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Robert Frost’s “The Mending Wall” and Current Political Significance in the US and the World.


Credit: http://www.darkmediaonline.com

Since the beginning of the campaign in the US for the final Republican and Democratic nominees, I haven’t been able to get this poem out of my head. Perhaps I had such a wonderful professor for American Poetry that Robert Frost’s “The Mending Wall,” made such an impression on me.

Thirteen years after I’ve graduated, I still think about this poem and what wisdom Frost imparts to people in his own time and ours. Mainly he suggests his poem is less about literal walls or fences, but about how neighbors should treat each other. Whether you’ve read the poem or not, you may find certain correlations between Frost’s poem and the current political situation in the US.

I think the biggest issue Frost’s poem highlights is why we build walls in the first place. The line at the beginning of the poem: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” implies not all of us enjoy having walls between us and our neighbors (1). Frost isn’t merely talking about physical walls or fences but about the walls that exist in relationships between people.

It’s practical and helpful for to us to avoid petty arguments by having physical fences around our yards. But Frost suggests in “The Mending Wall,” it is not helpful at all, to have walls and distance between people and their relationships with one another. This can cause large rifts between people when they don’t agree or share a similar opinion. Communication and negotiation need to be encouraged, instead of building bigger walls. We forget many other people in this world are the same as us, going through similar trials. It doesn’t matter their religion or ethnicity, we’re all human.

Open communication and friendly communication is a necessary key to life. While physically we may have to “set the wall between us once again,” or have certain boundaries, I don’t recall stone walls every setting to right differences of opinion or thought (14). We can’t stop talking because we don’t agree, reaching for the best compromise available is vital.

Erecting a wall between the US and Mexico will affect US relationships with other nations, not only Mexico. It also makes the US government appear isolationist. Moreover, it affects other countries who would think it was okay to support their own selfish ideologies which are not democratic.

Isolationist countries and governments do not prosper in themselves or in helping their citizens prosper. In today’s world it is critical for us all to have open communication and at times compromise and not always get ‘our own way’ with other countries for the good of all; the current US government goes against this globalized view. Trump stands for himself and if you’re a lucky American who supports a view he does, he might stand for you too. But it’s not something I would count on in a person who is extremely unpredictable.

In Frost’s poem, the lines: “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,” show the utter absurdity of having such a thick solid wall between the narrator and his neighbor (23-27). Frost’s point in these lines is if the speaker and his neighbor acted neighborly, they wouldn’t require a fence between them. It’s absurd to have a wall between them because the narrator’s apples don’t eat his neighbor’s pine cones and vice versa. The neighbor lacks insight into the situation.

He is similar to Trump who wants a wall between the US and Mexico beyond the border which already exists. Trump is akin to the neighbor insisting ” . . . good fences make good neighbors.” Truly walls break down relations between people and invite people to spew hatred and feel they are entitled to act badly and Trump’s actions are encouraging this behavior (27). People have choices to act how their conscience tells them, but when the government decides on input-less actions that destroy relations with other parts of the world and with US citizens, this government is self-serving.

Frost’s speaker also wonders about this wall he and his neighbor always fix in spring. He asks “. . . why do [fences] make good neighbors . . . ” commenting that “[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 offense” (32-34). For me, these lines are shockingly apt in current US politics.

In Robert Frost’s poem “The Mending Wall,” the wall is not only a physical wall/fence it’s symbolic of relations between neighbors and metaphorical walls between people, in a broader sense, all sovereign nations. Trump insists on building a wall because it will wall out drugs from entering the US. He also believes he is keeping out illegal immigrates as well as crime. I think Frost would say, Trump is missing the bigger picture.

To my knowledge, Obama never had outstanding issues with Mexico. Most of us are aware of the drugs going back and forth across the border from Mexico and the people who want to leave Mexico for a better life. I would argue as many have, one way or another, the immigrants who want to get through are going to find a way through.

We also know for a fact, there are already tunnels to bring drugs into the US. If Trump wants to stop drug cartels from selling drugs, maybe he should focus on his own citizens involved in the purchase and selling of drugs. If you take away the market, perhaps you stop drug trafficking; however, my hunch is if Mexico sells fewer drugs, those who want or need drugs, will find another source.

Additionally, Frost’s line about giving “offense” is relatable to Trump not caring what Mexico thinks about the wall (34). He wants to make them pay for it and he doesn’t care that their President refused. He offended Mexico and its citizens; hopefully, he doesn’t plan on vacationing there anytime soon as many US citizens like to do. He’s going to make it difficult for US citizens wanting to vacation in Mexico and other places around the world in general. I’ve meant many wonderful American citizens on vacations but I know there are places where they still have to wear a Canadain flag on their outfit, so they are not thought be Americans. I would hate for this to be worse because of current affairs.

He’s going to make it difficult for US citizens wanting to vacation in Mexico and other places around the world in general. I’ve met many wonderful American citizens on vacations but I know there are places where they still have to wear a Canadain flag on their outfit, so they are not thought be Americans because it would be dangerous to them or their cash supply. I would hate for this to be worse because of current affairs in the US.

As well, Trump offended the Mexican President who refused to visit the US after Trump announced the wall. He’s set back relations with his physical and symbolic wall with Mexico. I believe US dealings with other countries will suffer setbacks as well because I think other nations will see US actions and be less inclined to trust their government and Trump.

The most curious part to me is how one man can destroy relations with other countries around the word so quickly through his lack of diplomacy and unwillingness to cooperate. I don’t want the US, Canada, or anywhere to be larger targets for radical terrorists or desperate criminals because Trump is blocking people from migrating to the US from the Middle East. Many people there are like us, regular people who don’t deserve to be labeled terrorists due to their religion. Some of those people require help due to actual terrorists such as ISIS, who are making it difficult for them to meet their basic needs.

Frost also writes in his poem about those who don’t love walls and would like them down. His narrator sees no need for the wall and thinks he could tell his neighbor, “‘I could say “Elves” to him, / [but] it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather / [he] said it for himself (35 – 38). Frost implies the neighbor needs to recognize for himself and ‘say’ for himself, that the physical and metaphorical wall between them is absurd. 

I think the same principles apply to Trump and his wall. The wall is a thoughtless law as well as the symbolic breaking down of US relations with other countries such as Mexico and realistically, several others. The current US President won’t ever admit he is wrong.

In the end, I find the situation with Trump and the US government much the same as Frost describes the neighbour in his poem: “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 (40 – 42). To the narrator of Frost’s poem, rebuilding the wall between his neighbour and him is a game.

He even wonders if he could put “a notion” in his neighbours head and say “[elves]” made the stones fall out of place (29,37). But to the neighbour such as the US government, this is no game. While the rest of us mock Trump and have “mischief” in us as we read daily what Trump’s decided to do now, we are also somewhat afraid.

Trump walks around as Frost’s speaker’s neighbor, “an old-stone savage armed . . . [moving] in darkness . . . (40-41). This darkness is as an ignorance and not only of “woods . . . and the shade of trees (42).” I cannot imagine all the duties a President has; however, I do know about starting a new job as I’m sure many people can relate to.

Often, it is best to let things be done the way they have been done, to learn the experience and the wisdom behind the methods people use currently, before implementing massive change. At times, we think our own way of doing something is better. Then one day it hits us why something was done a certain way, how much easier it is to keep doing it that particular way. Once you learn how things are done, then changes can be implemented with reason and with experience behind that reasoning.

With US relations with its own citizens and the citizens of the world, we can only hope Trump ends his walk in darkness and ignorance. Perhaps one day he will step into the light and see why past Presidents acted how they did in certain matters? That he was elected by citizens and speaks and acts for them.

It’s my hope he searches beyond his own experience, what he’s been able to do freely as wealthy and powerful man. I hope he listens to the people who elected him and acts with discernment, that he learns to think before he acts. One encouraging thing about Trump I did hear was his admiration of Winston Churchill.

In conclusion, Frost calls his poem “The Mending Wall” because he hopes each year relations with his neighbour will improve, that eventually they won’t need a wall between them. Can we hope this much of the new US government? That they will not build walls to isolate their country? That they will not only think about themselves in this diverse, multicultural, and globalized world? I hope so. I’d hope Trump eventually learns to mend relations with his neighbours and not to snub them or God forbid, cause war. I hope he learns to see beyond the saying, ” . . . [good] fences make good neighbours” (45).


The Mending Wall

By Robert Frost

*****
1. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

2. That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
3. And spills the upper boulders in the sun;

4. And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

5. The work of hunters is another thing:

6. I have come after them and made repair

7. Where they have left not one stone on a stone,

8. But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,

9. To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,

10. No one has seen them made or heard them made,

11. But at spring mending-time we find them there.

12. I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;

13. And on a day we meet to walk the line

14. And set the wall between us once again.

15. We keep the wall between us as we go.

16. To each the boulders that have fallen to each.

17. And some are loaves and some so nearly balls

18. We have to use a spell to make them balance:

19. “Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”

20. We wear our fingers rough with handling them.

21. Oh, just another kind of out-door game,

22. One on a side. It comes to little more:

23. There where it is we do not need the wall:

24. He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

25. My apple trees will never get across

26. And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

27. He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

28. Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder

29. If I could put a notion in his head:

30. “Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it

31. Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.

32. Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

33. What I was walling in or walling out,

34. And to whom I was like to give offence.

35. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

36. That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,

37. But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather

38. He said it for himself. I see him there

39. Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top

40. In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

41.He moves in darkness as it seems to me,

42. Not of woods only and the shade of trees.

43. He will not go behind his father’s saying,

44. And he likes having thought of it so well

45. He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

*****


See Poetry Foundation: The Mending Wall by Robert Frost.


©Mandibelle16. (2017) All Rights Reserved.

Fiction, Lists, My Thoughts, Nonfiction, Poetry, Quotes, Writing

A List of Words with Meaning


1. John Donne – “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning.” Lines 12-24. 

Why I love it? I love this poetry quote and the entire poem because I think the poem speaks about the kind of love we should strive to have with our other-halves. Not the love of “[dull] sublunary lovers” which is only a physical connection that “[abscence] doth remove[s] / [those] things which elements it.” But love where, “two souls . . . are one” and when one lover dies the relationship does not end. Instead, the relationship is such as “gold to airy thinness beat,” not a “breach” but an “expansion” of love.

Dull sublunary lovers’ love

   (Whose soul is sense) cannot admit

Absence, because it doth remove

   Those things which elemented it.
But we by a love so much refined,

   That our selves know not what it is,

Inter-assured of the mind,

   Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.
Our two souls therefore, which are one,

   Though I must go, endure not yet

A breach, but an expansion,

   Like gold to airy thinness beat.

2. John Milton – Paradise Lost: Book 9  – The Fall of Mankind – Eve eating the Forbidden Fruit.

Why I love this quote? Adam and Eve live perfect lives in the Garden of Eden. But Eve is tempted by Satan in the guise of a snake who tells Eve she would be powerful and all knowing like God if she ate the forbidden fruit, even though God said that was the only thing that Adam and Eve cannot do. Many people will say, the Fall of mankind was Eve’s fault because she ate the fruit first and later, gave it to Adam. The thing was Eve was created from Adam’s rib, and he was supposed to love, protect her, and watch out for her. So, even when Eve takes that first bite, Adam has sinned to. And he does it again when he eats the fruit himself. This quote to me is savage and lustful: “Greedily, she ingorg’d without restraint / And knew not eating death.” Imagine this brilliant sexy vivacious woman who has been tricked by the devil, and done herself and her husband in. Immediately, she loses self-restraint and does not realize upon eating the fruit, she was ensuring that she would die, as would every member of the human race one day because we all relate back to Adam and Eve.

So saying, her rash hand in evil hour

Forth reaching to the Fruit, she pluck’d, she eat:

Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat

Sighing through all her Works gave signs of woe,

That all was lost. Back to the Thicket slunk

The guiltie Serpent, and well might, for Eve

Intent now wholly on her taste, naught else

Regarded, such delight till then, as seemd,

In Fruit she never tasted, whether true

Or fansied so, through expectation high

Of knowledg, nor was God-head from her thought.

Greedily she ingorg’d without restraint,

And knew not eating Death: Satiate at length,

And hight’nd as with Wine, jocond and boon,

Thus to her self she pleasingly began.

3. Emily Dickinson – ” A Bird Came Down the Walk.” Lines 14-20.

Why I like this quote?  The poetry in these lines is extremely beautiful. The wording is lush and descriptive. It creates this wonderful image. I didn’t quote the entire poem though maybe I should have. But a bird comes down the walk and eats an angle worm raw. This shows the savagery and realness of nature. The bird looks around weary of predators with his beady bird eyes. He is acting as birds do. But there is beauty in the flight of the bird taking off “unroll[ing] his feathers” and “row[ing]” a “softer Home.” The last verse is magnificent and I still barely can wrap my mind around it. Flying like  “oars divid[ing] the Ocean / [too] silver for a seam.” And then a comparison of birds to butterflies who fly like they are swimming “plashless” or splashless in the sky. Just gorgeous wording you can feel and experience from Dickinson.

And he unrolled his feathers, 

And rowed him softer Home –

 

Than Oars divide the Ocean,

Too silver for a seam,

Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon,

Leap, plashless as they swim.

4. Robert Browning – “Porphyries Lover.” Lines 28-43.

Why I like this quote? In this poem I like the horror of what Porphyria’s lover does. He thinks she has another lover and when he decides she doesn’t, he decides the only way to keep her his, is to strangle her with her own hair. Clearly, this guy is crazy but Browning writes so eloquently in his poem that the deed of murdering Porphyria is all the more terrible. In his messed up mine the lover thinks, “Porphyria worship[s]” him. To hold that moment in time because Porphyria is at last his, “[perfectly] pure and good,” the lover wraps Porphyria’s hair ” three times her little throat around / [and] strangle[s] her.” Crazy, but Browning does a fantastic job of conveying an obsessive lover.

       Happy and proud; at last I knew

Porphyria worshipped me; surprise

       Made my heart swell, and still it grew

       While I debated what to do.

That moment she was mine, mine, fair,

       Perfectly pure and good: I found

A thing to do, and all her hair

       In one long yellow string I wound

       Three times her little throat around,

And strangled her. No pain felt she;

       I am quite sure she felt no pain.

As a shut bud that holds a bee,

       I warily oped her lids: again

       Laughed the blue eyes without a stain.

And I untightened next the tress

5. Robert Frost – “Mending Wall.” Lines 27-24.

Why I like this quote? Well, I think this an important poem because it talks about how to be good neighbours. I think Donald Trump should read this poem before he builds a wall to keep out Mexico and Canada. The speaker in this story is picking up the rocks from his stone fence and placing them back on the wall. His neighbour does the same thing on the otherside of the fence. The speaker does not understand why each year, him and his neighbour do this. His neighbour believes ” ‘ [good] fences make good neighbours.'” But the speaker wonders ” ‘ [why] do [fences] make good neighbours?'” He would like to know what “he is walling in or walling out.” The speaker “doesn’t love a wall” and he thinks it is unnecessary. But he would like his neighbour to understand why they shouldn’t be putting up walls for himself, but the neighbour will not change his ways. “He will not go behind his father’s saying.” This poem makes me think we too need to be careful what we wall out or wall in, in our lives. We need to be with other people to share and build friendships. We can’t wall each other out because of tradition or things we’ve done. We need to accept people in, and open our doors to be good neighbours.

He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder

If I could put a notion in his head:

“Why do they make good neighbours? 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 neighbours.”

Please see The Poetry Foundation for the  complete works of poetry and other poems.

——

Thanks to La Duchesse D’erat and Rosema for this weeks list prompt of important words.

——-

©Mandibelle16. All Rights Reserved.