I teach both middle school and high school group literature classes, and once a month I do a poetry unit with the students. While some of them are into it, others doubt the relevancy of poetry to their lives. I tell them that many times, particularly during events of high emotion or great significance, poets can say profound truths beautifully in a few lines that most of us would struggle to communicate in a few pages.
Today, at the end of the first week of Donald Trump’s presidency, I awoke thinking it was time I followed my own advice.
I am disturbed by my perception that the US as a nation is less loved today than she was a week ago. We abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which let down our partners in East Asia, and cancelled federal foreign aid funding to any international health providers who discuss abortion as an option, which in previous years has particularly hurt sub-Saharan Africa. We implemented an immediate ban on entrance to our country from citizens from seven middle Eastern countries, all majority Muslim, which has not endeared us to that region. Our neighbor to the South cancelled the planned presidential meeting when President Trump announced an immediate start to building a wall along our borders, while our neighbor to the North denounced our policies and welcomed people effected by our policies to their land instead. Finally, we are in the ironic position that within Europe, traditionally our closest allies, the only country that has announced support for President Trump’s actions is Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
None of this seems to support my vision of a loving, connected world–except maybe between us and Russia? Oh well, I guess it’s a start….
On the other hand, I also want to love and to connect with my fellow citizens who think all of this is a good thing. I seek to understand them, rather than to judge them. I need to keep both my mind and my heart open. And I want to find common ground where we can work together to move our country and our world to greater peace and harmony.
So I went to sleep last night after meditating on this question, and this morning my mind was filled with beautiful words by one of my favorite American poets, the wise and wonderful Robert Frost. It doesn’t answer all of my questions. But it does provide an image of differences explored in a thoughtful, accepting, and even humorous way. It reminds me to lighten up and to believe that we will work things out by working together.
Mending Wall (1914)
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 neighbour 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 neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? 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 neighbours.”
From North of Boston, 1914.
Note: “Mending Wall” is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.
The image above, which depicts the Stone wall at Frost’s farm in Derry, New Hampshire that he described in “Mending Wall,” was obtained from Wikimedia Commons and used under a Creative Commons license.