21 pages 42 minutes read

Robert Frost

Putting in the Seed

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1916

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Summary and Study Guide


“Putting in the Seed” is included in Mountain Interval, Robert Frost’s third book of poetry published in 1916. This collection also includes “The Road Not Taken” and “Birches,” and “Putting in the Seed” sometimes takes a backseat to these more famous Frost poems. Nonetheless, it is a rich work worthy of attention and inquiry.

At the outset of “Putting in the Seed,” the speaker is planting apple seeds. It appears that, moments earlier, his wife joined him and asked him to come inside for dinner. The poem is the speaker’s reply to this request and begins, “You come to fetch me from my work to-night / When supper's on the table” (Lines 1-2).

Although ostensibly addressed to his wife, the speaker spends two lines muttering to himself about the texture of the seeds he’s planting (Lines 5-6) and even more lines imagining how the fruits of his labor will sprout (Lines 10-14). Rather than focusing on the wife (whose request is the occasion for the poem), “Putting in the Seed” centers on planting and describes the speaker’s work in terms evocative of love and sex.

This amorous, erotic connection between man and nature is underscored by the poem’s form. “Putting in the Seed” is a sonnet—a form traditionally used for love poems. The twist is that the love being expressed is for the speaker’s work planting seeds, not his wife.

Poet Biography

Robert Frost is famous for being a New England poet, but he was born in San Francisco in 1874. His father died of tuberculosis when he was 11 years old; following this loss, Frost, his mother, and his sister moved to Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Frost married his Lawrence High School sweetheart, Elinor White; they were co-valedictorians. They did not, however, get married right after high school (as Frost had hoped), because White wanted to wait. After high school, Frost enrolled at Dartmouth, White at St. Lawrence University. During this period, Frost continued to court White with an ardor it appears she did not return. Frost wrote a poem titled “The Subverted Flower” about his frustrated efforts. Eventually, however, she relented: They were married in 1895.

Although Frost studied first at Dartmouth, then at Harvard, he never earned a college degree. Initially, he supported White by teaching and farming in Derry, New Hampshire, though it doesn’t appear he was very good at either. Meanwhile, his poetry career was stagnant. In 1912, Frost sold his farm and moved his family to London. While there, he published his first two books, A Boy’s Will (1913) and North of Boston (1914), with an English publisher. He returned to the United States in 1915 as a recognized and well-established poet.

Frost published Mountain Interval, which includes “Putting in the Seed,” in 1916, after his return to the states. His fourth book, New Hampshire (1923), won the Pulitzer Prize; Frost would go on to win the Pulitzer three more times (“Robert Frost.” Poets.org.)

In 1961, newly elected President John F. Kennedy invited Frost to read a poem at his inauguration. Frost accepted Kennedy’s invitation and was the first poet to read at a presidential inauguration in the United States, beginning a tradition that outlived him. Frost wrote a poem for the occasion titled “Dedication,” but when he got to the podium the glare from the sun was so bright, he couldn’t read it. He instead recited from memory an earlier poem, “The Gift Outright.”

Frost died in Boston in 1963. He was buried in Bennington, Vermont next to

White (who had passed away in 1938). On their shared gravestone under White’s name, Frost inscribed the final line from his sonnet “The Master Speed”: “Together wing to wing and oar to oar.” Under his own name, he had inscribed: “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”

Poem Text

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.

Frost, Robert. “Putting in the Seed.” 1916. Poets.org.


At the beginning of “Putting in the Seed,” the speaker is outside planting apple seeds, and his partner comes to tell him it’s time to go inside for dinner. This partner (likely the speaker’s wife) is addressed in the poem using the second-person pronoun “you”: “You come to fetch me from my work to-night” (Line 1). Despite dinner being ready, the speaker is reluctant to leave:

[…] we’ll see
If I can leave off burying the white
Soft petals fallen from the apple tree. (Lines 2-4)

The implication is that the speaker might not be able to stop planting.

Next, the speaker describes the apple seeds as soft but not barren (Line 5) and says he is planting them with beans and peas (Line 6).

The speaker isn’t sure he can follow his wife inside for supper before she also becomes enthralled with planting. The speaker writes that he is a “[s]lave” (Line 9) to his passion for planting and writes that his wife may become the same if she does not soon go inside (Lines 7-8).

The speaker compares his fiery passion for planting and waiting for sprouts to love: “How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed / On through the watching for that early birth” (Lines 10-11).

In the final three lines of the poem, the speaker describes the young plant he expects to see pushing up through the dirt: “The sturdy seedling with arched body comes / Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs” (Lines 13-14). The seeds the speaker has planted haven’t actually sprouted (it’s much too soon for that), but the speaker is imagining what the fruits of his labor will be.