Robert Frost's Mending Wallendures for its sensitive inquiry into the fundamental difficulties of neighborship and boundary of personal property; "[s]omething there is that doesn't love a wall," something there is fundamental in human nature and the American ideal, something there is at odds with rigid separation between neighbors. And yet something there is that compels neighbors to continue erecting fences and walls. In Robert Frost's Mending Wall, nature rises up against the division wall built by the neighbors the year before, "frozen-ground-swell ... spill[ing] the upper boulders in the sun," but the fence-menders pretend their efforts might conquer the forces of gravity and wind. In unspoken agreement, they appeal to magical spells as they balance boulders in wall-form, briefly preventing them from tumbling back into their natural state of repose. "Good fences make good neighbours," the neighbor repeats, but he does not demand practical reasons for the fence, nor does he seem to consider the costs of maintaining the boundary wall. "Something there is ... that wants [the wall] down," the narrator contemplates pointing out, yet says nothing and continues mending.
The "good fences make good neighbours" refrain, popularized by Frost's poem, has been proverbialized by American posterity. Politicians and lawmakers, in particular, make reference to this poem to validate adherence to rules as integral to social order. In referencing the "good fences" adage, lawmakers fail to recognize the irony and sadness that color Frosts' depiction of the unthinking neighbor who moves in a state of intellectual "darkness" and can only repeat his father's words. Mending Wall language so often seized by politicians seeking justification for wallmaking enterprises, suggests, through inapt application, the degree to which they have glossed over Frost's nuanced point. While the narrator questions the legitimacy of his neighbor's insistence on maintaining this seemingly unnecessary barrier, politicians have missed the poem's nuance. Instead of considering the narrator's subtle questions, politicians appeal to ordering instincts underlying the neighbor's view, and apply the idea that "good fences make good neighbours" to support construction of material boundaries and legitimate adherence to law as the metaphorical "fences" of our society.
Mending Wall: Playing the Game of Neighborhood Ordering,
Yale J.L. & Human.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yjlh/vol21/iss1/5