Robert Frost's "The Need of Being Versed in Country Things"
Introduction and Text of Poem, "The Need of Being Versed in Country Things"
In "The Need of Being Versed in Country Things," featuring six rimed quatrains (ABCB rime scheme in each), the speaker focuses on a house that has burned, leaving only its chimney visible.
(Please note: The incorrect spelling, "rhyme," was erroneously introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson. For my explanation for using only the correct form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")
The Need of Being Versed in Country Things
The house had gone to bring again
To the midnight sky a sunset glow.
Now the chimney was all of the house that stood,
Like a pistil after the petals go.
The barn opposed across the way,
That would have joined the house in flame
Had it been the will of the wind, was left
To bear forsaken the place’s name.
No more it opened with all one end
For teams that came by the stony road
To drum on the floor with scurrying hoofs
And brush the mow with the summer load.
The birds that came to it through the air
At broken windows flew out and in,
Their murmur more like the sigh we sigh
From too much dwelling on what has been.
Yet for them the lilac renewed its leaf,
And the aged elm, though touched with fire;
And the dry pump flung up an awkward arm;
And the fence post carried a strand of wire.
For them there was really nothing sad.
But though they rejoiced in the nest they kept,
One had to be versed in country things
Not to believe the phoebes wept.
Reading of "The Need of Being Versed in Country Things"
First Quatrain: "The house had gone to bring again"
The house had burned at midnight, but the event is a not a recent one, as the reader learns in subsequent quatrains. The speaker imagines that the burning house caused the midnight sky to erupt in a similar flame.
The speaker fashions a flower image. But the leaves of the flower have all blown away while the pistil still remains. The pistil, of course, is represented by the chimney that is still standing in the rubble of the house's remains.
Second Quatrain: "The barn opposed across the way"
In the second quatrain, the reader learns that this is a farm and not only the house was disturbed by the blaze, but the barn might have been destroyed as well, if the wind had not shifted. Interestingly, the speaker frames that information by saying, "Had it been the will of the wind," the barn "would have joined the house in flame."
By asserting that the wind has "will," the speaker is assigning nature an attribute that typically, human beings do not, in fact, believe it has.
Such an attribution reveals that the speaker senses a close connection between the human world and the world of nature.
If the wind has will, it has a very important human attribute. By using its will and refusing to destroy the barn, the wind left the barn in place, "To bear forsaken the place's name."
Third Quatrain: "No more it opened with all one end"
The speaker then descends into melancholy, reporting that even though the barn is still standing and still reporting the name of the farm, it is not still functioning as it did before: the teams of horses that performed work on the farm no longer enter and exist the barn.
Fourth Quatrain: "The birds that came to it through the air"
The speaker refocuses on the house, dramatizing the flight of birds in and out of the broken windows. The bird flight elicits from him another possible human vis-a-vis nature knot-point of emotional connection.
The sound of the birds flying in and out of the house reveals a "murmur" that reminds the speaker of a human "sigh," and he likens that sound to "too much dwelling on what has been."
The speaker does not state directly that the feelings of the birds and the feelings of the human are the same, but by the close juxtaposition, he implies a connection.
Fifth Quatrain: "Yet for them the lilac renewed its leaf"
Revealing that the house fire occurred some time back—probably a year at least, the speaker then remarks, "Yet for them the lilac renewed its leaf." The lilac has come out in bloom again, despite the fire, and the "aged elm" has its leaves again even though they were "touched with fire."
The speaker mentions the pump and a fence post wire to further indicate the loneliness of the abandoned farm. Those objects, however, just sit there, not even garnering a qualifying comment from the speaker.
Sixth Quatrain: "For them there was really nothing sad"
Demonstrating his grown-up, mature attitude, the speaker reveals that he knows these creatures of nature find nothing here about which to be sad. He even admits that the birds "rejoiced in the nest they kept."
But still, the speaker just cannot shake the feeling that despite the fact that he is well "versed in country things," somewhere deep inside his being, he seems to sense that "the phoebes wept." Perhaps, he still "need[s]" further lessons in understanding those "country things."
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes