Thursday, June 21, 2007

Mending Wall

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise. -- Gal. 3:27-29

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 pine, 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 him,
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 it again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

--Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn't love a wall. "Good fences make good neighbors."
When have you not loved a wall?
When has a fence made a good neighbor?


Jan said...

Always having one or two dogs, fences make my neighbors happy--so a good fence is a good neighbor! It's funny that our dogs have a path trodden in the grass around the perimeter of the fence.

mompriest said...

Yes. How interesting and symbiotic. I just read this poem a few days ago...and, well, tomorrow or Mon. I look forward to "discussing it". But then, since I finally have John Ciardi's book, "How Does A Poem Mean," and he says, on like the second page, That poetry should just be entered into and experienced, but we Americans need to learn what that means, unlike others who just enhale poetry as an essential part of the world they move in...

I will aim to "experience" this poem, enhale it, if you will. And then reflect upon it. Sunday is a very busy day, but maybe Sunday night. If not, Mon. for sure. Oh Fun. I'm glad you choose this one!!

Serena said...

Fences to keep dogs safe are probably good ... especially if they are able to see out and visit with passers by. In nearby small town even cats have to be on leash or keep indoors ... no roaming the "hood" and visiting neighbors' flower gardens. And, even tho' my cats are now indoor cats ... I miss visiting with outdoor cats when I go for my walks.

mompriest said...

Have read a bit of Ciardi. I like the way he approaches poetry, feels very organic.

Now. An initial reflection on this poem. Reading it (or rather, "experiencing the performance" of this poem) makes me think of the difference between "tolerance" and "hospitality".

We speak a lot about tolerating others, as if it's a good thing. But I've come to think tolerance as those occasions when we "live" next to someone but are not really in relationship with them. As a result, we may tolerate them, but we (and the other) are unchanged. Tolerating others is not relational. But hospitality is. Hospitality means we live in relationship and as a result both are changed. This "mending wall" is about tolerance, the wall keeps an appropriate boundary between them that allows them to live side by side. But, perhaps one (the neighbor) prefers the tolerance more than the narrator, who may desire hospitality...hum. I'll ponder that...

Diane said...

that's a good beginning. I've always, for myself, been intrigued by the beginning, "something there is that doesn't love a wall." (instead of just saying...there is something...) I love the lilt of it, and wonder what the effect is. The second time it comes up, though, "something there is that doesn't love a wall, that wants it down." the second half sounds more insistent.

Diane said...

also, what do you make of his references to "magic"? i.e. "we almost have to use a spell" and "I could say, "elves", but it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather he say it for himself.

mompriest said...

haven't gone far enough to ponder the spells and elves...yet. But yes, the beginning is lyrical and draws me in immediately.

I'll reflect more in the morning. Want to come back and read your sermon too.

Diane said...

Robert Frost "worked" this poem so that it could begin and end with these opposite statements ... so they are probably both important in the movement of the poem.

Also... the forces behind each ... the walls coming down, and the fences up, seem both to be so old...the man is like an "old stone savage"... his instinct to build a wall comes from long ago, before even his father's saying... but the force that brings the wall down is the force of the movement of the earth itself, right? He talks about it as if it were magic, but we know that it's the shifting of the seasons that makes the wall come down (just like every summer in MN we have to repair the roads).

In my edition of "How does a poem mean", i especially liked the story he tells about Robert Frost and his technical tricks: also comparing the craft of music and of poetry.

mompriest said...

I've left a post on my blog with a summary of the first few chapters from John Ciardi's "How Does a Poem Mean?" and a link over here. It's been a far busy day than I anticipated. I hope to rejoin the conversation later tonight or tomorrow. In the meantime, a bit more reading of Ciardi.

Gannet Girl said...

I think the elves are his humorous explanation for the movement of the earth that creates the gaps in the fence -- sort of like we say the gremlins moved our glasses or keys or whatever else seems to have magically disappeared.

I like the way this poem is practically a dialogue, between the narrator who questions that presence of the fence and the neighbor so insistent on its value in maintaining good will.

Diane said...

I'm re-reading Ciardi...I'll go to your place for a refresher.

Diane said...

oh, and gannet girl, yes, I think you're right. I think he has a twinkle in his eye...but there's kind of a magical sense to it, kind of like "deeper magic from before the dawn of time."

Barbara B. said...

I like the irony... the wall which separates actually brings the neighbors together (by spending time repairing it, talking about it, etc.)

mompriest said...

Last night, as I was falling asleep I thought about "boundaries." Good and healthy boundaries we have in human relationships, boundaries that define our "norms" but which can be more fluid between human cultures and over time. Boundaries that can be too rigid, boundaries that can be too loose...fences, holes in fences, fences needed or not (my pine cones will not come over and eat your apples, or fences make good neighbors). The boundaries we set are often of human construct needed to maintain some order that feels "normal." Which, of course continues the sermon you preached on Sunday (good job) and mine, and ties in with the Galatians quote you begin with.

I'm off to take clothing to an agency for refugees. Back this afternoon where I hope to read more and ponder the poem some more. Especially the magical pieces, which are not connecting with me when I leave the poem...(Oh. and I guess I should begin to ponder the scripture for Sunday, comes around so fast!).

Gannet Girl said...

I was thinking about boundaries, too, and how carefully we need to lay them. In literal terms: where fences have nourished good relationships among neighbors by keeping dogs and children where they are supposed to be, and where they have damaged relationships, when arguments over property lines and surveyors have ensured. And how the same is true in a metaphorical sense: how we treasure those who respect our spaces and resent those who intrude.

Gannet Girl said...

And now I've made some use of this -- check my blog today!

mompriest said...

While doing some "research" for sermon on Sunday I came across this movie illustration from

From the 2000 movie "Chicken Run:" "It's not the fences around the farm that keep us here; it's the fences around your brains."

Diane said...

that's great! I'm so busy... I'll comment more tonight, but probably kind of late...

Diane said...

sorry it's been so long, I haven't had time...I've been thinking about the wall, and the words "loaves" and "balls"... and how the words themselves sound round... and I've been thinking about his wonderful line "Spring is the mischief in me, goes with the "elves" and the "magic"... to Frost, spring and magic are metaphors for that "something" that "doesn't love a wall."