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The Tuft of Flowers

I went to turn the grass once after one
Who mowed it in the dew before the sun.
The dew was gone that made his blade so keen
Before I came to view the levelled scene.
I looked for him behind an isle of trees;
I listened for his whetstone on the breeze.
But he had gone his way, the grass all mown,
And I must be, as he had been — alone,
‘As all must be,’ I said within my heart,
‘Whether they work together or apart.’

But as I said it, swift there passed me by
On noiseless wing a bewildered butterfly,
Seeking with memories grown dim o’er night
Some resting flower of yesterday’s delight.
And once I marked his flight go round and round,
As where some flower lay withering on the ground.
And then he flew as far as eye could see,
And then on tremulous wing came back to me.

I thought of questions that have no reply,
And would have turned to toss the grass to dry;
But he turned first, and led my eye to look
At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook,
A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared
Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.
The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
By leaving them to flourish, not for us,
Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him.
But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.

The butterfly and I had lit upon,
Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,
That made me hear the wakening birds around,
And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground,
And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
So that henceforth I worked no more alone;
But glad with him, I worked as with his aid,
And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;
And dreaming, as it were, held brotherly speech
With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.
‘Men work together,’ I told him from the heart,
‘Whether they work together or apart.’

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Robert Frost (1874 – 1963) is likely the United States’ most beloved poet. Over a span of 20 years he won four Pulitzer Prizes (one of the country’s most prestigious awards) for his books of poems. Also a teacher and speaker, he told aspiring writers: “There ought to be in everything you write some sign that you come from almost anywhere.” Before me I have two books in which “The Tuft of Flowers” appears:

The Bill Martin Jr. Big Book of Poetry, 2008, a large, colourful and varied anthology edited by Bill Martin Jr. with Michael Sampson; foreword by Eric Carle, afterward by Steven Kellogg. Many artists contributed illustrations to this very accessible and fun book.
Robert Frost, 1994, in the Poetry for Young People series of books; the poems’ selection, editing, annotation is by Gary D. Schmidt, and the masterful illustrations / paintings are by Henri Sorensen. My copy is of the first Scholastic edition printing, from 2000.

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A scythe is a tool used for cutting crops such as grass, wheat, etc.  It consists of a pole with one or two handles along its length, and with a good-sized curved blade at the bottom.

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