Two Tramps in Mud Time by Robert Frost: Summary and Analysis

Two Tramps in Mud Time was published in the 'Saturday Review of Literature', October 6, 1934, and in 'A Further Range', 1936. This poem is the most characteristic of Robert Frost, and speaks highly of the dignity of manual labor.

Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Two unknown persons came out of the mud and saw the poet chopping wood in the yard. One of these persons welcomed the poet at his hard work, saying 'Hit them hard!' and put him off the aim. The poet knew very well as to' what he had in his mind. He wanted to take up the poet's task of splitting the wood for the sake of earning money. The poet had split good pieces of a tree which was as large around as the wooden piece that he was chopping them. And every wooden piece that the poet hit with all his might fell down at once as though the rock had been broken into pieces. The life of self-control that the poet has been leading has given him additional strength. The poet thinks that he should have made a more proper use of this valuable time by spending it in doing some deed of common good. But' that particular day being given over to the pursuit of his pleasure-affording hobby that rendered his soul loose, he spent on doing an insignificant work of chopping the wood.

Neither the tramps nor the poet spoke any word. The tramps knew that they had but to stay there fixing an eye on the poet and hoping that all their foolish argument will fill his head and move him. As though the poet had no claim to the wood-chopping which was another man's right. The poet knows that his claim to it is due to the hobby or pleasure, whereas theirs is due to the necessity of earning. And where the two interests clash, the tramps had a better claim to the work, beyond doubt. But who is going to surrender to these portions of work and love, at least the poet is not. His aim in life is to unite his task and hobby as his two eyes make one in sight. Only where love and necessity are united in one, and the work is a sort of game for human beings, there the work is ever really done for Heaven and for the betterment of the future.

This is Frost's last autobiographical poem, a poem where he probes his own personality and tells the reader about his activities. The initial action in Two Tramps in Mud Time represents the poet as engaged in the ritualistic routine of splitting firewood in his farmyard, and as enjoying the play of such work until he is embarrassed by the passing presence of two expert lumberjacks. Their mocking comment suggests that they need, and could better perform, the work he is doing. The poet is aware that if his own motive is more love than need and if their motive is more need than love, perhaps he should relinquish the task to them for pay. Nevertheless, he concludes with puritanical assertiveness, and there are other factors to consider:

 But yield who will to their separation, My object in living is to unite My avocation and my vocation As my two eyes make one in sight. Only where love and need are one And the work is play for mortal stakes, Is the deed ever really done For Heaven and the future's sake.

In splitting wood, a man may find a physical and emotional pleasure similar to the one Frost describes in this poem. True to the nature of the theme, the movement of the poem is lyrical and reflective. In the poem Frost indulges in a series of descriptions of Nature and her moods as though she was siding him in his pleasant task of wood-chopping. The tramps want that the poet should relinquish his task to them for pay, because "My right be love but their was need." Frost also agrees out of sympathy for the wood- cutters.  

The poem, like Mending Wall, enhances the dignity of work. The poet had been a farmer in his life, and that spirit and love of hard work are reflected in Two Tramps in Mud Time. Stanzas 3, 4 and 5 bear testimony to his deep love of the world of Nature. The poem testifies to his being a poet of personal experience and belief. He is ready to sacrifice his own pursuit in favor of the really needy tramps.

Two Tramps in Mud Time is a narrative all the details of which point to the controlling and the central idea of a delicately poised equilibrium: the desire, means, and necessity of attaining balance are the subject behind the incident.

In structure its nine stanzas present a logical flow of reactions. The first stanza satisfies; the three unities of time, place and action. The second stanza is concerned with self-justification. The third, fourth and fifth stanzas amplify the vagaries of New England seasonal climate. The sixth stanza embodies the chopper's ecstasy. The seventh stanza shifts the point of view from the interrupted chopper to the upraising lumberjacks. The eighth stanza points up the situation of the man who chops for love and the needy wayfarers who eye him in their extremity. The ninth stanza fuses the co-ordination of love and need, and reconciles the tension which is psychological as well as economic.