“Good fences make good neighbors.” I’ve heard that line quoted so often – usually with an undertone of moral rectitude – “I know what is best here, where the line should be drawn.”
But there’s an ironic twist to our affection for this handy adage: The line comes from Robert Frost’s 1914 poem, “Mending Wall.” The irony is that the poem argues for the opposite view ; fences do not make good neighbors – neither in our own back yards nor in the world .
The second half of the poem contains the heart of the matter:
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 offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down…
He [the wall-building neighbor] moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go beyond his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’
At times, like petulant children, we want to keep “it” all to ourselves – whatever that “it” might be, building walls around ourselves and our possessions.
We overlook what history shows us and Frost concludes: “There where it is we do not need the wall…”
The USSR‘s Berlin Wall, our country’s southern “border wall,” Israel‘s wall around the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have failed to achieve their stated purposes. Even the symbolic walls of apartheid and segregation did not stand forever.
Walls offend, separate, isolate, limit communication and understanding.
If we quote Frost’s “Mending Wall,” let’s stick with the first line of the poem:
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…
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And on a smaller scale, the Great Wall of Eastport. Yuck! Such fences to not make great neighbors. I’m enjoying your blog, Jan!
Jan. You write well. I look forward to your next . . .thanks for inviting me in.
Jan you are wise and well-read. Thanks for bringing these lessons from Frost and history back to our attention! Suzi
i love that poem, and even more, i love “two roads divergd in a yellow wood…”