The Poetry of Walls: Donald Trump and Robert Frost
Robert Frost and Donald Trump would have been great friends. They have so much in common: They were both born in big American cities, both have wide appeal in rural America and both speak with poetic fervor about walls. “I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me… I will build a great, great wall on our southern border…mark my words,” said President Trump. Indeed, Robert Frost, too, has marked some words about walls in his poem, Mending Wall, which tells the story of two neighbors fixing the gaps in the walls which separate their property.
Trump and Frost are truly kindred spirits, for both also have a love of proverbs. Many of Frost’s’ phrases have made it into the American vernacular, and Trump is more than happy to use the phrases passed down to him. In his love poem about walls, Frost coined the saying: “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors;” recently Trump eloquently quoted his father’s saying: “a nation without borders is not a nation.” Indeed, Mr. Trump and Mr. Frost must be soulmates.
Unlike Frost, the President will not merely speak of building a wall; he’ll do it. “Mark my words,” he states. Don’t discount words too fast, however. There’s power in words as there’s power in building walls. In Frost’s’ realm, he waxes poetical on the beauty of walls: “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.”
Who doesn’t love a wall? That makes boulders spill like milk in the sun, and that pushes the earth beneath like two barefooted lovers walking on damp grass. The very existence of a wall stresses our togetherness. Take a moment to picture two people walking in an open field. One wanders over here by the thrush and another over there by a boulder; this separation is not possible when they approach a wall. They must find the gap and then “two can pass abreast.”
Despite criticisms of President Trump, his intentions are pure. “We are going to stabilize on both sides of the border and we also understand that a strong and healthy economy in Mexico is very good for the United States,” he said upon his Presidential announcement to build a wall. “Today, America get’s back control of its borders.” Indeed!
Frost would nod gravely in agreement. “The work of hunters is another thing,” he would add. Referring to the heartache of mending his wall season after season, due to jackals and beasts of all sorts, he says “I have come after them and made repair where 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.” As Trump emphasizes many times, the days of cartels “wreaking havoc in our country is over. We are going to get them out and we are going to get them out fast.” How poetic, indeed!
Again Robby Frost would nod sagely and add to his buddy’s assessment. Walls also bring neighbors together. Trump’s wall, after all, will need repairing from time to time. And so our two nations must come together every spring mending time to repair it. When these gaps are found, perhaps the nation to our south will act as Frost does: “I let my neighbor know beyond the hill; and on a day we meet to walk the line and set the wall between us as we go.” Trump, in fact, may not be willing to go so far as his friend Frost here. For, to Frost, this mending of the walls is a “kind of a game” played by neighbors. Oh isn’t that fun? Indeed:
“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.”
Even great friends can disagree when playing a game. “No fair, you cheated!” one might say. Or, “I call foul!” another may complain. Alas, this is the nature of playing games. Frost may feel like pointing out to his friend an area “where it is we do not need a wall… 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 offense.” Maybe, he would repeat once more his favorite line, this time with a sly grin: “something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down.”
Surely the poet would explain to his good friend Mr. Trump that there are two sides to a wall. And his stubborn but pure intentioned buddy would respond by saying “the wall design shall be physically imposing” on the Mexican side and “the side that faces the U.S. must be easy on the eyes.”
Here it is where Mr. Frost knows to keep his mouth shut. There is something that wants a wall down, that wishes barriers removed, not erected. Wise Mr. Frost knows better than to say aloud his thoughts here, plus, he’d think, “I’d rather he said it for himself." He watches his friend closely. “I see him there bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top in each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.” Our poor poet shivers.
Like anyone who plays a game for too long, he becomes weary of it and of his friend. Beneath a bough of a tree he closes his eyes, but cannot shake the image of his friend dressed as a savage slinging rocks. He is sad for him, because “he moves in darkness as it seems to me, not of woods only and the shade of trees.” He lives in an ignorance of his own making. Indeed, like building a wall for the shade it provides. An Ozymandias is he.
There is still hope, he realizes as he jumps to his feet. “My dear Mr Trump,” he shouts gleefully to his friend, “a nation without borders is not a nation you say. So do good borders make good nations?”
Spring is the mischief in me and I wonder if I could put a notion in his head: “Why do they make good nations?”
But he will not go behind his father’s saying, and he likes having thought it so well he says again, “good nations make good borders.”
Below is the poem in its entirety. You can hear Mr. Frost himself read his poem (perhaps he was reading it to his good friend Mr. Trump?)
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.”