“Good fences make good neighbors“, the television commentator said, misquoting Robert Frost for the millionth time in my memory. It made me wonder if the esteemed poet was not looking down from Heaven and sadly shaking his head.
No line of poetry has ever been more misused in history than that one. It comes from Frost’s great poem MENDING WALL. In it he writes of him and his neighbor repairing the broken stone wall that divides their property. Frost questions why they are doing so, because there are no animals that need fencing in. He sees as well that the wall is a symbol of the barriers that people create to distance themselves from each other. He wisely writes that, “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.”
His neighbor, however, who Frost describes as a “stone savage” who “moves in darkness” refuses to part from the ways of his forefathers and goes along foolishly with their belief that “Good fences make good neighbors.”
I wonder if Mr. Frost would have ever written this poem if he knew that the line he wrote in irony would be used again and again to encourage what he was so against. Perhaps he would have written a different one about tearing down the fences that separate us and breaking apart the walls that hide our hearts from each other. Either way, we should embrace the wisdom he shared with us. Fences and walls separate us from each other and from God. We need to take them down stone by stone, walk through them, and embrace each other in joy. We need to love our neighbors just as our Father in Heaven meant for us to. We need to see that good fences DO NOT make good neighbors. They just make lonely hearts.
~ Joseph J. Mazzella ~