I’ve always enjoyed poetry – observing the way writers put words together that paint pictures, ultimately sharing a message whose origins can be traced to the heart, mind and soul.
As my education continued throughout my formative years, I eventually assembled a list of those who stood at the top of my list of favorites – a pantheon of Black poets that included talented wordsmiths like Gwendolyn Brooks, Nikki Giovanni, Amiri Baraka, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen – even Tupac Shakur.
However, one of the very first poets to whom I was introduced when I was just a second grader was the American Robert Lee Frost, whose parents were an Irish immigrant and a descendant of England. Frost often used rural New England as his background and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Over 40 years later, one of works, “Mending Walls,” still has a profound impact on how I envision the world.
One line from that poem helps me challenge a troubling campaign promise posed by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump: “Good fences make good neighbors.” In other words, Frost believed that while fences were necessary to delineate the differences of ownership in property, that they also allowed access by both sides. They could be opened when desired. They could serve as a means of inviting another onto one’s land and into their home.
Trump wants a wall to be built between the U.S. and Mexico. He says it must be constructed immediately to protect Americans from dangerous, criminally-minded foreigners who now live in Mexico.
But walls don’t only keep others out – they also keep those who live within their confines locked up and isolated. They keep those who believe that they’re safer because they live behind the wall from experiencing the rest of the world in all of its beautiful diversity.
Sometimes a wall may be necessary for survival like the Great Wall of China, erected to protect the people from raids and invasions of nomadic groups. But then there are other walls, like the Berlin Wall, which once separated East and West Germany and stood as a symbol of the oppressive Soviet regime before it saner minds decided to tear it down after its 25-year history of fear, dominance and death.
Building walls may make sense in certain instances. But I’d rather build a fence.
Trump has it all wrong. And it was Robert Frost who first helped me understand the difference between fences and walls.