The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Robert Frost’s well-known poem “Two Tramps in Mud Time” is made up of tightly rhymed (ababcdcd) iambic tetrameter lines; nevertheless, the nine stanzas sound relaxed and anecdotal. The speaker/poet tells of a moment during the Depression when two tramps caught him in his backyard and challenged him briefly on an ethical point: Presumably, there are needy workers who chop wood for a living, and Frost is “playing” with another person’s work. At the very worst, he is stealing a job from someone.

The poem begins with the sudden appearance of the two strangers, who pause to watch Frost at the block; one stays behind a moment and jeers at his efforts. The poet, by his own telling, is not at all awkward with an ax and has been enjoying up to now his own skill and strength. Almost half the poem—stanzas 3, 4, 5, and 6—is devoted to a pastoral diversion from the unpleasant incident as Frost tells with precision how a New England April is really “May” one moment and “March” the next—first lovely and then wicked. Nothing is in bloom yet; a single bird is trying out his first notes, although seeming to use his song to warn the awaiting buds not to be fooled by the temporary warmth. The poet knows what a time he will have come summer, when he will be looking for water with a divining rod, but for right now it is “mud time”: Every “wheelrut” is a brook. Whole ponds form in a hoofprint, and when one turns one’s back the frost...

(The entire section is 422 words.)