Saturday, November 13, 2010

Poetry Friday (late): Elegy for walls

All over town, the road crews are busy destroying our stone walls. Well, they would tell you they are improving drainage on the roads (the stone walls are protected by a couple of laws). But the ditching involves backhoes and the walls are scarred by being whacked and nicked with heavy, unfeeling steel. In many places they've covered the walls with 6-8 inches of dirt, which means the poison ivy will grow up and over and through the walls, hastening their downfall. In other places they've dug the ditch right to the base of the wall, which means next spring's frost heaves will topple them forward. It makes me angry to see the hard labor of our ancestors carelessly undermined. But it also puts me in mind of someone else who, although working to repair the old stone walls, did so with less than enthusiastic intent. So today, New England's bard, Robert Frost:

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 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."


Mur said...

Thanks for sharing this, Sally. It was always one of the best poems for introducing children to Frost. It was a fun story and easily understood by all.

Diane Mayr said...

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.

A thoughtful man was Frost.

Are you familiar with Vermont Afternoons with Robert Frost by Vrest Orton? It is the story of a friendship between Orton and Frost. I posted about it on my
library blog last year.

Sally said...

@Diane - I wasn't familiar, but I am now, and will look for it. Thanks!