FENCES, A MENDING WALL, AND OTHER BARRIERS

I hate to sound didactic, but I’m going to anyway. Robert Frost did not believe that “good fences make good neighbors.” That isn’t what the poem is about. His neighbor kept saying it, while Frost tried to tell him it isn’t true. His neighbor, however, had heard it from his father and would not listen.

Everyone quotes this poem. I often wonder how many people have actually read it all the way through.

Robert Frost says, in the first verse, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” among which Robert Frost could be counted. He agrees that sometimes, you need a wall to keep out wild creatures … or hunters … but finally, he gets to the end and points out ”

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.”

His neighbor ignores him and Frost ends the poem by saying:

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.”

Robert Frost doesn’t think good fences make good neighbors. He thinks good neighbors make good neighbors.


MENDING WALL

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 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 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 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 neighbors.”


FENCE | THE DAILY POST

24 thoughts on “FENCES, A MENDING WALL, AND OTHER BARRIERS

  1. We have “gentle” fences where I live. Just a hedge in between and otherwise open. The hedge is according to how high you want it. Ours it quite high, but the neighbours are ok with that, we both find a small amount of privacy is necessary and a hedge is just green leave. Our neighbour cut his side yesterday and told us before he did it. That is fine with us. We will also be having our side cut soon, but the gardener. We are both no longer able to do such work, just a trim now and again. The worst hedges I think are the ones that some people tend to build around themselves, but that is their problem.

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    • I have been trying to find someone to do some work on the grounds around here. It’s too much for us and my son really doesn’t have enough time … but it’s really hard to find people to do small jobs. You used to be able to hire high school kids, but they are all too buy doing whatever they do to earn a few dollars here and there.

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  2. I think many of us only remember bits of favorite poems for various reasons including age. We then tend to use them out of context. Maybe it’s like old songs where we only recall a few lyrics and make up the rest.
    I was thinking about that last night while we watched “Bells Are Ringing” and “The Party’s Over” sung by Judy Holliday. I adore the song but cannot remember all the lyrics. Once upon a time, I did.

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  3. I only read this poem once a million years ago, and all I remembered about it was two neighbors repairing the fence after winter… Because that’s what you’re supposed to do, mend the fences, even if someone else (the hunters, weather, animals, &c…) tore them down. That’s why good fences make good neighbors. That’s what I always got out of it anyway. I can see your point now that I’ve read it again.

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  4. Once more I disagree with Frost (happens often). Fences are something to lean on for a long chat with the person next door. Fences keep your dog in your yard so it doesn’t go digging or pooping in someone else’s garden. If the neighbors aren’t nice, a fence is a visible and physical boundary. Fences confer privacy when needed (or wanted). But Robert Frost and I would probably not be friends and the fence would serve us well. He just seems to think that he is so SPECIAL, taking the road not taken (which wasn’t all that different, after all), being proud of standing in a snowstorm while his neighbor was comfy in his house, wondering why the people along the shore look at the ocean but don’t go out far or in deep and, anyway, the “land may vary more” — if he were a good neighbor, he’d have no opinion about his neighbor’s fence. He’d go tend his garden 😉

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    • I don’t disagree. I just think that it’s not fair to quote out of context, even if you are quoting a dead poet.

      We are entirely fenced. Keeps the dogs contained and the other creatures out. And defines our spaces.

      I like Robert Frost. He is very New England. He was a modest, kindly guy who lived pretty much alone in a little house in New Hampshire. Garry interviewed him a couple of times when Garry was young and Frost America’s poet emeritus. He didn’t make a fuss about his work. Other people did that for him. He must have struck a few chords because he may well be the most quoted of modern American poets. Pithy.

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      • Definitely. I was amused in China when I learned how the Russian Communist critics analyzed Frost, ‘”Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is a poem that shows how the bourgeois revolution did not help the poor peasants. The rich man is safe and warm in his big house while the poor peasant is in the cold, still working late at night.’ Without question, Frost is America’s best loved poet. I like “Neither Out Far nor In Deep” best of his poems (that I know). I don’t know many poets his equal in nailing down a scene in a way that people cannot forget it and in such a way that his vision will always be there when someone has read a poem — like that “Road Not Taken.” Once you read the poem, that’s inescapable. He was definitely a master.

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      • Definitely. I was amused in China when I learned how the Russian Communist critics analyzed Frost, ‘”Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is a poem that shows how the bourgeois revolution did not help the poor peasants. The rich man is safe and warm in his big house while the poor peasant is in the cold, still working late at night.’ Without question, Frost is America’s best loved poet.

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          • Oh those commies had interesting interpretations for most of American literature. I ended up having to put my own book together of obscure stories and poems because everything had already been “done” — Rip van Winkle illustrates how the bourgeois revolution did nothing to help poor peasants like Rip. “The Road Not Taken” illustrates the peasants’ struggles against their landlords and how the peasants suffered in their struggle for liberation. It was rough going for me until I figured out that plagiarism is also considered noble in Confucian culture because how would a simple student begin to know what eminent scholars knew? It was pretty interesting to read five or six identical essays and not understand what was going on.

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                • This stuff is interesting. Culture is interesting. Religion is interesting. Actually, I find a lot of stuff interesting which means I’m never bored. Being retired is GREAT. I can indulge being wildly eclectic, go to bed whenever it suits me. And you’re going to LOVE having a doggy door. It’s a life changer.

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                    • The dogs will change with their own door. Having access to the outside gives them “attitude.” And also, they come in and go out 1000 times a day. Sometimes, mine like to sit inside with his or her head sticking out. It lets all the bugs in, but they love being in the nice, cool, air conditioned house while keeping eyes on the yard. You never know, a foreign dog might show up and need to be barked at.

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  5. You sent us on a quest to find our books by Robert Frost. We have two, one very old and one very new. We found the new one but are still searching for the old one.
    Leslie

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