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I'm reading "The pasture" poem by Robert Frost:

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I shan’t be gone long. – You come too.

I’m going out to fetch the little calf
That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I shan’t be gone long. – You come too. \

My question is about the second line of the first stanza. He says he will only stop... Is he talking about stopping cleaning the pasture to clean the water of the stream?

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  • It really means neither, since it is a metaphor for something.
    – James K
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 5:25

3 Answers 3

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He's saying that the only job he'll do is rake the leaves away...he's going to the pasture but he won't be gone long, he'll only stop there for as long as it takes to do that one job and then he'll be back. For example, I might say "I'm going to visit my sister but I won't stop long" or "I'll stop briefly at the supermarket on the way".

It's an expression that tends to be used colloquially (in British English as least, I don't know about other variants) but I probably wouldn't use it in formal writing these days.

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It means "I will only stop on my way to the pasture spring to rake the leaves away."

Just to be on the safe side, I had Google Translate translate it into Persian and it means exactly that.

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    I tend to disagree.I feel the surface meaning is more likely to be "I'll rake away the leaves that are clogging up the spring." I.e. "cleaning will be a quick job, because I won't be digging out the spring, just raking out the leaves"... But actually its a metaphor, the "farmer" is the poet himself, it's a poem about writing poetry.
    – James K
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 5:30
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    I agree with James - I understand it as "I'll only be out for as long as it takes me to rake the leaves out of the spring". Interestingly, dictionaries say that the use of stop to mean stay is a British usage, and Frost was American. Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 8:47
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I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):

The narrator in this stanza is telling us that they are going out (to clean the spring), and that they, while being on their way (to the spring), will not stop except at the moments they ("I'll" = "I will") rake the leaves along their route (and perhaps to watch the water clear: they "may").

They are not talking about stopping the cleaning of the pasture spring, but stopping while on their way there.

Compare this with, for example:

Little Red Riding Hood was going out to visit her grandmother;
she stopped only to admire some flowers along the path.

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