Friday, 30 December 2016

Good fences make good neighbours? Nah!



At the west end of Glen Oaks Ridge, my home in Sarasota, there is a bit of land which is part of our property. The lore is that once upon a time the City of Sarasota had eyed it for an extension to nearby Prudence Drive.  That never happened (thank goodness).  The land is a gentle and pleasant buffer between us and the next door Glen Oaks Manor community.

"Back when" the Glen Oaks Ridge Board decided that the buffer land needed a fence.  It was a fence which made no sense, it kept nobody out or in, 'Twas just a bit of ugly nonsense.

Forty or so years on that fence began to fall apart.  The Board made the good decision:  that it would be cheaper to tear the fence down that to have it repaired or replaced.

Nothing but the fence posts to be removed.

Opening up the land
Of course some of the abutters are already complaining, believing as they do that "Good Fences Make Good Neighbours".

That's of course from a poem by Robert Frost.  It's so well known that a Fence Building Company in Pittsfield used it as an advertising slogan.

The use of Frost's words as a slogan is to take them utterly out of context. In the poem the speaker tells of the cheerful task of repairing those old stone walls which are such a feature of former agricultural land in New England.  For this speaker this annual wall repairing is "just another kind of of outdoor game".

It is his neighbour (a crusty old New Englander?) who asserts, as his father did before him, that "good fences make good neighbours", He'd  like to extend the wall to separate his pine trees from the speaker's apple orchard.

His is  the voice of  a cynic who has never allowed himself the thought that "good actions make good neighbours".

In the aftermath of the  Brexit referendum and the U.S.A. General Election when the promises to make more fences and walls has been a sure vote-getter, it's time to read Frost's poem again.

(The emphases are mine)



Mending Wall - Poem 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." 

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