He is said to have been the last Red man
In Action. And the Miller is said to have laughed–
If you like to call such a sound a laugh.
But he gave no one else a laugher’s license.
For he turned suddenly grave as if to say,
‘Whose business,–if I take it on myself,
Whose business–but why talk round the barn?–
When it’s just that I hold with getting a thing done with.’
You can’t get back and see it as he saw it.
It’s too long a story to go into now.
You’d have to have been there and lived it.
They you wouldn’t have looked on it as just a matter
Of who began it between the two races.

Some guttural exclamation of surprise
The Red man gave in poking about the mill
Over the great big thumping shuffling millstone
Disgusted the Miller physically as coming
From one who had no right to be heard from.
‘Come, John,’ he said, ‘you want to see the wheel-pint?’

He took him down below a cramping rafter,
And showed him, through a manhole in the floor,
The water in desperate straits like frantic fish,
Salmon and sturgeon, lashing with their tails.
The he shut down the trap door with a ring in it
That jangled even above the general noise,
And came upstairs alone–and gave that laugh,
And said something to a man with a meal-sack
That the man with the meal-sack didn’t catch–then.
Oh, yes, he showed John the wheel-pit all right.

Analysis, meaning and summary of the poem by

6 Comments

  1. golaud says:

    LoA corrected the error in the 2nd edition. Whoever entered the poem here must have copied it from a 1st edition.

    I didn’t know about the Acton, Minnesota, connection. I just assumed it was one of the New England Actons, probably Massachusetts.

  2. ea says:

    well, if Frost did in fact write “Acton” and it is referring to the Dakota Wars of 1862 and the massacre of white settlers near Acton, Minnesota, that adds a new depth of comprehension.

  3. golaud says:

    “Acton,” not “Action,” in line 2. The name of the town is Acton. The “Action” misprint appears in the Library of America edition of Frost, from which this version appears to have been copied.

  4. Kurt W says:

    It makes sense to me, and it’s all too real and gruesome. You can call the miller genuine, that he earned all he has by the sweat of his brow and work of his own hands. PC mentality has gone much too far, but is the backlash wherein it is implicitly accepted as OK to be a racist any better for our society? Is the miller’s smugness and revulsion toward John justifiable? Does anything on the face of this earth justify the gruesome murder of a person simply because one feels that they are better than another and find that other disgusting? The way I read this, the miller murders John by pushing him down into the wheel pit, and feels not one crumb of remorse for the deed. I love Frost’s work, but sometimes I find the depths of darkness into which he delves disturbing, and this is one of his darkest.

  5. ea says:

    This is simply about an authentic life — the miller dislikes the Indian and his poses because the miller is the authentic one here. The one who has lived with the fish and made his living through the scruff of his hands and he’s contemptuous of the ones who constantly look back at something they imagine they know about the past or how they were wronged. The poem pre-dates the oppressive P.C. days of America and gets at a Yankee truth which despises the “Poor Me” mentality as much as the “I am somehow superior” one.

  6. Jessica Graham says:

    Truthfully, this poem didn’t make sense to me.

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