The Telephone

Robert Frost, ‘The Telephone’
in Mountain Interval
(New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1916)

‘When I was just as far as I could walk
From here to-day,
There was an hour
All still
When leaning with my head against a flower
I heard you talk.
Don’t say I didn’t, for I heard you say—
You spoke from that flower on the window sill—
Do you remember what it was you said?’

‘First tell me what it was you thought you heard.’

‘Having found the flower and driven a bee away,
I leaned my head,
And holding by the stalk,
I listened and I thought I caught the word—
What was it? Did you call me by my name?
Or did you say—
Someone said “Come”—I heard it as I bowed.’

‘I may have thought as much, but not aloud.’

‘Well, so I came.’

Frost’s poem combines the surprising and evocative image of the telephone as a flower with the familiar theme of longed-for yet somewhat sticky communication between intimates. The interlocutor is clearly on the reticent side and yet there is desire, of some kind, here. Whilst it is perhaps to be expected that Frost would deploy a natural metaphor for the telephone, bearing in mind his pastoral proclivities, the poem also registers the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth sense of the telephone as a medium for telepathy.

by Ruth Charnock