And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground,
And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
So that henceforth I worked no more alone;
But glad with him, I worked as with his aid,
And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;
And dreaming, as it were, held brotherly speech
With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.
Men work together,’ I told him from the heart,
Whether they work together or apart.’
I first heard this poem referenced by Chief Justice John Roberts at a Georgetown Law School Commencement. Having been impressed with his intelligence, eloquence, & demeanor (not to mention his resume), I found his citation of this poem wistful. One thinks of the highly educated, august Chief Justice role as being one of significant esteem and power, but he described the position as an honor tinged with a hint of melancholy – a melancholy that is particular not only to his job, but more generally, to the human condition. A black-robed judge ensconced in his office surrounded by books, papers, and a smattering of clerks, Roberts noted, actually reads, thinks, and pronounces in a very isolated fashion. As such, Chief Justice Roberts wonders, does one risk succumbing to a touch of despair at the alienation inherent in this role. Robert Frost’s poem provides the answer. It describes a lone worker, yearning for community, and finding himself disconnected from his fellow worker – his fellow man. It is not until, a tuft of flowers, alighted upon by a butterfly, and deliberately spared by the worker before him serves as a gift. It is a gift to reestablish contact in which hope is renewed, in which communion is reinvigorated between a man and mankind. The trajectory of the poem is down into isolated despair, and then up again to the hope of reclaimed community. The work we undertake, if it is to be meaningful at all, relies on community – even if we find our community purely in our ancestors, or in posterity. Communion with others matters. We should continue to look for the tuft of flowers left to us… and likewise, leave a tuft of flowers for others.