It’s a good time of year to re-read the Robert Frost poem Two Tramps In Mud Time. You know the one. The narrator splitting wood in his yard, the blocks of straight grained beech falling “spinterless as a cloven rock.” The tramps walk by, not too long from having spent time in a logger’s camp, having slept who knows where, and they squint and measure the man by the way he wields the axe. You know the poem.
It’s the one about April and the way winter plays possum:
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 sunlight arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.
We know the drill. Wednesday was one of those perfectly still days that Frost writes about, a day to savor, a blue pearl of a day unlikely to link into strand. Thursday temperatures dropped, Friday it will warm to near 70 and rain, and who knows what Saturday will bring. Wednesday will be the blue pearl, the day when the tennis courts, the baseball diamond, the lax fields all shimmered. The teams rolled cheerfully out to their contests. The Maxwell Savage bell tolled out the victories. But we were not fooled. Yes, a blush of green on Carr Field, and, yes, the volleyball court sand was dimpled by bare feet. But we know the wind, rain, and snow will shoulder down from Ragged. It always has. We know winter coats should be kept handy.
One of the tramps lingers. An unspoken question hangs in the air: should one play at another’s vocation? Who has the right to heft the axe? It does not have to be splitting wood. It could be tinkering with cars, writing essays, playing baseball, solving algebra problems, oil painting, playing the piano - there are professionals in all these fields. Does one have the right to what might be seen as, well, dabbling? Or should we give over? Stay in our lane? (My right might be love but theirs was need. And where the two exist in twain Theirs was the better right - agreed.)
This week on campus the Woods Team looped around to pull taps and buckets from sugar maples, clean up the sugar house, and start buttoning down until next season. They seemed to love it. Sure, they are not the professionals, they did not need the work, but maybe for some sugaring or work in the woods will be a life’s work and delight. Who knows? They have to look. We have to show them. April sharpens these notions. It’s a skittering weather month, a reminder of the swings we go through to find a steadier life rhythm, just as April folds into the less dramatic swings of May and the following summer months. The last stanza of Two Tramps In Mud Time offers familiar advice:
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 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 stake.
It’s sweet spot advice, and while not all who strive to can so blend their life into harmony, Frost’s poem reminds us that it’s possible. And so, too, does the month of April.
Mike Henriques P'11, P'15
Proctor Academy Head of School