A Time to Talk. Collection – Mountain Interval. 1920

When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don’t stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven’t hoed,
And shout from where I am, What is it?
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.

One of my favorites. A poem reminiscent of old-world values, of the simple, uncomplicated, unhurried country life and people. It is reminiscent of times when human relationships took precedence over everything else. Friends were welcome any time of the day and intrusion during work wasn’t such a big deal.

This poem echoes the feeling of farmers working alone in distant farms. In Mowing, the poet talks of the silence, the absence of another human sound besides his.

There was never a sound beside the wood but one,
And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground.

In The Tuft of Flowers, he describes the lack of human interaction in farming and the affinity he feels with another worker who he does not see.

And I must be, as he had been — alone,
‘As all must be,’ I said within my heart,
‘Whether they work together or apart.’


We read here that the friend ‘slows his horse to a meaning walk’ and the poet, doesn’t ‘stand still and look around’. The desire for a ‘friendly visit’ is mutual. They don’t hesitate to stop work or worry about the pending jobs.

Yet, when he says,
… I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.

I feel that he goes only up to the stone wall – does not cross it nor does the neighbor. They keep the stone wall between the friendly visit. As in Mending Wall,

We keep the wall between us as we go.        

There is restraint. Is it because he subconsciously does subscribe to the notion that ‘Good fences make good neighbors’? The physical boundary is just a manifestation of the boundaries of the mind – this much and no further. If either of them had crossed the stone wall, would that have made the ‘friendly’ visit burdensome? Would that have made them feel the intrusion? Perhaps…

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