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 neighbor 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 outdoor 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 neighbors.’ Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder If I could put a notion in his head: ‘Why do they make good neighbors? 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 offense. 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 neighbors.’
As usually happens when I read a challenge topic, my mind goes to a song or poem that resonates on the topic, and Robert Frost is often the poet whose words come to mind. That may be because Frost used the New England countryside for many of his metaphors, and I see that landscape every day. But I think it’s more because he distills the complex world around us into simple truths we all understand.
I expect I won’t be the only person to select Mending Wall for inclusion in my post responding to Ailsa’s weekly Travel Challenge today, but here’s how close to home Frost’s illustration is for me… this long-neglected, typical New England stone wall is in the woods behind my home. I have photos of Great Wall of China and other walls from my travels, but somehow, on this icy gray day, this one seems to fit best.
Why is it that we tend to build walls around ourselves? I suppose some of it is to keep from wandering too far afield, but I really suspect that we are mostly trying to keep others out – to protect our privacy, our thoughts, our feelings. I’m not sure how well any of us is able to do that while maintaining relationships – or even how much we should. Still, we have an innate understanding that boundaries are very important.
The area where my house stands was once farmland, and the farmers used the readily available stones, left by ancient glaciers, to divide their land. I’m sure those folks, a hundred or so years ago, felt good fences make good neighbors. The farms are long abandoned, and an opportunistic new forest now occupies the land, completely mindless of their efforts. Because life marches on. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.
Standing in the woods, looking left toward the house, and right deeper into the woods.
This post is in response to a weekly travel theme challenge by Ailsa of WheresMyBackpack, on the subject of Walls. To see other bloggers’ responses and get more info on her challenge, click here.