History lined with futile attempts to maintain walls
Some poets see into our souls and make an incomprehensible world understandable. Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” is a poem like that.
The poet asks the reader to reflect on “walls” and why we build them, why we have always had them, and why we shouldn’t. The first line of the Frost poem, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” walks us to a New England farm where two neighbors bend together along a stone wall separating their farms, where the spring thaw tumbled boulders and made gaps in the wall. The two farmers walk to mend the broken wall, stone by stone, when Frost, the farmer poet, asks his neighbor why they were rebuilding the wall. After a thoughtful moment, the neighbor replies, “Father always told me that good fences make good neighbors.”
As they move along repairing the winter-damaged wall, Frost tries to tell his neighbor they don’t need the wall. They have no cows and one farm is “all pine cones” and the other “all apple orchard”- neither likely to mix with the other. But his neighbor repeats his truth, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
The poet thinks he would like to know, before he built a wall, “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.”
I have walked along the Great Wall of China and seen its rebuilt battlements to entice tourists. But history tells us the original wall was a failure. Untold enemy broke through.
I visited East Germany a few years ago and viewed the remnants of the Berlin Wall. That wall, too, was a failure.
Israel is building a wall to separate the Israelis from the Palestinians. The wall is encroaching on historical Palestinian land. Israel claims its security needs must be met. These two peoples have lived together on this land for thousands of years. “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”
We are building a multimillion-dollar wall separating the United States and Mexico, presumably to keep out illegal immigrants and drug dealers. Those who know, border patrol and homeland security officials, tell us a wall will not work. Some who want to cross the border will be successful, regardless of a wall. Perhaps there’s a more comprehensive solution. “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”
Political walls are ineffective as well. Politicians who say “no” to virtually all enlightened legislation to help the nation recover from economic recession create an impenetrable wall. They, too, may be wrong. “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”
• Eugene Paslov is a board member of the Davidson Academy at the University of Nevada, Reno and the former Nevada state superintendent of schools.