Monday, May 23, 2011

Something there is that doesn't love a wall

       That line is from one of my favorite poems, Mending Wall. Since the name of my blog is wall-themed, I decided this would be a perfect first post! This blog isn't dedicated to poetry by any means... it will have my thoughts on pretty much whatever strikes my fancy, including silly things like book and movie reviews; but why not start by talking about a poem by one of the best poets ever?
       The focus of my capstone course for my English degree at BYU was Robert Frost. I did my thesis paper on the influence of classical poets such as Theocritus, Virgil, and Lucretius in Frost's work and it was absolutely amazing! It was mind-boggling to look at someone's work that closely and slowly start to recognize and discover so many parallels, references, and allusions to the classic poets who lived thousands of years ago. It was also really fun reading the works of the most famous greek and roman authors and start to see their influence in places I never would have thought to look had I not been in that particular capstone class. I myself am a rather shabby poet, so I get that much more excited when I find someone who can really create a piece of art. During my studies for my thesis, one of my absolute favorite poems I came across was Mending Wall.

       For those unfamiliar with the poem Mending Wall, you can see it here. I highly recommend reading the entire poem, it is true perfection. For those whose brains turn off at the thought of reading a poem longer than a limmerick though, here's a favorite excerpt:
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 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 neighbors'.
       "Good fences make good neighbors". There's just so much behind that simple phrase. His neighbor in the poem is just such a simple and accurate insight on human nature. What is it about us that drives us to divide and label things that really need no distinction? It's the same propelling force that fuels wars that shape the world, but also inspires our decisions in trivial moments, such as deciding which person we want to sit next to on a bus. The "good fences make good neighbors" attitude can apply to so much more than pine trees vs apple trees. We do it with everything; people vs people being the most sad. It's just how most of us are I guess. I will freely admit to falling victim to this particular human weakness at times. I wonder what the world would be like if we could all have the common sense and the sense of humor of the narrator in this poem. I know my day to day life would be better.
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."
       I love how Frost points out that no matter how hard we work on keeping up fences, nature will always weather them away into nothing. To me, it seems like this is one of God's many subtle ways of letting us know that our efforts to divide ourselves as people or claim domain on the earth is just silliness. It's all temporary in the grand scheme of things and we're really just spinning our wheels. Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley is another favorite poem that hits on that topic in a much more direct way. One day I think I'll make a sign to go by my front door that says "something there is that doesn't love a wall" and another that simply says "Ozymandias" just to help me remember not to invest my time or efforts into things that don't matter, are causing me to be narrow-minded, or aren't helping me in any way.


Jenn said...

Hooray, I feel more intelligent for having read that. Poetry is something I managed to generally skip during my liberal arts education and I have a hard time wrapping my head around it, despite a general inclination towards humanities. Looking forward to more.

katrina hayes said...

I was never into English or poetry, just fiction novels. :) But I am LOVING poetry lately. Maybe b/c all the songs we sing in choir are from some of the most inspiring poets of all time? This is a really cool poem. I also feel smarter for having read this. I love the part about putting up walls in our lives. I've been trying to define that myself for so long, this completely hits it on the head.

Congrats on the new blogs. Awesome outlet for you!