've seen. his books are on my next to buy list.

thanks for posting those poems.

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Old 12-10-2001, 06:27 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Location: Fargo ND, USA
Posts: 13,807

Here's a perfect little haying poem by Robert Francis

The Hay Is Cut

The hay is cut, the field is clean
And smooth as (seen from here) a lawn.
The sky is clear and tinged with green.
The men have come and hayed and gone.

The hay is in, the men are home.
Against the sky a hill looms tall.
Three months of summer still must come
And yet to me tonght is fall.
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Old 12-10-2001, 08:34 AM
Clive Watkins Clive Watkins is offline
Join Date: May 2001
Location: Yorkshire, UK
Posts: 2,287

Apart from "The Mower’s Song", Marvell has (at least) three other poems in which mowing figures - "The Mower Against Gardens", "Damon the Mower", "The Mower to the Glowworms" and a section of his much longer poem (ninety-seven eight-line stanzas) "Upon Appleton House". Marvell, I suspect, had not been a mower himself. The theme had a traditional symbolic value, and it was upon this that Marvell seems to have chosen to exercise his wit.

By chance, in connexion with something else I am working on at the moment, a companion poem to "Still Life" (elsewhere on this board), I have been looking at prints by the English wood engraver, Thomas Bewick (1753-1828). One of his "tail-pieces" (or "tale-pieces") shows just the scene Marvell describes in "Upon Appleton House": a nest accidentally cut into by a mower. Given the often moralising (and indeed often somewhat grim) nature of many of Bewick’s "vignettes", I am sure he was relying on readers of his books to take what was still the traditional lesson from his tiny image.

I love the playfulness (and also the political nuances) of Marvell, but, for poems based on the real experience of mowing, the Frost and the Hope have him beaten.

"Upon Appleton House can be found at The relevant section begins at stanza 47; the scene of the killing of the rail runs from stanza 50. Bewick’s print can be found at

Clive Watkins
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Old 12-10-2001, 04:08 PM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: New York
Posts: 13,792

Not a mower poem, I guess, but there's an almost mower poem by Wilbur that I'm sure you all know very well (here's the first stanza):

A toad the power mower caught,
Chewed and clipped of a leg, with
a hobbling hop has got
To the garden verge, and sanctuaried him
Under the cineraria leaves, in the shade
Of the ashen heartshaped leaves, in a dim,
Low, and a final glade.

And I guess in the same vein was "To a Mouse" by Burns, but I can't recall if that was a mower or some other piece of equipment that did in the wee sleekit mousie.

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Old 12-11-2001, 02:09 AM
conny conny is offline
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: UK
Posts: 1,670

It was a plough.
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Old 12-11-2001, 02:11 AM
conny conny is offline
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: UK
Posts: 1,670

sorry. And the wee tim`rous beastie lived to tell
the tale, though without a roof over it`s head.


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Old 12-11-2001, 08:56 AM
Richard Wakefield Richard Wakefield is offline
Join Date: Sep 2000
Location: Federal Way, Washington, USA
Posts: 1,662

I have written a mowing poem -- mowing with a tractor, however. As you wouldn't be the least surprised to learn, it owes a lot to Frost.
By the time Frost wrote "Mowing" there wasn't much serious scythe work being done. Up in his corner of the world there were a few holdouts, but mostly the business of farming was becoming automated and noisey. Just as he went to New Hampshire partly out of nostalgia for a life he had never really lived, so he celebrated the old ways of harvesting -- from which he had never had to make a living. The old ways really did bring the worker closer to his work, really did allow at least the possibility of becoming absorbed into the rhythms and other sensations of nature and himself. (Please, no one needs to remind of the economic necessity that drove farmers to technology, and no one needs to tell me that mowing by hand brings moments of insight punctuating hours of drudgery!)
Among other things, "Mowing" is a reminder of what we inevitably lose even as life gets indisputably better.
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Old 12-11-2001, 10:49 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Fargo ND, USA
Posts: 13,807

Richard, I know you've done lots of mowing, and would you do me the favor of posting your fine mowing poem here? I'm generally opposed to members posting original work on Mastery, but I love your poem, and I'll post one of my own which is apposite to this discussion. The night I heard that Hope had gone to his long home, I had a dream, recorded in "The Cortege," one of the best poems in my forthcoming book:

The Cortege

Last night I dreamed that A. D. Hope was dead.
Thomas Hardy was riding on the hearse
as Frost strolled slowly at the horse’s head.
“His judgments were as measured as his verse,”
the elder of those two ‘proud songsters’ said.

The horse had no idea whom he was towing;
no mourners lined the silent streets they crossed.
“His 'Western Elegies' rival 'The Going',
and though I grant it grudgingly,” said Frost,
“his 'Hay Fever' is better than my 'Mowing'.”

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Old 12-11-2001, 12:50 PM
A. E. Stallings A. E. Stallings is offline
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Athens, Greece
Posts: 3,208

Thanks for posting these, Tim. I hadn't read the Hope piece before--wonderful detail. Fine poems all (including your own).

I wonder if Wordsworth's "Solitary Reaper" might almost count as a mowing poem--what is the difference, if any, between reaping and mowing? Is it a crop of grain versus grass for hay? Or is that a stupid question? (She asks, naively, having never done any mowing--or reaping, for that matter.)
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