Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Owen chooses Frost

Here's what wired.com says about James and this book.

About James A. Owen

James A. Owen is a Merchant Prince, in training to become a Philosopher King. He writes, he draws, and he never leaves skidmarks at the edge of a cliff. In his spare time, he is redesigning an entire town. He is allergic to cats, among other things. And he can do Jeff Bridges' smile from TUCKER with uncanny accuracy.

About the poem

This is my favorite poem because of the last stanza. The rest is just a delivery system to get to those lines, which embody my most passionate goals in life. Work being play for mortal stakes may sum up my life's choices - conscious and otherwise.

The Poem


Out of the mud two strangers came
And caught me splitting wood in the yard,
And one of them put me off my aim
By hailing cheerily "Hit them hard!"
I knew pretty well why he had dropped behind
And let the other go on a way.
I knew pretty well what he had in mind:
He wanted to take my job for pay.

Good blocks of oak it was I split,
As large around as the chopping block;
And every piece I squarely hit
Fell splinterless as a cloven rock.
The blows that a life of self-control
Spares to strike for the common good,
That day, giving a loose my soul,
I spent on the unimportant wood.

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You're one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you're two months back in the middle of March.

A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight
And turns to the wind to unruffle a plume,
His song so pitched as not to excite
A single flower as yet to bloom.
It is snowing a flake; and he half knew
Winter was only playing possum.
Except in color he isn't blue,
But he wouldn't advise a thing to blossom.

The water for which we may have to look
In summertime with a witching wand,
In every wheelrut's now a brook,
In every print of a hoof a pond.
Be glad of water, but don't forget
The lurking frost in the earth beneath
That will steal forth after the sun is set
And show on the water its crystal teeth.

The time when most I loved my task
The two must make me love it more
By coming with what they came to ask.
You'd think I never had felt before
The weight of an ax-head poised aloft,
The grip of earth on outspread feet,
The life of muscles rocking soft
And smooth and moist in vernal heat.

Out of the wood two hulking tramps
(From sleeping God knows where last night,
But not long since in the lumber camps).
They thought all chopping was theirs of right.
Men of the woods and lumberjacks,
The judged me by their appropriate tool.
Except as a fellow handled an ax
They had no way of knowing a fool.

Nothing on either side was said.
They knew they had but to stay their stay
And all their logic would fill my head:
As that I had no right to play
With what was another man's work for gain.
My right might be love but theirs was need.
And where the two exist in twain
Theirs was the better right--agreed.

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future's sakes.

--Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Poem in public domain.


  1. Thanks so much for introducing us to Owen and for his choice of this poem, which has a last stanza I very well could have chosen as an epigraph to my upcoming book!

  2. Surprised you haven't bumped into him before! I'm always tripping over his books whenever I make it to a city bookstore...

    Do you have a link? Feel free to post.

  3. The book does look familiar, but I don't get to actual flesh and blood bookstores too often. Mostly Amazon. The only bookstore around here is B&N.

  4. I have a love/hate relationship with Robert Frost. This poem is one that I like (I am so relieved).
    The message is so full of action and intent, and I like the dance between those aspects. What a good choice!

    An awfully long delivery system to get to the final stanza but somehow I think we should forgive Robert Frost. The scenery was good, after all.

    James Owen appears to be something of a philanthropist!
    A name to remember...

  5. Paul,

    Yes, he is... He is a very enterprising man!

    I do love quite a bit of Frost and now and then have a brief affair of the heart with him all over again. He has such a wonderful grasp of metrics and has so many wonderful effects, and is so flat-out beautiful so often.