Thoughts about Good Fences and Good Gates

Mallow, Flowers, Plant, The Fence, The Rays, Sun

Have you ever considered the true nature of a fence? We often think of a fence as something to keep a creature inside an area–i.e. fencing cattle or a dog or chickens inside. But when people have no livestock to contain, why do they erect fences? I venture to say that it is the same reason that they erect walls. To keep other people out.


In Robert Frost’s poem Mending Wall, it is springtime, and the poet and his neighbor are doing what they do every spring. They have met at the stone wall that stands between their properties and have begun to walk along the fence, replacing the stones that have fallen over the year.

Robert Frost says to his neighbor that he doesn’t understand why they continue to repair the fence between them. He points out that they do not have cattle that need to be confined, and he says that an apple orchard is the only thing that is standing on his land and that the neighbor only has pine trees.

Fence, Rustic, Landscape, Wood, Green, Field, Nature

“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?” – Robet Frost

Robert Frost raises good questions: What is the purpose of a fence and do fences really make good neighbors?

Honestly, fences do not make good neighbors. If a person has a very bad neighbor, a fence would be an excellent way to keep a bad neighbor out, and in that respect, fences do not make good neighbors, but they are ways to keep bad neighbors apart.

I am currently reading about how many of the great British estates were developed by powerful men who merely fenced an area and claimed it. Apparently, the fences were justified as a means of containing sheep, but when the more powerful people fenced an area, they often took land away from the less powerful who were living there and growing gardens there.

Excerpt from Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ – Written in 1516

“Your sheep, that were wont to be so meek and tame and so small eaters, now – as I hear say – be become so great devourers and so wild that they eat up and swallow down the very men themselves. They consume, destroy, and devour whole fields, houses, and cities.”

The sheep were blamed for being the greedy culprits who had stripped people from their homes and fields. Yet, the sheep were not the guilty parties. The guilty ones were those who simply claimed what they wanted.

I have also been reading about the British estate Penshurst.

In 1483, Penshurst was owned by Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham. In 1519, Henry VIII visited Penshurst and apparently liked it. Because he felt that Stafford might become a strong contender to the throne, Henry VIII had him beheaded and simply claimed Penshurst. In essence, Penshurst itself was at one time acquired by the powerful Henry VIII who merely squatted there. He was like the devouring sheep, and he devoured what had originally belonged to someone else.

When we who were once British came to America, we were still squatting on land that was not ours. In the United States, we British squatted on the land of the Native Americans and claimed it as our own; and the early history of the United States reflects the blood bath that ensued. When labor was needed to farm the Americas, we white people merely took men and women from other places and enslaved them. We erected fences around other people and claimed them as our own. The history of America is one of squatting on other people and their lands and creating fences around them, and in reading “Utopia” and the other texts for this week, I see that the gluttony of the USA must have crossed the ocean on the Mayflower. That would be an example of an abuse of fencing something or someone in.

I am an odd mix of a social butterfly and a cat lady who doesn’t like cats. If it were left up to me, I’d probably never leave my house. In many ways, I have essentially fenced myself in and fenced other people out; yet, after I am  among other people, I enjoy a god get-together as much as anyone else. As a general rule, however, I am happy puttering around my house and garden, and I have enough projects to keep myself busy and contented.

Saturday, my friend and neighbor had a barbecue to celebrate the last few days that her son will be at home before he enters the Naval Academy. My friend is truly my friend, and she knows that I am only about two inches away from being a recluse, and she knows that getting out is not something that I often do; yet, she always invites me to her parties, and I always do whatever it takes to make myself attend them. In this case, I have erected a fence around myself, and if the fence remained impenetrable, it would not at all make good neighbors. Yet, my personal fence has gates, and it is because of my gates that I have any friends at all.

©Jacki Kellum June 28, 2016

Mending Wall

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….

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…..

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….
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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