On building walls

My friend recently asked online for a poem that I hadn’t heard before, as well as posting “Mending Wall.” I wanted to post both here for future reference. Building walls is one of those post-election topics we certainly be discussing.

“Mending Wall”

by Robert Frost

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 neighbour 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 pines, I tell him.
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.”

“Walls Are Not So Necessary as Love”

By Robert P. Tristram Coffin (Saturday Evening Post;11/21/1942, Vol. 215 Issue 21, p46)

The father was putting to rights his frost-heaved wall,
His small son did not bother him at all,
Although the four-year-old was everywhere.
The man was careful where he put his pair
Of heavy shoes, for the boy was out and in,
Sometimes the man discovered with a grin,
The boy as well as the wall between his thighs.
His young one was all questions and blue eyes,
The worker had to lift him quite as often
As he did the stones. His eyes would soften
Each time he did and make him a handsome man.
Whenever he scootched, the small boy’s legs would span
His right or left leg, and the man would be
Working around the rider on his knee.

He did not think about one-handedness,
Small sons expected fathers to caress
Their bodies that was what fathers were for.
There would not be so many Springtimes more
That small sons would expect it. Men must do
The things that come in season, though they were two
Kinds of work at once. There’d be only stone
To lay up later, when a man would be alone.
Just now a man’s lap was a comfortable chair,
And he expected to find his small son there
Along with stones and tools. It was all right,
He could finish his wall by lantern light
Or by what light the moon would give above,
Walls were not so necessary as love.


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