Robert Frost’s birthday – March 26th

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

One of my favourite poets of the 20th century was born today, March 26th 1874. He died January 29th 1963 after becoming one of America’s best loved poets.

Frost’s first collection was first published here in the UK when he lived here for a few years prior to WW1 and became friends with Edward Thomas and Ezra Pound. Back in rural New England he continued to write and publish numerous collections, four of which received The Pulitzer Prize.

I love Frost’s work for it’s use of ordinary everyday English (radically new when he started writing) and its wise philosophy. This is a poet too who understands loss. A particular favourite of mine is Mending Wall, written in 1942, three years before the outbreak of WW2. Written in England it draws on his experience of farming and is at face value about the relationship between two neighbours owning adjoining farms who meet to walk the line and repair the wall after the winter weather has taken its toll.

In 1963, when John F Kennedy visited the Berlin Wall and expressed his solidarity with the people of Berlin, he quoted a line from Frost’s poem “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall”.

With boundary issues once again in the news, as  Russia claims Crimea from Ukraine and the sad dejected servicemen and their families leave knowing they will never again see loved ones, I feel it is worth revisiting Mending Wall and enjoying it both for it depiction of an aspect of rural American life and for its wider implications as a poem that questions the need for boundaries.


Mending Wall by Robert Frost

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 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’.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? 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 neighbors.”


If you are interested I have also found a recording of the poem read by Frost against the backdrop of the construction of the Berlin wall in 1961.