The first time I read the poem Two Tramps in Mud Time, the passages that initially jumped out at me were the ones about how quickly good weather will deteriorate once you begin to contemplate how nice it seems to be. I wondered, “Is the author saying we shouldn’t get comfortable or become complacent, because happiness and success is only temporary, and will most certainly disintegrate, sooner or later?” After thinking about it I had to laugh, because the fact that that was my first response probably reveals more about me than about the message Robert Frost wanted to convey. As great as it might feel to be a “glass half full” person, the truth is that I am not; at my core it just doesn’t surprise me when things go south, try as I might to make things go well.
But I’m not always a cynical person, I think I’m simply a realist. To me, when Frost writes words to the effect that if one cloud came overhead he would feel as if it was winter all over again, or about how even though there is water under the ground it takes only a little motivation for it to turn into a bitter frost that will coat the earth, in my opinion those descriptions lend a great deal of weight to his work. I think Frost has a penchant for putting bitter realism into his poetry, as opposed to a starry-eyed interpretation of how things are, and describing the setting of his story in that way makes it more amenable to me. I respect and can identify with that style of writing because it is real and it is honest. In that same way, I too am frank, and I won’t romanticize my trip to DC or my summer internship when I assess it. I don’t mince my words. When I describe my time in DC, I won’t say that it was all good or all bad, I will simply say how it was. So at the start, I have to say that I identified the most with that nature or aspect of Frost’s poem.
But of course the main theme of the poem does not lie in the temperamental weather. The theme is delivered between the lines of the physical task the narrator is completing. He is chopping wood. He is engaged in a mindless but tiring and repetitive task which he does because he is exercising discipline and because he enjoys doing it. The conflict appears when two “tramps,” or lumberjacks, arrive. They come presumably to do what the narrator is doing – chopping wood – because it is all they know and are prepared to do, and at that point the narrator has the opportunity to turn the job over to them. They would be happy to do it, and chances are they would do a better job. The struggle the narrator has then is between want and need: the narrator chops wood because he wants to and because he loves doing it, but the tramps chop wood because it is all they can do, and they need to do it to survive. His question becomes, should he continue working at the mundane task, or should he hire them on to do that job while he takes on some “higher” task, even though it might not be what he truly wants to do?
The author ruminates on this conflict and uses it to bring the entire message of the poem together. His message is that one must reconcile these conflicting interests, not only in a general sense but in oneself as well. While he considers whether he should give way to these poor fellows who need the work, he recognizes that in order for happiness to be achieved he has to unify the need to do something with the desire to do it. After considering it, he continues chopping the wood, and from that we gather that he simply enjoys the work. Leaving aside whether he can afford to hire the help, this seems to be the central question posed by the poem: If work is done begrudgingly, is it ever really done? And even so, is the work that is done worthwhile in the broader sense?
Many people will face such a question at some point in their career. The message I took from the poem is that people who are lucky enough to choose their vocation should work in a field and at a job they truly enjoy. In today’s shorthand, it’s usually thought of as pursing one’s passion, or the idea that you should “Do what you love, and love what you do.”
This is a lesson I identify with and one I feel compelled to live in my own life. This summer in DC and the internship I obtained was one of my desire. I came to Washington to pursue my passions, and having done so I now better understand what it is I am looking for, both in Washington and in my career. The internship work I did was worthwhile because it was something I did to test the strength of my passion for politics in the trenches. I now have a better understanding of what lobbying firms do on a daily basis, and how business is conducted in our nation’s capital. By accepting this position, I suppose I did prevent someone else from doing the job, although I never really thought about that before I read this poem. Does that bother me? Not really. Like Frost’s message in the poem, if you do something but you really don’t like it, then how do you reconcile doing it in the place of someone else? On the other hand – and as stated more positively, as it applies to my internship – if you truly love doing something, then yes, you should be the one doing it. I love my work here, and I put my heart into my job. In that respect, I think it does qualify me more than any other potential candidate, and it is something I should be doing. I enjoyed the work I did, and I believe I did it well. So I think the narrator of Frost’s poem would approve.
In reflecting on my summer in DC, overall it was time well spent. I don’t intend to idealize it, and I will say that it was not without its share of misfortune or personal strife. But it was certainly a personal growth experience with tremendous potential for my future, and that alone will mitigate any personal negatives I had. The people I met were enjoyable most of the time and interesting all of the time. I did things I hadn’t done before, I saw things from new or different perspectives, and I learned to evaluate problems from angles I hadn’t previously considered. Most importantly, I matured and grew as a person, and I became a more socially and politically aware individual. This was also the first 9-5 job I’ve had in which I reported to strangers, as opposed to jobs in which I’ve worked with or for people I already knew, and that in itself probably improved my relationship-building skills.
Maybe I gained some sage wisdom in my short time here or maybe these two months have just aged me 5 years. That is just a matter of perspective, I suppose. But what I can and will say is that I am glad I came to DC and I am proud of the work I did here. Not unlike the protagonist in the poem, I did it because I had a passion for it, and that love for politics and government has only been reinforced by my summer in Washington. So I may continue to chop this cord of wood. Only time will tell.