Reading Notes on Robert Frost's Poem "The Pasture"

Colloquial Speech Poured Into the Shape of a Poem

Cow and calf in pasture, Southern Illinois
Ed Reschke/Photolibrary/Getty Images

One of the appeals of Robert Frost's poetry is that he writes in a way that everyone can understand. His colloquial tone captures everyday life in poetic verse and "The Pasture" is a perfect example.

A Friendly Invitation

The Pasture” was originally published as the introductory poem in Robert Frost’s first American collection, "North of Boston." Frost himself often chose it to lead off his readings.

He used the poem as a way of introducing himself and inviting the audience to come along on his journey. This is a purpose for which the poem is perfectly suited because that’s what it is: a friendly, intimate invitation.

"The Pasture" Line by Line

The Pasture” is a brief colloquial speech—only two quatrains—written in the voice of a farmer who is thinking out loud about what he’s going out to do:

“...clean the pasture spring
...rake the leaves away”

Then he discovers another parenthetical possibility:

“(And wait to watch the water clear, I may)”

And at the end of the first stanza, he arrives at the invitation, almost an afterthought:

“I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.”

The second and final quatrain of this little poem expands the farmer’s interaction with the farm’s natural elements to include its livestock:

“...the little calf
That’s standing by the mother.”

And then the farmer’s little speech returns to the same invitation, having drawn us quite completely into the speaker’s personal world.

"The Pasture" by Robert Frost

When the lines come together, the full picture is painted. The reader is transported to the farm in spring, the new life, and the chores which the farmer doesn't seem to mind whatsoever.

It is much as we might feel following the pains of a long winter: the ability to get out and enjoy the season of rebirth, no matter the task before us.

Frost is a master of reminding us of those simple pleasures in life.

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. 

Colloquial Speech Made into a Poem

The poem may be about the relationship between the farmer and the natural world, or it may actually be speaking about the poet and his created world. Either way, it’s all about the tones of colloquial speech poured into the shaped container of a poem.

As Frost himself said in speaking of this poem:

“the Sound in the mouths of men I found to be the basis of all effective expression,—not merely words or phrases, but sentences, —living things flying round, —the vital parts of speech. And my poems are to be read in the appreciative tones of this live speech.”
    —from an unpublished lecture Frost gave at the Browne & Nichols School in 1915, quoted in Robert Frost On Writing by Elaine Barry (Rutgers University Press, 1973)