Robert Frost

Paul’s Wife

To drive Paul out of any lumber camp All that was needed was to say to him, ‘How is the wife, Paul?’- and he’d disappear. Some said it was because be bad no wife, And hated to be twitted on the subject; Others because he’d come within a day Or so of having one, and then been Jilted; Others because he’d had one once, a good one, Who’d run away with someone else and left him; And others still because he had one now He only had to be reminded of- He was all duty to her in a minute: He had to run right off to look her up, As if to say, ‘That’s so, how is my wife? I hope she isn’t getting into mischief.’ No one was anxious to get rid of Paul. He’d been the hero of the mountain camps Ever since, just to show them, he bad slipped The bark of a whole tamarack off whole As clean as boys do off a willow twig To make a willow whistle on a Sunday April by subsiding meadow brooks. They seemed to ask him just to see him go, ‘How is the wife, Paul?’ and he always went. He never stopped to murder anyone Who asked the question. He just disappeared- Nobody knew in what direction, Although it wasn’t usually long Before they beard of him in some new camp, The same Paul at the same old feats of logging. The question everywhere was why should Paul Object to being asked a civil question- A man you could say almost anything to Short of a fighting word. You have the answers. And there was one more not so fair to Paul: That Paul had married a wife not his equal. Paul was ashamed of her. To match a hero She would have had to be a heroine; Instead of which she was some half-breed squaw. But if the story Murphy told was true, She wasn’t anything to be ashamed of. You know Paul could do wonders. Everyone’s Heard how he thrashed the horses on a load That wouldn’t budge, until they simply stretched Their rawhide harness from the load to camp. Paul told the boss the load would be all right, ‘The sun will bring your load in’- and it did- By shrinking the rawhide to natural length. That’s what is called a stretcher. But I guess The one about his jumping so’s to land With both his feet at once against the ceiling, And then land safely right side up again, Back on the floor, is fact or pretty near fact. Well, this is such a yarn. Paul sawed his wife Out of a white-pine log. Murphy was there And, as you might say, saw the lady born. Paul worked at anything in lumbering. He’d been bard at it taking boards away For- I forget- the last ambitious sawyer To want to find out if he couldn’t pile The lumber on Paul till Paul begged for mercy. They’d sliced the first slab off a big butt log, And the sawyer had slammed the carriage back To slam end-on again against the saw teeth. To judge them by the way they caught themselves When they saw what had happened to the log, They must have had a guilty expectation Something was going to go with their slambanging. Something bad left a broad black streak of grease On the new wood the whole length of the log Except, perhaps, a foot at either end. But when Paul put his finger in the grease, It wasn’t grease at all, but a long slot. The log was hollow. They were sawing pine. ‘First time I ever saw a hollow pine. That comes of having Paul around the place. Take it to bell for me,’ the sawyer said. Everyone had to have a look at it And tell Paul what he ought to do about it. (They treated it as his.) ‘You take a jackknife, And spread the opening, and you’ve got a dugout All dug to go a-fishing in.’ To Paul The hollow looked too sound and clean and empty Ever to have housed birds or beasts or bees. There was no entrance for them to get in by. It looked to him like some new kind of hollow He thought he’d better take his jackknife to. So after work that evening be came back And let enough light into it by cutting To see if it was empty. He made out in there A slender length of pith, or was it pith? It might have been the skin a snake had cast And left stood up on end inside the tree The hundred years the tree must have been growing. More cutting and he bad this in both hands, And looking from it to the pond nearby, Paul wondered how it would respond to water. Not a breeze stirred, but just the breath of air He made in walking slowly to the beach Blew it once off his hands and almost broke it. He laid it at the edge, where it could drink. At the first drink it rustled and grew limp. At the next drink it grew invisible. Paul dragged the shallows for it with his fingers, And thought it must have melted. It was gone. And then beyond the open water, dim with midges, Where the log drive lay pressed against the boom, It slowly rose a person, rose a girl, Her wet hair heavy on her like a helmet, Who, leaning on a log, looked back at Paul. And that made Paul in turn look back To see if it was anyone behind him That she was looking at instead of him. (Murphy had been there watching all the time, But from a shed where neither of them could see him.) There was a moment of suspense in birth When the girl seemed too waterlogged to live, Before she caught her first breath with a gasp And laughed. Then she climbed slowly to her feet, And walked off, talking to herself or Paul, Across the logs like backs of alligators, Paul taking after her around the pond. Next evening Murphy and some other fellows Got drunk, and tracked the pair up Catamount, From the bare top of which there is a view TO other hills across a kettle valley. And there, well after dark, let Murphy tell it, They saw Paul and his creature keeping house. It was the only glimpse that anyone Has had of Paul and her since Murphy saw them Falling in love across the twilight millpond. More than a mile across the wilderness They sat together halfway up a cliff In a small niche let into it, the girl Brightly, as if a star played on the place, Paul darkly, like her shadow. All the light Was from the girl herself, though, not from a star, As was apparent from what happened next. All those great ruffians put their throats together, And let out a loud yell, and threw a bottle, As a brute tribute of respect to beauty. Of course the bottle fell short by a mile, But the shout reached the girl and put her light out. She went out like a firefly, and that was all. So there were witnesses that Paul was married And not to anyone to be ashamed of Everyone had been wrong in judging Paul. Murphy told me Paul put on all those airs About his wife to keep her to himself. Paul was what’s called a terrible possessor. Owning a wife with him meant owning her. She wasn’t anybody else’s business, Either to praise her or much as name her, And he’d thank people not to think of her. Murphy’s idea was that a man like Paul Wouldn’t be spoken to about a wife In any way the world knew how to speak.