#62: “The Need of Being Versed in Country Things” (Robert Frost)

We can dwell on details and difficulties in class discussion; in these blog posts, I’ve found I should concentrate on (a) showing, telling, and defending what’s so great about the poem at hand; and (b) raising some questions that you might look at in your comments.

So, to #62, Robert Frost’s “Need of Being Versed in Country Things”. Robert Frost will appear several times in our Countdown. Partly this is because his poems fit my requirements so well: many are short, vivid, beautifully written, universally themed, and need no esoteric knowledge to understand.

“The Need of Being Versed in Country Things” does require us to know what a house and barn might look like, and what some common elements of American farmsteads are. But most of us have seen such farmsteads, even if only from the interstate. And it’s a safe bet that most of us can imagine a building that is abandoned, destroyed, or ruined.

The poem is one of great beauty, great simplicity, and great starkness. Its central question is one that Frost asks in a number of poems. One might call it the “meaning of life” question, except that it’s not reducible to such a simplistic paraphrase. Here, it’s a “meaning of country things” question. In the country things vanish and other things replace them.

Doesn’t that happen in the city too? Doesn’t it happen in civilization? Perhaps we try to do too much explaining, in civilization. Nature tears things down, and they vanish utterly. (Nature tears down natural things as well as artificial things.) When something is destroyed, something else grows in its place.

Is there a consciousness behind all this destruction and renewal? Or is consciousness, is tragedy, something imposed on nature by people who aren’t “versed in country things?”

The pre-eminent beauty of this poem, among many, for me, is the utter plainness of the language. That plainness comes out in the poem’s most abstract moment: “the sigh we sigh / From too much dwelling on what has been.” It comes out too in the concrete moments in the poem, where I don’t detect even the ghost of a metaphor: “the fence post carried a strand of wire.” There are huge philosophical ideas in the poem, but it doesn’t stop to philosophize. It just shows things, in the way that Archibald MacLeish demanded of poetry. For all the torment of consciousness, MacLeish might say, a pump handle and a fence post.


26 responses to “#62: “The Need of Being Versed in Country Things” (Robert Frost)

  1. Needing to be versed in country things fits perfectly. If you think about it, nature is everywhere but you find so much in the country. The house and the barn…elms, lilacs, water pumps. The birds may have been sad because they would fly into the barn and rest and/or nest in the mow. It was destroyed in the fire so that is why they had a “murmur more like a sigh we sigh.” It was their home too, yet there are many other places in the country, in this instance, for them to build a new nest. That is why “For them there was really nothing sad.” There is a bird that made a nest outside my bedroom window last year. It sat there, laid eggs and then the eggs hatched and the bird flew away. This year, it happened again. Now..whether or not it was the same bird I don’t know, but I know it was a resting/nesting place for the bird. Birds have homes and of course are saddened if they are no longer able to go there, but because they are part of nature, they are able to find a home easily. In order to understand how nature one has to experience it in some way or another. The same is for the city. One has to know their way around the city…the way lights/traffic work, taxi cabs, restaurants, people, etc. I would have to say that there is both…consciousness behind destruction and renewal and that sometimes tragedy is imposed on nature by people whether they are or aren’t versed in country or city things. People are part of nature. They are part of destruction and part of renewal.

  2. An interesting point that was brought up in class was the fact that nature isn’t sad or happy; it shows no emotion. I do believe that we inflict certain emotions on things, depending on a number of factors but most often how they look. Even though the nature has been disturbed by the fire in this poem, “the lilac renews its leaf,” as if to say when “fires” occur in life, we have to take it in, deal with it, and move on. If that is the message Frost is attempting to convey, it seems more difficult to me than he makes it seem because, when the “fire” is fatal and causes a lot of damage, it is hard to just move on with things and forget what has happened, or how things were before.
    Frost titles the poem “A Need of Being Versed in Country Things,” mentioned in class as if to give the impression that country is the root of everything, and much more important than what you can learn in the city. The concept of things disappearing in both the country and the city, and something replacing them is interesting to me; it is something that I have always known, just never given that much thought to. Everything in life occurs in cycles; for every action, there is a reaction, and for every door closed another one opens. For every fire, new things grow in the old one’s places.

  3. The format in which the poem was written is that of a simple one but the messages that it is trying to get across isn’t. Living in the country my self seasonaly, I get a vivid mental picture of the burned down farm house. The pace of life slows down and you get a greater feeling of your surroundings. With simple words you can picture the wildlife that continues to go about their normal lives. Nature is vast and not limited to a fenced area. Many people go through life living in a fenced area. Knowing only what is in it’s perimeters. Thats all they know and have. So you can see how devestating and sad it may be to a person with that mentality. Thats all they ‘ve known, all they have been taught. Out in the country, life is respected. To gain it requires more heart and devotion. You’re one with your surroundings. What burned down today just means its time to build tomorrow. Life didn’t pause for the old burned down farm house. Everything kept it’s course. Life is the same way. Life is changes . Changes are what you make them to be. They aren’t bad or good.

  4. decarlocoleman

    In The Need of Being Versed in Country Things, I was able to visualize the setting Robert Frost was describing when he writes, “Now the chimney was all of the house that stood, like a pistil after the petals go.” I could place the images in my head being described together like a puzzle. To me this poem completely represents nature and the affects of change that come along with it. Nature is something that we can’t control, we have to adapt to whatever it gives us and look toward making things better than they were. Robert Frost has sent a message that can be applied to so many different situations in this poem. The birds seem to be disappointed that the house had been lost in a fire that they frequented very often but over time a new home for them developed. I have actually witnessed something similar to this poem in person that was so beautiful. A tree was cut down at the train station that two birds lived in, the two birds lost their nest in the process. A few days later at the train station I witnessed those two birds taking turns flying down from an empty light pole covered by the station to get twigs and leaves to build their new home. Not only were they able to build another home but their new location was out of harm’s way and wasn’t effected by weather conditions. Nature takes place in our lives and certain things happen for a reason, whether it turns out emotionally good or bad it always has its own plan.

  5. To me the need to be versed in country things is the need to understand nature, to understand its cycle. We as people tend to have a single minded view of nature and the country, as a peaceful calm place that never really changes, we rarely see the cycle, the constant creation and destruction that occurs. In the poem a fire has just ravaged a home, burning the land and destroying the house. But how does nature react to it in the poem? It doesn’t mourn the loss of the house, lament the scorched earth. It simply moves on, with the knowledge that while something is destroyed it is an opportunity for something else to grow.
    The idea of something vanishing and something replacing it is not a concept that only applies to the country though. This cycle is evident in the cities and the suburbs that many of us grew up in and are living in. So why do we need to be versed in country things? It is because were the country is where it all began, and it is the cycle in its most simplest form, simplicity being something that Frost apparently has an affinity for. The consciousness will always be there, and Frost even uses the contradiction of the birds to let us know that, as a part of nature they move on, but in the poem they still cry about the loss of their nest. We will always the destructive part of the cycle as a tragedy, but by being versed in country things we can help to move past the tragedy and begin the renewal.

  6. The Need to be Versed in Country Things brings to mind for me wide open fields spotted with red barns, silos, and pretty quaint farms houses. When reading this Robert Frost poem though I am forced to look at the other side of country things and what forms they take on. There are things like abandoned farm houses with broken windows and torn up fence. There is also the part of nature that requires it to start a new. I believe that nature its self does have a consciousness about it. There are times when the land has become used up and needs to have new minerals in it and a replenishment of the nourishment that it once held to its plant and animal life. When reading this poem I feel like Robert Frost is trying to get us to identify with that part of country things. Although it is a sadder part of it I think the phoebes understand and only weep for the end but not the new beginning. The birds and flowers and trees in this poem express the thoughts of humans with their weariness and sadness. I believe this whole poem is almost a metaphor for the end and new beginning.

  7. The Need of Being Verse in Country Things to me is a very interesting poem because Robert Frost addresses something quite major, a fire, in the simplest of forms. The simplicity of the poem, to me, reflects the countryside and how things in the country are laid back and simple. I love how he gives emotion to the animals and plants around the farm, reflecting, maybe, his feelings in those animals.

    This does happen in the city as well but it’s looked upon in a different way, yes everything and everyone does move on, something will grow in the place of the old. I believe sometimes things are blown up out of proportion rather than spending that name to move on as they do in the country, but eventually “the lilac renews its leaf.”

  8. While I was reading the poem, I could see a bit of sadness as well as happiness. Most of the times, the country is a place of beauty, peace, and quiet; one in which natural disasters is scarce. However when it does occur, there seems to be a feeling of chaos and sadness. This would explain the birds “murmuring”–they probably were sad because they were not used to it. But the birds weren’t sad for too long because they knew that things will be back to normal–regrowth of flowers and so on. This applies to civilization–when there’s a natural disaster, there’s usually a renewal or replacement. Take for example Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans; right now the place is being rebuilt and getting back to normal. I feel like there’s a higher consciousness behind destruction; as in something higher than the average human is in charge of nature. However, I also feel like human beings impose on nature through irresponsibility–like air pollution caused by human beings which is contributing to the destruction of the ozone layer and global warming or someone starting a fire. I would slightly disagree that nature’s neither happy nor sad because I feel like when nature destroys things-like a tidal wave- it’s angry; but when it’s calm then it’s happy.

  9. This poem is a great example of nature’s simplistic reaction to loss. It also shows the contrast of nature’s reaction to loss and man’s reaction to loss. When the farmhouse burned, the birds merely sighed and moved on, accepting that loss is a part of life, and that life will go on. Our reaction to the loss of our home would be entirely different. I think of the news stories about the victims of hurricane Katrina. Many, many people lost everything they had, and they were completely devastated. While not to take away from the magnitude of their loss, they were merely unable to just sigh and move on. It will take many years for things to return to “normal” for them. For many, things will never be the same. Our reaction to loss goes to show our fixation on material possessions, and our inability to quickly grasp that loss is a natural part of life, and that life does, in fact, go on. I’m not trying to make a conclusion as to whether our reaction to loss is right or wrong, it’s just the way we are.

  10. This poem takes me back to the small farm that my grandfather owned while I was growing up. I remember after a bad storm had passed and we were able to walk the farm and inventory the damage done. Nature not only damaged some of the structure of the barn, but also some of the trees and plants. This poem reminds me that even after a disaster, things will return to normal. The birds will sing again and the flowers will bloom again. Even the house that had taken on fire will be used again. Maybe not in the same manner in which it was used before, but it will be used again. To me, being versed in country things simply reminds us that all things return to nature in one way or another. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.

  11. While I was reading this poem, vivid images were going through my head. I was able to see the barn caught on fire, the birds, the flowers, etc. Robert Frost is trying to show the reader that there is a difference between city life and country life. Every summer of my childhood was spent in a family farm and in my opinion there is a difference between this too. At the barn life is more peaceful, quite and it almost seems slower. In the city life is fast pace, busy, crowded, etc. After the fire, the birds were singing but it still seems like they are grieving because they just lost a place that could have been their home. When a building is destroyed in a city many people would not even notice it because everyone is always in a hurry. In a farm there is mostly open space so whenever a house or a farm is destroyed, well, it is very evident. But after the fire everything went back to normal, the birds, and the flowers. I agree with some of my peers that we could interpret this poem as if Robert Frost was letting us know that when something in our life just comes crumbling down, that everything would be o.k. and that things will eventually go back to normal.

  12. The poem “The Need of Being Versed in Country Things” is about a farm house that got burnt down by a fire. The imagination of the poet Robert Frost really captivated my attention. I have read many poems in my life, some joyful and some sad but I have never read about people describing about a burning house. When I think about a burning house I just see the flames consuming it and when the fire is extinguished the house just looks empty and dark. Whereas this poem has more depth because it emphasizes on the nature, which includes the landscape, flowers, birds and more. Frost compares the chimney of the house to the pistil after the petals fall. The poet by mentioning how lilac grows its leaf again is focusing on the renewable ability of nature. He does it again by referring to the birds that are murmuring about their lost nests yet they are not sad because they know that they can build another nest. Therefore, to be versed in country things means to know that the balance in nature is always restored.

  13. this is mainly for stephenyn, but how do you change your profile picture!!!!! i have this super duper amazing one i want to put on, but for the life of me couldn’t figure it out, help would be appreciated.

  14. This poem is to me gives me a vivid picture of an old country farm. When he describes the barn catching on fire, I can almost smell the flames burning and picture it. I like how he describes the feelings of the animals, and the birds weeping. It also describes the flowers and the cob webs. This poem puts me in a calm mood because of where it takes place. I enjoy going to the country because it relaxes me and takes me into a zone away from the city life. I love the smell of the country air, I think it is different from the city. When you are in the city its a fast pace and the country is just the opposite. This poem made me feel sad about the fire burning the barn down. But it also gives hope because, the barn being burned down can also start a new beginning for them. I believe in the saying, “everything happens for a reason”. I think in this story this happen to bring them a new life.

  15. andreamcginley

    This poem reminds me of home, I grew up on a corn farm in Nebraska and for us Nature was always a constant battle for us. It took one that is “Versed in Country Things” to note that Nature is stoic in its being, it does not show sympathy to those who choose to live on its land. We were forced to make do with the droughts, with the field fires, and the bad harvests. We suffered through each bad season, but the good seemed to always outweigh the bad. Those living in the city may not know as much but it is quite beneficial for them to take a look at how Nature works. As humans events such as fire do evoke sadness and despair, but this poem urges us to realize that the destruction of Nature is just another cycle of life. Just as the “the lilac renews its leaf,” there is no need to dwell on what has happen but to move on and begin anew. The poem outlines this quite well it portraits a farm house that is utterly in shambles and yet the birds and the vegetation remain living and growing.
    The poem also reminds me of the Great Depression about the Dust Bowl, people suffered greatly but today the plane lands though not as populous as the cities do provide a great deal of life to those around America. Though many died trying some never gave up and excepted the hand that Nature dealt them, those people understood that Nature can be harsh but they persevered, adapted and adjusted and eventually got on with life and began again what they had set out to do.
    This poem has a simple and clear message that is able to help people wherever they may live, that Nature holds no grudges, has no emotions, but just is and the sooner we as humans understand that, life can become much more simpler and fulfilling if we understand how to handle the cruelties that Nature can deliver.

  16. To me the poem was to show the difference between nature and humans. As he watched what use to be and mourned over what can never return. Something that disappeared in the fire. The plants and birds around him continued on. Plants grew in the wreckage from the fire and the birds saw it as a home regardless of what it looked like. It just shows how we look at something and mourn because of what it once was. But as for nature it continues its cycle of life it doesn’t mourn what it was but celebrates what can come of it.

  17. kursteilnehmer

    There is a need to be “versed in things” in general. All that is good and evil in the world cause humankind to develop specific obstructions. This type of barrier blocks out the affliction of living in the world. People don’t notice a lot of the suffering in the world because the media and other stimuli almost raze our conscience altogether. Our moral scruples have been corrupted since the day we were born. We as a society can identify what is good and what is evil, however we do not always choose to walk the road less traveled by. This poem addresses a general “meaning of life question.” I agree that in the world things vanish and other things take their place. Our nature as humans allows a memory to be stored of this thing that is replaced. Birds and other things of nature do not have this type of memory. They are resilient to destruction. And this is not too surprising. Humans have the ability to live with this memory and keep on building and living in this world. We keep building and changing, but the world will eventually pass us all by. All things raised in this world will be razed. They will turn to stone, moss will cover our wretched temples of prosperity and perhaps we will be forgotten by nature too. Aside from all that, the poem is beautiful. I thoroughly enjoyed the imagery and range of emotions evoked by this verse. The diction and poets voice was very clear and simple. The ideas presented were appropriate and thought-provoking. This poem is quite a refreshing bit of literature. To me it was almost as if Frost was washing a part of malevolence out of the world as a potter would clean his slate. There is a consciousness behind all this destruction and renewal. Why else would we be provided with this memory that is so unlike that of a song bird, rock or tree? To me this poem provides a image of hope for humankind. A hope placed in the faith that there is some manner of predetermined meaning in existence. Aside from the philosophical ideas in the poem I can see that Frost generates a sense of austerity in his writing, and perhaps it is that austerity that causes me to delve a little deeper into the poem’s questionable nadir.

  18. Consciousness and tragedy are some things that in my opinion are not imposed on nature by people who aren’t “versed in country things.” The idea that the country is where one learns everything does not completely agree with my thoughts. People learn things regardless of where they are, although being in the country might make them look at things a little bit differently. Those who were raised in the city might not know how it feels to listen to the silence of the country, but those raised in the country don’t know how it feels to be listening to those city “noises” all day. Whatever the case may be, different people enjoy different things, some may enjoy silence, while others may not! I don’t believe that one “needs” to be “versed in country things” to “…believe the phoebes wept” because in my eyes, this poem simply illustrates the cycles of life/nature which happen everywhere, not just in the country. Birds lose their homes, and they move on, just like people do. Something can exist in nature one day and be gone the next, but it happens not only in nature. Adaptation to any place, be it country or city helps us learn that even if we lose something we cared for, we will gain something better or similar in return. I believe that the fact that the language in the poem is so plain tells the reader that the “cycle of life” or “moving on” is also supposed to be easy to get through. Just as nature re-grows itself, animals and people try to follow in the same steps and move on.

  19. It is very interesting that a man who came from a city could write so eloquently about country life. From where Robert Frost was born in San Francisco to the countryside in Derry, New Hampshire where he worked for nine years were two completely different lives. I couldn’t think of two things that are so unlike each other. It wouldn’t even be fair to use the term “comparing apples and oranges”, it would be more like comparing apples and pencils. With these huge contrasts that he experienced in life came a wisdom that others would be without. In the poem “The Need of Being Versed in Country Things” a fire burns a farmhouse down. Instead of being a horrible devastation as many would conclude too immediately, Frost takes the role of showing how life goes on. The cycle of life will continue no matter what occurs. In the country would be the only place where this view point could take a firm hold. In the country there is a pureness an innocence that is not present in a city. The vast openness and calmness a countryside possesses can be felt throughout this poem by Robert Frost.

  20. This poem, in my opinion, is about how people should know about how the country is. People should be aware of how nature really is. Being in the city is quite different from being out in nature. Also, there are no people in this poem. Robert Frost just talks about buildings and birds. I think this poem is kind of a realization for what we as people do to nature itself. The birds for instance, aren’t sad in this poem, but he brings up about them weeping. Maybe he’s trying to say how we hurt nature. Maybe that’s a long shot, but I’m just not sure.

  21. If you sign in and go to My Profile and then Edit My Profile, or something like that it gives you the option to change your picture.

  22. The Need of Being Versed in Country Things is to me a poem that expresses how it feels when nature is not a peace. The way I saw the birds as being sad due to the fact what they are use to seeing is no longer. Even though a fire has happened there is still a way to recover nature to its true self. Nature was once filled with joy not there is saddness that has to be regained with the newing of their spirit. Robert Frost has a view of how nature is so close to how we as humans feel when something we have lost causes us to regain what we once felt.

  23. The Need of Being Versed in Country Things is a great poem by Robert Frost. Any poem that breaks down humanity and life to the simple ways that nature intended is ok in my book. The way Frost describes country things (being able to understand nature and its ways, the circle of life on this planet) can be described differently in our time, yet means the exact same thing. To me, this can be attained even by living in the city. As long as you have seen many things, been to many places, experienced great things, it doesn’t matter where you have grown up. Reaching that higher level of understanding and consciousness for nature is all dependent on the individual, and this poem does the perfect job of keeping it simple and throwing that philosophy in your face. It shows you that life will go on and how insignificant, yet beautiful everything material is. Natures powers are so overriding that it doesn’t matter what we do, we as organic beings will perish and many others will take our place. But the real question is… where does the soul travel next? Does it return to nature? NoBODY knows

  24. This poem is a comparison of human construction and the natural world. Frost writes of the fragility of a house compared to the timeless quality of the landscape round it.

    The house is ablaze and throwing up flames and sending light into the dark sky bringing “to the midnight sky a sunset glow.” All that is left behind is the stone chimney, and the barn near the house that was spared had the wind shifted direction. Only natural stone was survived the house fire, and the nearby man-made barn only survived by the mercy of nature.

    After the house is gone, everything around it continues normally. The birds come and go in the house through broken windows, the lilacs still grow “and the aged elm, though touched with fire” still stands. Everything natural goes on, while the man-made structure rots and decays. Frost is telling his readers that in order for things to endure, they must take their cue from Country Things.

  25. From Anthony Scott:
    In the poem “The Need of Being Versed in Country Things”, Robert Frost tells an emotional tale of the speaker’s house and barn being burnt to rubble. This

    poem is written in a sad tone about the devestation the speaker feels from this incident. Frost even seems to understand that birds, tree’s, and other things

    in nature can simply move on with ease, whether it be growing new leaves and branches, or moving to a nest, nature recovers with ease. However, in the

    speakers current conditon. Frost realizes that things in the country are much simpler and not as material, which in my opinion, shows that the speaker is

    versed in country things because recovering from the remains of the house and barn are difficult, however, it seems the speaker understands this and is

    prepared to move on (even if there are alot of hardships from the incident).

  26. i like how this poem brings up a theme that ive knoticed throughout the 27 years that ive been on this planet. the theme can be expressed in many different ways but they all can be summed up in having a beginning and an end. you cant have a line with out a starting point and an ending point. like we discussed in class earlier you cant be happy without having experenced sadness. we wouldnt know that light existed without having seen darkness. life and death are expressed here in this poem. it mainly talks about the metaphoric death of a farmhouse but in doing so celebrates its life in the process.
    ” No more it opened with all one end, for teams that came by the stoony road, to drums on the floor with scurrying hoofs, and brush the mow with the summer load.”
    this makes me think that at one point there was a great amount work and production being done here. that ultimately would provide for the family living on the farm. think back to times in your life where you were buisy and doing meaningfull things, 9 times out of 10 those memories will be happy ones, eventhough at the time you may have been tired and worn out. I see this poem as much more of a celebration of life and joy and a satasfaction in your work than of just describing an old farmhouse that once stood.

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