A Drumlin Woodchuck
Updated: Aug 20, 2020
By Robert Frost One thing has a shelving bank, Another a rotting plank, To give it cozier skies And make up for its lack of size. My own strategic retreat Is where two rocks almost meet, And still more secure and snug, A two-door burrow I dug. With those in mind at my back I can sit forth exposed to attack As one who shrewdly pretends That he and the world are friends. All we who prefer to live Have a little whistle we give, And flash, at the least alarm We dive down under the farm. We allow some time for guile And don’t come out for a while Either to eat or drink. We take occasion to think. And if after the hunt goes past And the double-barreled blast (Like war and pestilence And the loss of common sense), If I can with confidence say That still for another day, Or even another year, I will be there for you, my dear, It will be because, though small As measured against the All, I have been so instinctively thorough About my crevice and burrow.
I believe that this poem - "A Drumlin Woodchuck" was first published by Frost in 1936 in both the Atlantic Monthly and in his book "A Further Range." Frost (RIP 1874-1963) is one of the greatest American poets. I started reading Frost when I was about 20 years old and have read him since. Along with Longfellow, Jeffers, and a few others, he is one of the poets I have read almost all of his works over the years and return to again. This little poem about the Drumlin Woodchuck has always been a favorite of mine. It has a sense of humor and also a sense of great respect for such a common little animal. The metaphorical nature of the poem is powerful in its use of the woodchuck (also called a groundhog) as a model for common sense self defense. I have shared this poem in many psychology classes when I talked about defense mechanisms and how people cope with stress and danger. Though American culture is heavily laden with the idea of doing direct battle and overtaking enemies or solving and eliminating problems, the woodchuck teaches us that sometimes a simple retreat and patience while danger passes is the wisest and smartest of actions. Thus instead of trying to make things right that are broken, sometimes the best we can do is escape, remove ourselves and allow time to pass and circumstances to change while we wait safely in our burrows (homes or other safe, secure places or with supportive people). The lowly woodchuck is not to be dismissed and we all could be better off if we would honestly admit to our sense of danger or distress and allow ourselves time to retreat and think while we wait. Patience, solitude and realistic common sense are great virtues, not weaknesses. Of course our bodies are naturally prepared to do this via the powerful autonomic nervous system that prepares us for fight or flight when faced with stress. The flight or retreat part of this equation is just as important and necessary as the fight part. And now, as I write this we face the COVID - 19 crisis and are all needing to retreat and hunker down, stay away from the virus as much as possible and give it time to pass. This is the bravest and smartest thing we all can do. Frost's Drumlin Woodchuck is a great example for us all (Drumlin just means small hill, like woodchucks or groundhogs build around their burrows). When I was a full time university faculty member, I learned that often the best way for me to cope with the many stresses, conflicts and demands of university life, that fosters low moral and consume time needed for higher priorities, was to simply stay low to the ground, stay quiet, mind my own business, and move along to my safe places as soon as possible. Thank you Mr. Woodchuck and Mr. Frost!