19 May 2006

An Interesting Use of Frost

In the aftermath of his fence bill being approved by an overwhelming majority of the Senate yesterday, its sponsor had some fascinating remarks:
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the provision's sponsor, said building the fencing would send "a signal to the world that our border is not open, it is closed."

He added: "Good fences make good neighbors; fences don't make bad neighbors."
The first half of his second remark is from Robert Frost's "Mending Wall," and I think it might be instructive to take a look at how Sessions misuses the quote.

In the poem, Frost writes about his annual ritual in which he and his neighbor go to the stone wall between their property and build it back up after the winter has toppled stones from it:
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.'
The irony in the legislator's comparison, of course, is that he is quoting Frost without realizing that Frost used that phrase for exactly the opposite reason. "Good fences make good neighbors" is an assertion that Frost wants us to question and, ultimately, deny.

The real message of the poem is the first line, which Frost repeats in the passage I quoted above: "Something there is that doesn't love a wall." That something, the human desire for brotherhood and unity, may try to thwart this wall that the politicians want to build between the U.S. and Mexico; I don't know.

hehe... of course, if Marshwiggle had his way, we wouldn't need to even think about this wall. :-)


Unknown said...

my plan still calls for a fence.. just a much shorter one further south.

Iris said...

I wondered if you wouldn't pick up on what Sessions said, luaphacim. It bugs me when people take things out of context...