The Power Line-Gang
I don’t hail from Robert Frost‘s neck of the woods. But here in my North Central Florida woods after Hurricane Irma, I’m thinking about Frost’s poem “The Line-Gang” from his 1916 book Mountain Interval. It’s one of many poems the former U.S. Poet Laureate wrote about labor. In my neck of the woods, this week’s most exuberant social media posts hail the line workers who are restoring electrical power to our homes. They use words like heroic, diligent, efficient, strong. They acknowledge the workers’ danger and sacrifice.They give cheers and thanks, offering libations. Grateful citizens post pictures of the crews that restored their power, putting them back on the grid. The Power Line-Gang repairs, returns, reinstates our manner of living.
Here in my university city, crews from our local utility (GRU, Gainesville Regional Utilities) have been out day and night clearing trees, ascending utility poles, repairing and replacing power lines since Irma passed over us. Line workers from other parts of the country have joined them. Frost’s words about workers who strung telephone lines also work for the Power Line-Gangs. For they, too, perform a paradoxical labor:
They plant dead trees for living, and the dead
They string together with a living thread.
They string an instrument against the sky…
The power running smoothly through the lines belies the workers’ labor in stringing and re-stringing them: to pull the cable taut, / To hold it hard until they make it fast. (You can read Frost’s entire poem here.)
Hurricane outages restore Frost’s sense of wonderment at technology. He wrote “The Line-Gang” to celebrate the workers who connected citizens through his era’s modern technologies: the telephone and telegraph. Our power line crews connect us to television and the internet as well as to electricity. Yet these workers also connect us to the past. We still hail them when they arrive: Here come the line-gang pioneering by. We are restored. –MB