“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.”
– Robert Frost
Here in New England they are ubiquitous lines of stacked stone which wind along country roads and are sometimes found deep in the woods, often marking the boundaries of what used to be farms long since overgrown in birch, maple, and pine. Closer to civilization these walls may be well maintained, perfectly shaped stones interlocked to form an architectural masterpiece upon which one might set a level and have the bubble float squarely in the center.
Robert Frost, the 20th century poet who loved this place and knew the trails and woods of the New England landscape intimately, penned “Mending Wall” in 1914. Textured, multilayered, and as complex as a Vermont stone wall as it is with so much of Frost’s poetry, Mending Wall builds these iconic structures of granite and limestone into a metaphor for human relationship and boundaries – both personal and societal, and calls us to think closely about how we apply the wisdom of ages and adages passed down by way of our forebears.
“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.”
This poem, taught to me by my mother when I was a child of perhaps 11 or 12 growing up in a small New Hampshire town comes to mind in light of current events; the calls by one who would pretend to be our next President for a mighty wall between the United States and our next-door neighbor Mexico, and the somewhat more virtual one erected in the minds of Britons with their recent decision to separate themselves from the European Union.
“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 . . .”
It being one week before the Forth of July the sounds of fireworks in nearby back yards punctuate the evening calm. Our golden retriever Kalani, averse to things that go “bang” in the night is back in the house, sheltering in what she believes is the safety of the bathroom.
Such are the times we live in.
Striving to maintain our comfortable walls of familiar patterns, connections, and traditions in world ever more complex, ever more interconnected, ever more interdependent – we find ourselves seeking to rebuild the stones torn asunder by the frost heaves of human evolution – the disquieting fireworks in the dread of uncertainty, convinced that our safety lies in maintaining walls that clearly define the lines of distinction between me and thee, mine and yours, us and them.
Yet, something there is that doesn’t love a wall.
Perhaps, as Frost suggests it is wood-elves of our times, using trickery to divert our attention from their evil intent, devilishly tearing down the familiar boundaries so firmly etched into the landscape of our psyche, and yet such an anachronism in a world of gigabit fiber-optic connected social media and a global matrix of financial dependencies that the then 40 year-old Frost could have scarcely imagined.
No . . . Frost, transported to our times would find himself in a world totally foreign to him. He would be like his horse in “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”, strangely out of place, not understanding where he was, or why he was here.
And yet, he knew.
“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.”
Boundaries are necessary. Understanding the lines that define me from thee are essential to our humanity. Connections of family, community, and nation ground our understanding of who we are.
At the age of 89, Robert Frost passed into that great mystery that is death in 1963. He never saw the photograph of the planet Earth rising over the horizon of the moon, but he got it.
We are connected as inhabiters of a small blue island in an infinite cosmos, it is our ultimate connection, we forget this at our peril.
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”
We need to “get it”.