stone wall

Robert Frost asks what is being walled in and what is being walled out and whom it is giving offense.

One morning as I was driving to school I heard a loud voice on the radio say, "As the poet Robert Frost says, 'Good fences make good neighbors' and we at the Sharon Fence Company most wholeheartedly agree."

Feeling nettled by what I had heard, I promptly called the Sharon Fence Company and asked to speak to the manager.

When the manager kindly took my call, I explained to him that in "Mending Wall," Frost's own sentiment (as expressed through the narrator of the poem) was actually the opposite of his neighbor's who stood by his father's old-fashionedbelief that "good fences make good neighbors."

However, the manager insisted that I was mistaken.

I thereby asked the manager if I could fax him a copy of the poem so that he could see for himself. He said, sure.

To the manager's credit, he called me back to say that he appreciated my efforts in explaining the poem --- but it was too late to change the ad. With little else to say, we shared a good laugh and wished each other well.

Over the past year while I have listened to Donald Trump's wall-building rhetoric, I have frequently thought of Frost's poem.

Frost begins, "Something there is that doesn't love a wall."

Nature, for one, doesn't love a wall. Ice storms, hunters, rabbits, elves and "yelping dogs" don't love a wall.

Curiously, it is the narrator who says "at spring mending time - I let my neighbor know beyond the hill and we meet to walk the line and to set the wall between us once again."

Yet, it is the narrator who concedes that "there where it is, we do not need the wall." Because neither he nor his neighbor no longer have any cows to keep separated, there is no longer any need for the wall.

The narrator explains, "Before I built a wall I'd ask to know what I was walling in and walling out, and to whom I was like to give offense."

Thus -- if the narrator doesn't love the wall -- WHY is HE the one who initiates the wall mending every spring?

Here's where Frost manifests himself (once again) as a master of paradox.

What does the narrator really want? What curious truth does the narrator's contradiction reveal?

What the narratorreally wants is a friend.

Earlier in the poem the narrator talks in metaphorical terms about some of the normal things that good neighbors share, such as loaves of bread or stray baseballs and volleyballs. Yet, one gets the clear sense that the only interaction the narrator ever has with the neighbor is in repairing the wall.

When the neighbor, year after year, keeps insisting that "good fences make good neighbors," the narrator comes to the conclusion that the neighbor "moves in darkness as it seems to me, not of woods only and the shade of trees"

In the symbolic sense, the neighbor's "darkness" is his ignorance and his clinging to worn-out traditions and biases.

Metaphorically, then, the wall becomes a barrier to good will, stronger communication and possible friendship.

Thus, it is my most ardent hope that every time President Trump wants to build a wall, be it between here and Mexico, the Muslim world, women's rights activists, victims of racism, the LGBT community, global warming scientists and the millions of neighbors we have abroad who look to America for friendship, leadership and hope,that he will summon the open-mindedness and compassion to, as Frost poses, "ask what he is walling in or walling out -- and to whom he is like to give offense."

"Something there is that doesn't love a wall..."

Walter Mitchell teaches English at Foxboro High School and is a regular contributor to The Reporter.