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The Mending Wall

"Spring is the mischief in me," Robert Frost, renowned New England poet, writes.

Frost first published his poem, "The Mending Wall," in 1914, on the eve of World War I, in an anthology of his work entitled North of Boston. Though born in San Francisco, on the opposite coast, Frost grew up in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where he moved with his mother and sister after the death of his father. Frost went on to attend Dartmouth and later, Harvard. In between, he worked as a teacher and farmer to support his growing family. He and his wife, Elinor, had six children, two of whom died early, and by 1912, they had moved to the New Hampshire countryside around Derry and taken up poultry farming.

All the while, Frost had kept busy writing, but American publishers had shown little interest in his work. Frost found greater success in London, where they lived from 1912 to 1915. There, a fellow New England poet, Amy Lowell, encountered Frost's first books, which she took back to the States to share. Her reviews of his work preceded his family's return when war broke out in Europe.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall. Something there is that does. The Wall and the Wild, my debut picture book with illustrator Katie Rewse, owes at least a few stones to these predecessor thoughts. Walls serve many a purpose, but not all of them are well intentioned, well thought or well executed, as I discuss in an earlier post. Before you get to see that book, which comes out in Fall 2021, perhaps you might wander the lines of Frost's wall. It's worth the journey.

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 offense. 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.’

You can also listen to this wonderful reading by Leonard Nimoy, also known as Spock from the original Star Trek series and films. (I love him even more as the voice of Moundshroud in the animated film adaptation of Ray Bradbury's The Halloween Tree.) This video starts with a long musical intro, so if you like, you can skip ahead to 2:00, when Nimoy begins reading.

More Resources

If you'd like to explore more of Frost's life, you can visit the Robert Frost Stone House in Vermont or The Frost Place at his family's homestead in New Hampshire.

You can also check out this website dedicated to Robert Frost's life and work.

Poetry Foundation has many of Frost's poems as well as biographic information and an essay on "The Mending Wall" by Austin Allen that examines "how a poem about a rural stone wall quickly became part of debates on nationalism, international borders, and immigration."

You might also enjoy this lovely article from The Guardian: "Edward Thomas, Robert Frost and the road to war," by Matthew Hollis, published in 2011.

Finally, I found this video biography and interview from 1952:

"A poem begins with a lump in the throat," indeed. Perhaps a wall does, too.

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