Jul 4, 2010

Independence Day with Robert Frost's "Mending Wall" and a Touch of Thoreau

On a day for celebrating America, I tried to find some Whitman I could stomach and came up both empty and overwhelmed by gas. So let's try a spiffy aphorism from Thoreau and think about America in the midst of urban sprawl: "I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion."

I don't think I'm forcing the issue by offering a companion piece--a companion by contrast: one of Robert Frost's best and best known poems, "Mending Wall."

I don't want to humbug the holiday--as if I could--by wondering aloud whether Americans have a new, definite, almost hostile craving for walls between themselves and their neighbors. But I think I see and hear it almost daily, and I know of ways I'm guilty of it. Surely one of the most obvious patterns in American history, and in Frost's poem, is the country's dislike for barriers, the way earth itself dislikes walls and over time destroys them.

To re-state the obvious, every immigrant group who's come here after the first colonists has been walled out by those who came earlier. Africans, Chinese, Italians, Irish, and on and on goes the list until it becomes a cliche no one listens to, regardless of its obvious truth. Apparently we want to stick to conversations and people we know rather than what is new and interesting--and maybe challenging.

Frost's earth and its people (the hunters, for example) don't like walls, and apparently we still don't. Despite all the appearances to the contrary, our walls are temporary. However, there must be hostility, sadness and even bloodletting in the short term. Walls don't fall in a day; they crumble over time (excuse the soap box).

"Mending Wall" is much more personal as a poem than it is historical or political, but I think the comparison holds: over time, the United States hasn't tolerated walls any more than the earth has, and that might be the nation's most singular, defining characteristic. As the ground and gravity mess with the stones and bricks a little every day, they slowly but inevitably overturn the obstacles to change, especially the chunks and wads that are man-made.

Mending Wall

Okay, now let's get that beer and hot dog. Or Kielbasa? A side of hummus? Woo Dip Har? Pad Thai? Tandoori Chicken?



Anonymous said...

I'll take a slice of that, Banjo, and a side of good old american pizza.

As you know, my parents were immigrants. But they didn't come over as part of a wave, so they never faced any discrimination.I think I was always most proud of their really cool accent.

Banjo52 said...

Pick up or delivery, AH?

Interesting about waves. Am I naive to think that most white neighborhoods would NOT be threatened into hostility by one or two of this or that minority, but larger numbers become a problem?

I wonder how many native speakers are proud of their parents' accents.

-K- said...

Even tho Blogger seems to be having comment problems today, I think you might enjoy this gentleman's blog:


His style and subject matter is like yours. Maybe you've come across him before now, he's quite popular in the blog world.

Banjo52 said...

Thanks, K. I wasn't aware of him, but I'll definitely check it out in more detail. For wit and wisdom, you can't beat southern Ohio small towns.

Anonymous said...

Really? I'll bet you can.

Banjo52 said...

Well, AH, maybe in ENGLAND or BOSTON or TIBET or some such. But not in no desert-y Southern California full of girls showin their belly buttons!

Brenda's Arizona said...

"What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense." - my favorite lines.

My husband grew up in a small Wisconsin town. Everyone knew each other. Rarely did someone new move in. He does not understand the concept of 'walling in or out'. He still has not grown up.

I hate walls.

Banjo52 said...

Brenda, as you know, it’s me too on your hubby’s small town background. However, it troubles me a bit (not to mention Frost's ghost) to realize I’m more comfortable with walls than I once was.

The other familiar metaphor in this area is the fish bowl, and I got real tired of living in one (more than one, but that’s too much detail). I’ve been always on the boring side, not that much to hide, but I still didn’t like the fish bowl, and so became somewhat comfortable with walls. They’re not all that high, and I don’t pour hot medieval tar on intruders, but there they are.

I’d suggest this for a post topic for someone, but maybe it’s too personal (if it’s to be interesting or meaningful)?

Lovers' Lane