Wednesday, February 14, 2007

“Good Fences Make Good Neighbors”

In an essay about the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Amos Oz makes an aside, “[A]s the poet Robert Frost reminds us, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’” Considering that Oz’s essay is about misunderstanding (as much as anything else) it’s a touch ironic that he attributes the good fences good neighbors sentiment to Frost. “Mending Wall” is at least as much a critique of it. Not an attack, no, but when Frost and his neighbor walk along the half-wreck of a stone wall that marks their property line, picking up fallen stones and putting them back, Frost gets to musing aloud about the purpose of 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'.” In response to his neighbor’s unflinching refrain Frost says, “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.” It seems to me the actual content of Frost’s poem (the whole here) would have borne Amos Oz in better stead than the quip.

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