Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” begins with the line “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” thought by the speaker of the poem and closes with the speaker noting the words of his neighbor, “He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.”
The speaker of the poem gives us two different explanations for his thought. Winter can make gaps in a wall, but in the poem the work of nature, which “spills the upper boulders in the sun,” is far less damaging than the silent and disrespectful hunters, who have “left not one stone on a stone” to create a gap in the wall in pursuit of a rabbit.
Each spring the speaker walks the line of the wall with his neighbor, each on his own side of the wall, to repair the damage caused by winter and hunters.
The speaker questions the need for a wall and wonders about the offense a wall might cause to some, but the neighbor responds with the words he has learned from his father: “‘Good fences make good neighbors.’”
Despite the questions raised by the poem’s speaker, the poem leads to the knowledge that it is wise to build and maintain good boundaries, physical and spiritual, but that it takes cooperation, work, and respect for God, self, and others to do so.
Too many today are like Frost’s disrespectful hunters. Their lives reveal their complete disrespect for boundaries, whether they are those created by God or those created by a man who seeks to cooperate with God’s laws, whether they are natural or legal, physical or spiritual. The damage they do with their disrespect is far greater than that of the hunters.
A society cannot exist without good boundaries. A person cannot live a good life without good boundaries.
The boundaries a Christian must respect, boundaries that any wise person would accept, are found in Scripture. In his teaching, Our Lord reminds us of the boundaries set by the Father that human beings since the beginning repeatedly have transgressed.
Our Lord took the Ten Commandments, summarized them as two, and so set for us our most essential boundary: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.
With the beatitudes, he shows us how a person lives by the commandments in this life and the rewards he will receive for living according to the will of God.
With the prayer he gave us, he shows us how to praise the Father out of love each day and what it means to live as a good neighbor in the world.
St. Paul gave his life to Jesus Christ and speaks of how those who have been baptized into Christ reveal their baptism in the lives they lead. Living as Jesus Christ taught, St. Paul preaches that a Christian dies to sin and finds life instead in Christ (Rom 6:11-17).
A Christian dead to sin understands boundaries. He is no longer the sinner he was. He is no longer the adulterer, the fornicator, the slanderer he once was. He no longer worships idols. He is no longer greedy. He no longer gives into his desires. He no longer gives into that something that doesn’t love a wall.
Those following the ways of the world think a fool gives up what they consider to be the pleasures of the world. St. Paul teaches us that it is far better to be a fool than wise in the eyes of the world (1 For 3:18-23).
St. Gregory the Great teaches that we have the power to choose whether or not we give into vice. The worst way we can give into vice is to pretend it does not exist or to redefine a vice as a virtue.
Sin, St. Gregory teaches, derives from our desires. The hunter who tears down a wall redefines the boundary line set by the property’s owner to make his vice a virtue that satisfies only his immediate desire. All who transgress the boundary lines set by God do the same.
Our Lord set boundaries for us. If we are to love God and neighbor, we are required not only one day in spring but each day to walk the fence line of our lives and to do the work of mending with God’s help what we have torn down by following worldly desires.
The line Frost’s neighbor heard from his father is handed down knowledge that can help us in our efforts to reject the destruction of that something that doesn’t love a wall, and it bears repeating: “Good fences make good neighbors.”