Sunday, January 13, 2019

Poetry Sunday: Mending Wall by Robert Frost

I've featured this poem here before but it has been almost five years. Time to bring it out again. It seems appropriate for this moment.

The story is this: Two neighbors - in New England, naturally - meet at a given time to repair the stone wall between their two properties. The wall may have been damaged by the freezing and thawing of the ground underneath it or the damage might have been done by thoughtless hunters, but now there are gaps that need to be mended. 

As the two talk, we see two philosophies about walls. One neighbor opines, "Good fences make good neighbours." But the other asks a very pertinent question: "Why do they make good neighbours?"

And he goes on:


   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, but there's no persuading his neighbor.  

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."

6 comments:

  1. It seems that last line gets quoted more than the first.

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    1. Some people know what they know and they don't care to examine why they know it or even whether it is true.

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  2. I think I've mentioned before that I am not that much of a poetry lover but one exception I make is for Robert Frost. So many messages in this poem, and so many lessons.

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    1. Well, Frost was pretty much in a class by himself. A lot of non-poetry lovers make an exception for him.

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  3. Good fences indeed make good neighbors. I wall in my property (and you out) so it marks the limit between yours and mine and there is no confusion for cows, intruders, or for any of the neighbors. Well stated either way, and quite relevant these days.

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    1. I guess the point is to make sure we know what it is we are fencing in or fencing out and why.

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