Robert Frost

Two Tramps in Mudtime by Robert Frost

‘Two Tramps in Mudtime’ by Robert Frost is a poem about work, wealth, and the purpose of life. It is defined by an interaction between the speaker and two wanderers.

This poem describes how on a day in April, the poet-speaker was chopping wood in his dooryard. Two strangers (tramps) arrive there and caught him engaged in that work. They came from the muddy road. One of them accosted the speaker and asked him ‘to hit hard’. ‘Two Tramps in Mudtime‘ goes on to say that he knew why this stranger stayed behind to talk to him and let his companion go away. The poet understood well what was in the mind of the man who had stayed behind with him. This man actually wanted to talk about the poet’s job, and to do it himself ‘for pay’ or for earning money. The expression ‘caught me splitting the wood’ implies that the speaker might be regarded as doing the work which ought to have been assigned to and done by the jobless tramps who had happened to come there.

Two Tramps in Mudtime by Robert Frost


Two Tramps in Mudtime Analysis

Out of the mud two strangers came


The sun was warm but the wind was chill.

This section of the poem, which can be read in full here, describes the enjoyment derived by the speaker. He had the satisfaction of doing his job well and also finding relaxation from the tensions of life through this hard work. The speaker was chopping good prices of a large Oak-tree. These pieces were quite large like the tree he was chopping. Every piece that he hit with all his strength fell down like a broken or uprooted rock without any small pieces falling out of it. That means every piece was quite big like a rock. The poet possessed the strength which comes from the leading of ‘a life of self-control’.

This strength ought to have been used for striking blows for ‘the common good’ or the general well-being of people, thus giving satisfaction to his soul. But here it was being used for striking these strong blows on an unimportant object like wood and an unimportant task of wood-chopping. The speaker could have made better use of his time and energy than wasting it on this insignificant task. However, letting loose his soul, he wasted it on the task which could be done much better and more skilfully by a common wood-cutter.

You know how it is with an April day


And turns to the wind to unruffle a plume,

This section contains a beautiful description of natural phenomena around the poet at the time of his engagement in the task of wood-chopping. It was a day in the month of April. The sun was warm, and a chill was there in the wind. Such a sunny day in Aril reminds one of the weather in the month of May, and one might find himself ‘one month on in the middle of May’.

However, even before one could say anything, or utter a word, a change of weather may occur. The sunlit or clear blue sky may be overcast with a cloud. A chilly wind begins to blow from snow-covered peaks, and one finds as if one were ‘two months back in the middle of March’, and one finds as if one were ‘two months back in the middle of March’, or the weather changes into a chilly one like that found in the middle of the month of March.

His song so pitched as not to excite


In every wheelrut’s now a brook,

The description of the spring reason is continued in this stanza. Because of the chilly wind, the bluebird who comes to alight, keeps its feathers composed and unruffled in the wind. Realizing that it is not yet Spring, it sings a song in such a tone as not to inspire or excite ‘A single flower as yet to bloom’. That means the blossoming time has, in the view of the word, not yet arrived. Snow-flakes are still falling in showers, and the bluebird realizes that the cold season is still continuing, and it pretends to be winter whereas it ought to be spring and not so cold by now.

The bluebird is not blue except in its outward color or appearance. It does not inspire anything to blossom in this season, because it does not believe it to be springtime when flowers and plants could blossom. The discrepancy between appearance and reality is implied here. The poor jobless tramps that are in need of money are in a miserable state of winter, whereas the speaker wrongly believes himself to be happy in a warm season of spring which has a deceptive joyful appearance, but is actually chilly and uncomfortable.

The water for which we may have to look


And show on the water its crystal teeth.

In the summertime, there may be a scarcity of water, and we may have to search for it with the help of a witching-wand (stick used for discovering water). But now, in this Spring season, we may find rivulets in the ruts or furrows made on the road by wheels of carriages, or in the prints of the hooves of animals. We may feel happy about the presence of water now.

But we should advise the poet not to forget the dangerous frost lurking beneath the ground which may appear stealthily after the sunset and show ‘on the water its crystal teeth’ or prove to be a menace to the apparently calm life of mankind on the earth. That is to say, things may not be what they appear to be, and man should be cautious of the discrepancy between appearance and reality, as in the case of the actual presence of winter in what appears to be a season of spring.

In every print of a hoof a pond.


You’d think I never had felt before

In this stanza, the speaker defends his act of wood-chopping. The tramps seem to criticize him for doing this work for pleasure, whereas they might do it for need or money. The speaker says that they make him, because of their attitude of selfishness, love this task all the more.

He remarks that he has never enjoyed the doing of this physical work involving holding a left the ax-head, planting his feet firmly on the earth, and the soft and smooth movement of the muscles in the heat of the spring season, as he is enjoying it now. He does not feel discouraged by the critical attitude of the tramps towards his doing his work.

The weight of an ax-head poised aloft,


Men of the woods and lumberjacks,

This stanza picks up the thread of the story after a gap of three previous stanzas in which the poet represents the vagaries of the climate in New England region. Two stout tramps are referred to as coming towards the speaker. It is not known where they might have slept last night, but it is certain that they have been in lumber-camps. They are professional wood-cutters, the lumberjacks who fell trees and help in transporting them to the mill. They think that they had the sole right over the wood-chopping work, and any other kind of man doing this work could be regarded as unjust and foolish.

The only way they could judge a man to be a fool was to see how he handled the ax. The speaker, not being a professional lumber-jack, could not hold and use the ax as skillfully as they. Hence they judged him to be a fool, was to see how he handled the ax. The speaker, not being a professional lumber-jack, could not hold and use the ax as skillfully as they. Hence they judged him to be a fool.

The tramps are narrow-minded, and do the work of wood-chopping for money, need, or gain. They judge the speaker from their own point of view and find him to be unwise because he does the work not for need, but merely for the love of it.

They judged me by their appropriate tool.


And where the two exist in twain

Neither the speaker nor the tramps said anything. The tramps thought that they had simply to stand watching the speaker doing the work of wood-chopping and that finally the speaker would be convicted of their point of view, according to which the speaker had no right to do for enjoyment or recreation a work which ought to be done by some other man for need or for gain. The speaker might have the right to do the work for the love of it or for pleasure, but theirs was an equally important right to do it for need. If these two rights exist together and are compared, their right might be said to be greater than his.

Theirs was the better right–agreed.


For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

In the opinion of the poet, nobody can accept the separation of the two rights mentioned above. That is, the right to do something for pleasure, and the right to do it for gain, cannot be treated as existing apart from each other. They exist together. The speaker’s aim in life, as he himself tells, is to unite these two rights, or to combine his  ‘vocation’ and his ‘avocation’ to present a single aim in life just as two eyes join together to perceive one single view.

The ideal of work is that in the doing of this work love and need should be united, and it should be done for play as well as for need. Only through such a union can a work of lasting importance in the eyes of God and for the times to come he really done. This last stanza sums up Robert Frost’s views on the poet’s calling, which he himself had adopted. He regards it as both his vocation and avocation; that is he wrote poetry both for pleasure and for gain.

Discover the Essential Secrets

of Poetry

Sign up to unveil the best kept secrets in poetry,

brought to you by the experts

Dharmender Kumar Poetry Expert
Dharmender is a writer by passion, and a lawyer by profession. He has has a degree in English literature from Delhi University, and Mass Communication from Bhartiya Vidhya Bhavan, Delhi, as well as holding a law degree. Dharmender is awesomely passionate about Indian and English literature.
Notify of

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

The Best-Kept Secrets of Poetry

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry ever straight to your inbox

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry, straight to your inbox

Start Your Perfect Poetry Journey

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap