Robert Frost's "Two Tramps in Mud Time"

Updated on December 17, 2017
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Robert Frost


Reading of Frost's "Two Tramps in Mud Time"


The speaker in "Two Tramps in Mud Time" dramatizes his encounter with two unemployed lumberjacks who covet the speaker's wood-splitting task.

First Stanza: "Out of the mud two strangers came"
The speaker in "Two Tramps in Mud Time" is busy cutting logs of oak; he is suddenly met with a couple of strangers who seem to appear out from the muddy ground. One of the strangers calls out to the speaker to hit the oak logs hard.

The man who called out had lagged behind his companion, and the speaker of the poem believes he does so in order to attempt to take the speaker's work. Paying jobs are lacking in this period of American history, and men had to do all they could to get a day's wage.

Second Stanza: "Good blocks of oak it was I split"
The speaker counters the criticism of the tramp by detailing his proven ability to split wood. He describes every piece he cut as "splinter less as a cloven rock." The speaker then begins to muse in a philosophical manner.

Although a well-disciplined individual might think that philanthropy is always in order, today this speaker decides to continue cutting his own wood, despite the fact that the tramp/strangers desperately need cash and could well use what they would earn by cutting the wood.

Third Stanza: "The sun was warm but the wind was chill"
In the third stanza, the speaker muses over the weather. It is a nice warm day even though there is a chilly wind. It's that Eliotic "cruelest month" of April, when sometimes the weather will seem like the middle of May and then suddenly it's like the middle of March again.

Fourth Stanza: "A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight"
Then the speaker dramatizes the actions and possible thoughts of a bluebird who " . . . comes tenderly up to alight / And turns to the wind to unruffle a plume." The bird sings his song but is not enthusiastic yet, because there are still no flowers blooming.

A snowflake appears, and the speaker and the bird realize that, "[w]inter was only playing possum." The bird is happy enough, but he would not encourage the flowers to bloom yet, because he knows there is still a good chance of frost. Beauties of nature are always contrasted with ugliness, warm with cold, light with dark, soft with sharp.

Fifth Stanza: "The water for which we may have to look"
Water is plentiful in mid-spring, whereas in summer they have to look for it "with a witching wand." But now it makes a "brook" of "every wheelrut[ ]," and "every print of a hoof" is "a pond." The speaker offers the advice to be appreciative of the water. Every good thing has its opposite on this earth.

Sixth Stanza: "The time when most I loved my task"
In the sixth stanza, the speaker returns to the issue of the tramps. The speaker loves splitting the oak logs, but when the two tramps came along covertly trying to usurp his beloved task, that make[s him] love it more." It makes the speaker feel that he had never done this work before, he is so loathe to give it up.

Seventh Stanza: "Out of the wood two hulking tramps"
The speaker knows that these two tramps are just lazy bums, even though they had earlier been lumberjacks working at the lumber camps nearby. He knows that they have sized him up and decided they deserved to be performing his beloved task.

Eighth Stanza: "Nothing on either side was said"
The speaker and the tramps did not converse. The speaker claims that the tramps knew they did not have to say anything. They assumed it would be obvious to the speaker they deserved to be splitting the wood. They would split wood because they needed the money, but the speaker is splitting the wood for the love of it. It did not matter that the tramps had "agreed" that they had a better claim.

Ninth Stanza: "But yield who will to their separation"
The speaker is convinced that he has the better claim and is, in fact, more deserving of his labor then the mud tramps: "My object in living is to unite / My avocation and my vocation." He conjoins his two jobs into a spiritual whole because he has realized that accomplishing any task is significant, "Only where love and need are one." The tramps need to scoot along and leave the speaker to his chores.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes


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