Literature Annotations


Frost, Robert
The Death of the Hired Man


Genre Poem
KeywordsAbandonment, Aging, Death and Dying, Empathy, Human Worth, Love, Poverty, Power Relations
Summary

In this domestic epic, a man and woman converse on the porch of their farmhouse. The man is just coming home in the evening; his wife meets him at the door to warn him that Silas, the old ne’r-do-well hired hand, had returned that day. She found him "huddled against the barn door, fast asleep, / A miserable sight, and frightening, too--"

Silas looked terribly ill, yet he didn’t ask for help. Instead, he told her he would cut the upper pasture, and he kept inquiring about the college boy he worked with on the farm a few years back. He and the boy argued all the time; now the old man wants to "make things right."

The husband shakes his head. No, he will not take Silas back. The old man walked away one too many times. You can’t depend on him to stay and finish the job when someone comes around offering him a little "pocket money" to go elsewhere. Indeed, Silas’s brother is the president of a bank; why doesn’t he go to his brother for help? At last the husband quiets down and goes in to see the old man, who is presumably asleep beside the stove. A few moments later, he returns to the porch. To his wife’s query, "’Dead,’ was all he answered." [175 lines]

Commentary

The hired hand has returned "home" to die. Though kinship would suggest that the old man’s rich brother ought to provide a home for him, Silas evidently feels more at home with the farm couple, who have supported him over the years. The poem presents two definitions of "home": " ’Home is the place where, when you have to go there, / They have to take you in.’ / ’I should have called it / Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.’ "

In this case Silas appears to have come "home" by both definitions. Despite his initial refusal, it looks as if Warren (the farmer) will have to take his old hand in, though Silas has done nothing to deserve it. Of course, when the moment of truth arrives, Silas is already dead.

SourcePoetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems
PublisherHolt, Rinehart & Winston
Edition1979
EditorsEdward Connery Lathem
Place PublishedNew York
MiscellaneousFirst published: 1914 (in North of Boston)
Annotated by Coulehan, Jack
Date of Entry 02/07/01
Last Revised 08/16/06