Out walking in the frozen swamp one gray day,
I paused and said, “I will turn back from here.
No, I will go on farther—and we shall see.”
The hard snow held me, save where now and then
One foot went through. The view was all in lines 5
Straight up and down of tall slim trees
Too much alike to mark or name a place by
So as to say for certain I was here
Or somewhere else: I was just far from home.
A small bird flew before me. He was careful 10
To put a tree between us when he lighted,
And say no word to tell me who he was
Who was so foolish as to think what he thought.
He thought that I was after him for a feather—
The white one in his tail; like one who takes 15
Everything said as personal to himself.
One flight out sideways would have undeceived him.
And then there was a pile of wood for which
I forgot him and let his little fear
Carry him off the way I might have gone, 20
Without so much as wishing him good-night.
He went behind it to make his last stand.
It was a cord of maple, cut and split
And piled—and measured, four by four by eight.
And not another like it could I see. 25
No runner tracks in this year’s snow looped near it.
And it was older sure than this year’s cutting,
Or even last year’s or the year’s before.
The wood was gray and the bark warping off it
And the pile somewhat sunken. Clematis 30
Had wound strings round and round it like a bundle.
What held it, though, on one side was a tree
Still growing, and on one side a stake for a prop,
These latter about to fall. I thought that only
Someone who lived in turning to fresh tasks 35
Could so forget his handiwork on which
He spent himself, the labor of his ax,
And leave it there far from a useful fireplace
To warm the frozen swamp as best it could
With the slow smokeless burning of decay. 40
The speaker is walking through a frozen swamp. He considers going back but decides to continue. A small bird flies ahead of him, interacting with him cautiously. Then the speaker happens upon a decayed woodpile, for which he forgets the bird. He wonders who made the pile and why that person left it there to rot.
“The Wood-Pile” generally follows the Frostian 5-stress line but strains it more than usual. However, the strain is to the formal regularity and not to the sound of the poem—which, for Frost, comes first. Some lines are blank verse, as follows:
“To warm the frozen swamp as best it could”
However, other lines present more stress and great irregularity, as in line 26 with its six stresses and spondaic emphasis on this year’s snow:
No runner tracks in thisyear’ssnow looped near it
Others simply mix and match feet to achieve natural speech rhythms. Such is the case in line 22, which can be scanned several different ways (here are two):
He went | behind | it to | make his | laststand.
He went | behind it | to make | his last | stand.
The result of this formal variation is a poem that sounds like the speech of a good storyteller but looks and reads like poetry.
There is no discernable rhyme pattern, although the first and last lines conspicuously rhyme (and reinforce each other: gray day and decay). Tasks and ax rhyme near the poem’s conclusion, and several end-words repeat: see,here,tree and trees,him and himself.