Sunday, January 29, 2017

Poetry Sunday: Mending Wall

Walls are much in the news these days, which, of course, brought to mind one of my favorite Robert Frost poems.

Two neighbors meet in spring to repair the winter damage to the wall between their properties. Frost makes the argument to his neighbor that they really don't need a wall. After all, neither has any cows: 

     "...Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
     What I was walling in or walling out,
     And to whom I was like to give offence.
     Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
     That wants it down."

But his neighbor stubbornly clings to what he was once told by his father, with no better reason for wanting a wall:

     He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
     Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
     He will not go behind his father's saying,
     And he likes having thought of it so well
     He says again, " Good fences make good neighbours."

Let us not move in darkness but examine in the light of day why we think we need to build walls.


Mending Wall

by Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn't love a wall, 
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbours."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbours? Isn't it
where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down." I could say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, " Good fences make good neighbours."

10 comments:

  1. I had just visited Virginia this week and learned about fence-in and fence-out counties. Perhaps this man's father lived in a fence-out county? Seriously, Mending Wall is one of my favorite poems, and I don't have too many favorite poems.

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    1. It is a meaningful poem on many levels, a favorite of many, I think.

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  2. We analyzed this poem in a literature class back when I was in college. I've never forgotten it, or the message at least.

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  3. You always find the perfect poem!
    Slightly off topic, but tonight I watched Rachel Carson on PBS American Experience. I think you know how much I love both The Sea Around Us and Silent Spring. This show gave me insight into her life. I exclaimed, I chuckled and I cried. She was an amazing woman and I highly recommend the show to you, if you haven't already seen it, my fellow gardener and guardian of the environment.

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  4. Now I have checked your answer to my last comment, in which it sounds like you have seen the Rachel Carson show. Anyway, I was thinking about you the whole time I was watching it.

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    1. Yes, I did watch the Carson show. She has always been a hero of mine, as you might imagine, but this documentary gave so much insight into her life and the odds that she struggled against. She was a wonderful writer and an inspiration to us all to speak out and do whatever we can - however small it might be - to oppose evil.

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  5. I enjoy Robert Frost's poems. They can be read again and again, and find new depth of feeling each time.
    Have a wonderful day!

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    1. That's pretty much the way I feel about Frost. He never gets old or stale.

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