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Robert Frost's "Putting in the Seed"

Updated on October 8, 2017
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Robert Frost


Introduction and Text of Poem, "Putting in the Seed"

The speaker in Robert Frost's English (Shakespearean) sonnet, "Putting in the Seed," dramatizes his deep love for the simple act of planting seeds in the earth's rich soil and watching them grow to a plant. Frost likely thought of his poem as one of his "tricky" poems.

But how does this one trick readers? Interestingly, most of Frost's deceptively simple poems might be considered "tricky." They all require much more thought than a cursory reading to understand and appreciate their complexity and nuance.

Robert Frost's "Putting in the Seed" is an Elizabethan sonnet. It consists of three quatrains and a couplet. The rime scheme, however, departs somewhat from the Elizabethan. Instead of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, Frost's rime scheme is ABAB ABAB CDCD EE.

(Please note: The incorrect spelling, "rhyme," was erroneously introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson. For my explanation for using only the correct form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Putting in the Seed

You come to fetch me from my work to-night
When supper’s on the table, and we’ll see
If I can leave off burying the white
Soft petals fallen from the apple tree.
(Soft petals, yes, but not so barren quite,
Mingled with these, smooth bean and wrinkled pea;)
And go along with you ere you lose sight
Of what you came for and become like me,
Slave to a springtime passion for the earth.
How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed
On through the watching for that early birth
When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed,

The sturdy seedling with arched body comes
Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs.

Reading of "Putting in the Seed"

First Quatrain: "You come to fetch me from my work to-night"

In the first quatrain, the speaker/farmer addresses his wife. He tells her to come and get him after supper is ready. But he adds the somewhat capricious thought that maybe he'll be prepared to stop work and maybe he won't. He will be "burying the white / Soft petals fallen from the apple tree" to fertilize the soil into which he will plant seeds.

Second Quatrain: "(Soft petals, yes, but not so barren quite"

The speaker's wife, it seems, questions him about burying "soft petals," and the speaker answers that sure, they have not quite decayed, but they will add enough nutrients to help invigorate the soil.

Then the speaker completes his thought that began in the first quatrain: after the wife comes for him, he'll see if he will stop his work to go back to the house with her, but in fact, he thinks she might forget that she came to get him for supper, when she sees the alluring act of farming. She might want to join him in preparation for planting.

Third Quatrain: "Slave to a springtime passion for the earth"

If she becomes like him, she will be a "Slave to springtime passion for the earth." He has this passion, and if she sees how wonderful attending to this work is, she will probably want to join him, because "Love burns through the Putting in the Seed."

And not only does planting foster such a passionate love, but also after planting, watching for the little sprouts to come bursting from the soil engenders in the earth-passionate slave a devotion that he expects to be contagious. He looks ahead to "When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed," but waits for the couplet to complete that thought.

Couplet: "The sturdy seedling with arched body comes"

As soon as weeds have started to take over the field/garden, the sprouts will be seen popping through the soil, and his little drama personifies the sprouts: "The sturdy seedling with arched body comes / Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs."

The farmer is fascinated by the bursting forth of little planted seedlings, and he thinks that if his wife comes to get him for supper, she will probably forget what she came for, as she watches the miracle of planting unfold.

Is This Poem about Sex?

Of course not! A few misguided, sex-obsessed readers of Robert Frost poems have been tricked by certain Frostian metaphors and become convinced that the poet was writing about copulation in some of his poems. His beautiful and spiritual "Birches" has suffered this degraded interpretation at the hands of certain readers and critics.

In this poem, "Putting in the Seed," the last five lines metaphorically dramatize the speaker's feelings about watching a plant grow from a seed—it is similar to watching the birth of a child, "Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs."

When a poet uses a metaphor to express a similarity between two disparate ideas, thoughts, events, or things, a gross misreading occurs when the reader assumes the point of the poem lies in the metaphor. A metaphor is a medium not a message.

This poem is about the speaker's love for planting natural seeds and watching the plants grow from them—not about copulation and watching the birth of a human child.

Robert Frost was somewhat of a curmudgeon, although a likable one, and no doubt he got a chuckle seeing readers impute to his lines their own depravity and ignorance.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes


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