Tear Down the Walls

Mending Wall

By Robert Frost (1874 – 1963)

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.’

I first encountered this beautiful poem in 1995 as a bright-eyed seventh grader in Miss Tracy’s English class. Line by line, we analyzed the poem, and what initially looked like a jumbled mess of nonsensical words began to take shape. Looking at this dispute between the two neighbors, we began to debate which side Frost was on. This is, of course, the central ambiguity in the poem. The speaker is determined to remove the wall, certain that it is unnecessary. But the poem ends with the neighbor’s cool declaration that ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

I am of the opinion that good fences do not make good neighbors. I saw this just last summer during my visit to Israel-Palestine; I saw it in a visit to the US-Mexico border back in 2012. Today, I see it in my country. No matter what result we receive in a few hours, half of the US population is going to be sorely disappointed. Half of the population will feel that the United States of America is doomed. They will not be right, of course. Our young country has lived through many worse experiences than this election, and for the time being, we are still here.

Like the speaker in Frost’s poem, I can imagine a world where we let walls fall down. The Berlin Wall did not last forever; neither will the walls of today. But the first walls we need to tear down are not made of concrete or steal. They are made of something most of us would not deem bad at all: values, beliefs, convictions. What are we to do when our own most cherished beliefs form a wall so high we cannot see above it? What happens when our own values – valid as they may be – become a Tower of Babel that blocks out the sun? What happens when suddenly, everyone seems to be speaking a different language? Do we cluster together with the people whose voices sound like our own? Or do we venture out, perhaps frightened, not knowing where to start or what to say, and try to learn the language of the other?

I honestly am not sure who will win the 2016 Presidential Election. In some ways, at this time and place, it feels like we all are losing. But this is something we can change. Tomorrow we must get up, as on any other day. We must go to work. We must get our children ready for school. We must engage with family, friends, coworkers and strangers. In everything we do…Let’s work to bring these walls down.

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  • Mark VA

    The world where “we let walls fall down” need not be just imagined – it is already here, in parts, and we can experience its connectedness. Here is a small sample, ranging from folk culture, to agriculture, to industry:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_SfwfgSzEw
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4QdQ0nZ-2Y
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQv7tM9nvP0

    So why do we seem to be sitting on the sidelines, when there is so much constructive, productive, and joyous connectedness all around us?

  • http://anotherliberalcatholic.wordpress.com jeanninemariedymphna

    Maybe because there is also a lot of disconnectedness. Countries are tightening their borders, and we are about to follow suit.