today's poem


Robert Frost�(1874�1963).��North of Boston.��1915.

Mending Wall

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 build 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."


Excellent selection. Very relevant to the recent discussion of the gesture of withdrawal. Thoughtfully so.

Worth going beneath the surface of the simple "walls and tradition are bad" interpretation, as well.

Patrick Goold does so quite nicely, as do several authors at UIUC. (I particularly like Lawrence Raab's analysis on that page.)

One of my favorite poems. Grew up and summered in Ripton near the Frost cabin, heard him read this many times, sitting in small theater on a campus, in the mountains, as a little kid. Yes, it is about the importance of walls, a kind of an unwritten social contract, to rebuild them, either from his or her own side of the wall, each year. It is about boundaries, and property, the mine and thine of it all, and Frost was no communist, not even the Roosevelt kind. It is also I suppose a take on the colloquial phrase, "mending fences."

Reminds me of a business aphorism, "Never tear down a fence until you know why it was put there."

Good fences do indeed make good neighbors.

Lawrence Raab, actually, is an old family friend, and I am sure has walked the Frost property many, many times.

Thanks, Liz. You couldn't have found a better proof text for your position - good neighbors not higher ups and subordinates. Hats off to you!

Indeed, this is one of my favorite Frost poems, too, but what I like about it is its ambivalence.

It's not at all clear that Frost does love walls. I would suspect that a poet's goal is to tear down walls, to increase people's understanding of each other.

After all, the character in the poem who loves the phrase and is unwilling to look behind it is precisely the character who looked " like an old-stone savage armed," the poor simple-minded fellow who followed the past blindly.

While as a high school teacher I'm sure I would have been uncomfortable with having students see my blog, I'm not sure that I wouldn't have been a better teacher if students could have seen me "warts and all," as I appear in my blog.

I agree, Loren. The ambivalence is absolutely there. That's a big part of why I chose to post it in the midst of this discussion on walls and openness. There are many ways to see the issue, and I don't think there's a "right" answer to any of this.

I like Raab's analysis in the commentary I quoted above:

"The repetition of between should give us pause and remind us of its two equally common meanings: between as separation, as in 'something's come between us,' and between as what might be shared and held in common, as in 'a secret between two people' or 'a bond between friends.' The wall divides but it also connects, if you look at it that way. All the meaning is in how you look at it--how the poem encourages you to think about it."

I don't love walls, but I don't want them torn down, either. Like Frost, I respect their symbolic value, and the way they bring people together (to work on them and talk while they do) as well as the way they separate them.

I should clarify, too, that I'm not at all uncomfortable with students seeing and reading and commenting on my blog--I'm delighted when they do. The issue for me is how much I'm comfortable making public, which is something I think we _all_ deal with. There are things I don't post because it wouldn't be fair to my family. Things I don't post because feelings would be hurt. Things I don't post because I just plain don't want to share them. But anyone who reads my blog has got to be aware that I reveal a great deal about myself on a regular basis.

Guess I wasn't keeping up on my homework as I didn't read all the interpretations in your comment, Liz, but I do like Raab's interpretation a lot.

Thanks for leading us there.

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