Mary sat musing on the lamp-flame at the table
Waiting for Warren. When she heard his step,
She ran on tip-toe down the darkened passage
To meet him in the doorway with the news
And put him on his guard. ‘Silas is back.’
She pushed him outward with her through the door
And shut it after her. “Be kind,’ she said.
She took the market things from Warren’s arms
And set them on the porch, then drew him down
To sit beside her on the wooden steps.
‘When was I ever anything but kind to him?
But I’ll not have the fellow back,’ he said.
‘I told him so last haying, didn’t I?
“If he left then,” I said, “that ended it.”
What good is he? Who else will harbour him
At his age for the little he can do?
What help he is there’s no depending on.
Off he goes always when I need him most.
‘He thinks he ought to earn a little pay,
Enough at least to buy tobacco with,
won’t have to beg and be beholden.”
“All right,” I say “I can’t afford to pay
Any fixed wages, though I wish I could.”
“Someone else can.”
“Then someone else will have to.
I shouldn’t mind his bettering himself
If that was what it was. You can be certain,
When he begins like that, there’s someone at him
Trying to coax him off with pocket-money, —
In haying time, when any help is scarce.
In winter he comes back to us. I’m done.’
‘Shh I not so loud: he’ll hear you,’ Mary said.
‘I want him to: he’ll have to soon or late.’
‘He’s worn out. He’s asleep beside the stove.
When I came up from Rowe’s I found him here,
Huddled against the barn-door fast asleep,
A miserable sight, and frightening, too-
You needn’t smile — I didn’t recognize him-
I wasn’t looking for him- and he’s changed.
Wait till you see.’
‘Where did you say he’d been?
‘He didn’t say. I dragged him to the house,
And gave him tea and tried to make him smoke.
I tried to make him talk about his travels.
Nothing would do: he just kept nodding off.’
‘What did he say? Did he say anything?’
‘But little.’
‘Anything? Mary, confess
He said he’d come to ditch the meadow for me.’
‘Warren!’
‘But did he? I just want to know.’
‘Of course he did. What would you have him say?
Surely you wouldn’t grudge the poor old man
Some humble way to save his self-respect.
He added, if you really care to know,
He meant to dear the upper pasture, too.
That sounds like something you have heard before?
Warren, I wish you could have heard the way
He jumbled everything. I stopped to look
Two or three times — he made me feel so queer–
To see if he was talking in his sleep.
He ran on Harold Wilson — you remember –
The boy you had in haying four years since.
He’s finished school, and teaching in his college.
Silas declares you’ll have to get him back.
He says they two will make a team for work:
Between them they will lay this farm as smooth!
The way he mixed that in with other things.
He thinks young Wilson a likely lad, though daft
On education — you know how they fought

All through July under the blazing sun,
Silas up on the cart to build the load,
Harold along beside to pitch it on.’
‘Yes, I took care to keep well out of earshot.’
‘Well, those days trouble Silas like a dream.
You wouldn’t think they would. How some things linger!
Harold’s young college boy’s assurance piqued him.
After so many years he still keeps finding
Good arguments he sees he might have used.
I sympathize. I know just how it feels
To think of the right thing to say too late.
Harold’s associated in his mind with Latin.
He asked me what I thought of Harold’s saying
He studied Latin like the violin
Because he liked it — that an argument!
He said he couldn’t make the boy believe
He could find water with a hazel prong–
Which showed how much good school had ever done
him. He wanted to go over that. ‘But most of all
He thinks if he could have another chance
To teach him how to build a load of hay –‘
‘I know, that’s Silas’ one accomplishment.
He bundles every forkful in its place,
And tags and numbers it for future reference,
So he can find and easily dislodge it
In the unloading. Silas does that well.
He takes it out in bunches like big birds’ nests.
You never see him standing on the hay
He’s trying to lift, straining to lift himself.’
‘He thinks if he could teach him that, he’d be

Some good perhaps to someone in the world.
He hates to see a boy the fool of books.
Poor Silas, so concerned for other folk,
And nothing to look backward to with pride,
And nothing to look forward to with hope,
So now and never any different.’
Part of a moon was filling down the west,
Dragging the whole sky with it to the hills.
Its light poured softly in her lap. She saw
And spread her apron to it. She put out her hand
Among the harp-like morning-glory strings,
Taut with the dew from garden bed to eaves,
As if she played unheard the tenderness
That wrought on him beside her in the night.
‘Warren,’ she said, ‘he has come home to die:
You needn’t be afraid he’ll leave you this time.’
‘Home,’ he mocked gently.
‘Yes, what else but home?
It all depends on what you mean by home.
Of course he’s nothing to us, any more
then was the hound that came a stranger to us
Out of the woods, worn out upon the trail.’
‘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.’
Warren leaned out and took a step or two,
Picked up a little stick, and brought it back
And broke it in his hand and tossed it by.
‘Silas has better claim on’ us, you think,
Than on his brother? Thirteen little miles
As the road winds would bring him to his door.
Silas has walked that far no doubt to-day.
Why didn’t he go there? His brother’s rich,
A somebody- director in the bank.’
‘He never told us that.’
‘We know it though.’
‘I think his brother ought to help, of course.
I’ll see to that if there is need. He ought of right
To take him in, and might be willing to-
He may be better than appearances.
But have some pity on Silas. Do you think
If he’d had any pride in claiming kin
Or anything he looked for from his brother,
He’d keep so still about him all this time?’
‘I wonder what’s between them.’
‘I can tell you.
Silas is what he is — we wouldn’t mind him–
But just the kind that kinsfolk can’t abide.
He never did a thing so very bad.
He don’t know why he isn’t quite as good
As anyone. He won’t be made ashamed
To please his brother, worthless though he is.’
‘I can’t think Si ever hurt anyone.’
‘No, but he hurt my heart the way he lay
And rolled his old head on that sharp-edged chair-back.
He wouldn’t let me put him on the lounge.
You must go in and see what you can do.
I made the bed up for him there to-night.
You’ll be surprised at him — how much he’s broken.
His working days are done; I’m sure of it.’
‘I’d not be in a hurry to say that.’
‘I haven’t been. Go, look, see for yourself.
But, Warren, please remember how it is:
He’ come to help you ditch the meadow.
He has a plan, You mustn’t laugh at him.
He may not speak of it, and then he may.
I’ll sit and see if that small sailing cloud
Will hit or miss the moon.’
It hit the moon.Then there were three there, making a dim row,
The moon, the little silver cloud, and she.
Warren returned– too soon, it seemed to her,
Slipped to her side, caught up her hand and waited.
‘Warren?’ she questioned.
‘Dead,’ was all he answered.

Analysis, meaning and summary of the poem by

22 Comments

  1. Md. Zakir Hossain BadalZakir Hossain Badal says:

    Mary represents mercy in human being. As once silas worked for them, she still is merciful to him although now he is useless.Mary gives us a lesson to be kind towards all, no matter, if any benefits reach to us.

  2. geeta sapkota says:

    The hired man returned home to die but he died in isolation.So this poem deals about isolation of the indivduals.

  3. Somanshu Singla says:

    The poem is good . It tells us that we should not disappoint anyone for everytime because of the mistake done by him in past . That mistake might be done mistakely and man changes with changing time . We should respect everyone and it does not matter that which type of person he is.

  4. Hady Gunawan says:

    This poem is good. It teaches us that we should not judge someone solely by what he did in the past. We must respect him although he has done a mistake because he might have done that mistake accidentally or perhaps he had a strong reason that forced him to do that mistake. Overall, I do appreciate this poem because of the life values that it contains.

  5. SOUREN CHAKMA says:

    This poem is very much wonderful.It has been thought, diction & human morality.

  6. Luke says:

    What do you care what Robert Frost thinks anyway, TJ? Isn’t he “trying to poison our minds”?
    Please, don’t answer that question. In fact, it would be better for everyone if you just stayed away from this site altogether.

  7. Luke says:

    I really enjoyed the poem, but TJ Cusack, you really need to tale a chill pill. I agree with RC on this. Those comments were really inapropriate.

  8. Candacy says:

    this poem is wonderful. it shows that death is part of life and could happen at any time. warren must have felt a little hurt after finding silas dead, knowing that he was about to deny him the basic things og life… mary showin the general; emotions of a women acts as though silas is her lost son that came back home. the poem could be secrectively showing the need for forgiveness because life is full of surprizes. it is indeed 1 of frost best work…..

  9. meg says:

    well this poem is interesting but FRESHMEN IN HIGH SCHOOL cannot be expected to understand the full meaning of it can they? we are expected to get a full college analysis on this… it sucks

  10. Ali Thomas says:

    I am a senior in a well to-do high school in Iowa. I am actually taking a college english class where we are on a unit of poetry. Now I have read many Robert Frost poems but this seems to be the first ive read where it doesnt really have a underlying meaning. It’s pretty straight forward almost novel written. And I believe Silas came back, because im sure he felt guilty for taking advantage of Mary and Warren and thier kindess. And that he called their little farm home for the kindness they showed to him.

  11. Bion Blunt says:

    I have always loved this poem. Having been born, in 1931, on a farm in New England,son of a simple man, who despite having left school after completing sixth grade, had a great love for poetry and who used to entertain my brother and me by reciting poetry. He had committed to memory literally scores of poems, and could recite them without flaw and with great passion.By the time I was 8 I had learned Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha and Evangeline in their entirety, as well as Charge of the Light Brigade, Laska, The Raven, Annabell Lee and Bingen on the Rhine.
    He loved Kipling, Sir Walter Scott, and most of all Robert Burns.
    Reading Death of the Hired Man takes me back to those magical evenings when Dad would recite poetry. This was my TV.
    Truly a trip to the past. Thank you dad!

  12. RC says:

    This work, by one of the finest, most sensitive poets ever to be published in America, shows such a depth of understanding and compassion for human experience, that an intelligent reader should invariably feel an undeniable sense of growth after having studied it. The subtleness of the meter and form gives the feeling of prose, yet at closer examination, it is clearly a work of iambic pentameter throughout. The several characters in this brilliant piece are fully developed, and one can feel that they know all the individuals well; not only Mary and Warren, ut of course Silas, Harold Wilson and Silas’ brother. I was literally moved to tears when I first read it, and it remains one of the most poignant and inspirationa works I have ever read. I hope the literary public is populated by readers and writers who can gain from such brilliance as that of Robert Frost, and that the trogloditic opinions expressed by TJ Cusack in his comments reflect a very negligible minority. I also would like to say that it is unfortunate that this website allows obscene language such as that used by TJ Cusack. Such comments should be removed.

  13. TJ Cusack says:

    This poem represents a theme that we have lived in our own experience our whole lives. The fact of this reality is bull shit, and Robert Frost is trying to corrupt the mind of the reader and make the reader feel guilty in his past experience. I say screw your own history and move forward with a high fucking head!

  14. BRINKLES says:

    I see some of the themes such as coming home, and reminising about the past but are there any more hidden themes than that???
    BRINKLES

  15. BRINKLES says:

    I see now,he came back because this was the closest thing he had to a home.
    Thanks,bye bye.

  16. Mike Kalajian says:

    Earl Newman from United States said “Mary define home as, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Here we see the essential definition of the concept of home. Warren follows this by stating, “I should have called it something you somehow haven’t to deserve.””

    however, he is incorrect. Mary is the one who says the latter, and Warren the former…

  17. BRINKLES says:

    After all he has been through I don’t see why Silas would come back. I do understand his past history here but why come back???

  18. steve says:

    this poem is very intense and the lines of Mary pulls u into the story. Frost speaks of how some people could be attached to us eventhough we think otherwise. the lines
    “‘he has come home to die:
    You needn’t be afraid he’ll leave you this time.’
    ‘Home,’ he mocked gently.
    ‘Yes, what else but home?
    It all depends on what you mean by home.
    Of course he’s nothing to us, any more
    then was the hound that came a stranger to us
    Out of the woods, worn out upon the trail.’
    ‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
    They have to take you in.'”
    is very poignant and well threaded in the poem.
    love it so much.
    steve.

  19. Nikki says:

    I really like this poem – that it is a whole story contained in one poem is really intriguing. I also agree with the comments written below – except for the statement that this is a ‘short’ poem!

  20. kwin says:

    NiCe PoEm!! HuHh ok…. bye

  21. Michelle Bevington says:

    Why did Silas return to the farm with Mary and Warren ?Did he have an option ?

  22. Earl Newman says:

    Analysis of The Death of the Hired Man

    A first impression that the reader gets from this poem is its intensity. Mary and Warren are introduced as characters in the first two lines. In the fifth line Mary tells Warren “Silas is back.” Frost says that she tells him this to “put him on guard.” So in the first five lines of this poem we learn the names of the main characters and we are alerted to the existence of underlying tension. One might say that intensity in this opening scene is a function of economy. With few words Frost is able to give us a picture of the cast of characters and a hint of the existence of conflict.

    This much is a comment on the artistic skill that Frost displays in drawing us into the experience of the characters. Intensity and economy are combined again in the second stanza. Here we are given a soliloquy by Warren in which he spills out his unordered reflections on his past experience with Silas. We sense frustration and disappointment. His thoughts are unordered but intense.

    Mary’s role is to speak up for Silas, who is not present in the conversation. Her contribution is to help with the narrative and to balance Warren’s critical remarks. We do feel intensely both Warren’s disdain for Silas and Mary’s efforts to assuage his sharpest criticisms. The reader must be impressed with Frost’s skill in carrying the narrative through conversation. This is a short poem, but intense. We can feel Warren’s exasperation as well as Mary’s attempt to create sympathy for Silas. The exchanges between Warren and Mary carry the baggage of a long history. The history of their experience with Silas is balanced in this one moment, as we might imagine a pyramid balanced on its point. Frost is reminiscent of Hemingway in his ability to express complex ideas with spare language.

    Frost’s skillful use of language carries us into the scene. This is a matter of style. Substantively, the poem appeals because of several themes that resonate with our common experience. We all have known disappointment with the work of others. We all have been in relationships in which our disappointment with the other is balanced by awareness of our own shortcomings. This feeling is replicated in Warren’s reminiscences about his experience with Silas. He admits that his ability to pay had fallen short of his own preference. Another theme is the story of Silas’ relationship with Harold. Silas and Harold were a team in the haying operation. In this story we see the ages-old theme of the tension between age and youth. We also are shown the conflict between practical world knowledge and book learning. These are familiar themes in literature. We find them here to be not redundant but like old friends that we have met before.

    We gain the greatest insight into Silas’ character by examining his attitude toward work. Warren found fault with aspects of Silas’ work ethic. He admits, however, that Silas was an artist as a hay bundler. How like so many of us Silas appears to be. He found a source of self-satisfaction in some aspects of his work, even as he disappointed by virtue of his inability or unwillingness to meet all his employer’s expectations. Silas did it his way. Silas’ work ethic may not have reached the level that Warren wanted, but it kept him from seeking his brother’s charity. We are told that his brother was a prosperous bank director. Silas chose employment rather than dependence. There is nobility in his action, grudgingly admitted by Warren, who says of Silas, “Worthless though he is, he won’t be made ashamed to please his brother.”

    Indeed, the concept of work is central to this poem. The tension between Warren and Silas is based on differences in their respective ideas about the quantity and quality of Silas’ work. Silas’ persona is grounded in his status as a worker. In this regard Silas is a metaphor for the rest of us. We are what we do. Others know us by the nature and the quantity of our work. The relationship between worker and employer is reciprocal. We also see in this poem, however, the relationship between Silas and Harold Wilson. Silas and Harold are co-workers in one sense but they are more than that, as their differences in age and experience foist different roles upon them.

    This poem describes a kind of employer-employee relationship that is not as common as it once was. They worked together in close personal proximity. Warren knew more about Silas than most contemporary supervisors know about their employees. They had a personal relationship that went beyond their respective job descriptions. There surely still are such relationships in business, but by far the greater proportion of contemporary workers are in more formal, secondary relationships with their supervisors.

    Mary expresses the special nature of this connection between Warren and Silas when she says of Silas, “he has come home to die.” Following this Frost creates one of the more cogent lines in literature when he has Mary define home as, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Here we see the essential definition of the concept of home. Warren follows this by stating, “I should have called it something you somehow haven’t to deserve.” This brief exchange draws a line between what we purchase by our work and what we purchase by ourselves. Work earns us what we deserve; home is what we have by virtue of being who we are.

    In summary, we would say that his poem impresses by its intensity—its ability to bring us into intimate awareness of the relationships between these people, and in just a few lines. We experience it like a meteor. It flashes into view and is extinguished. For a moment the history of the relationships between these principals is illuminated, and then it ends. Substantively it illustrates the importance of work as a defining characteristic of the human condition. This poem grabs and holds our attention because it illustrates familiar truths that are found in our own experience. It re-connects us to themes that we have lived and have found in other literature

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