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.
~ Robert Frost, “Mending Wall”

Robert Frost, Photo by Walter Albertin

Robert Frost, Photo by Walter Albertin

A post in The Chronicle of Higher Education about using open textbooks is timely, as I’m experimenting this term with having no required textbooks for a humanities class and relying instead on public domain literature and online articles. The course is designed to introduce the purpose and scope of the humanities to a population of engineering, nursing, and business majors.

Contrary to what many people might assume, these largely STEM students have no problem understanding the need for the arts or the role that the humanities plays in their lives and their work. This week, as a way to begin discussing The Shawshank Redemption, which we viewed last week, I read to them Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall.” The timeless words are perfect to read aloud, if only—and maybe especially—to oneself. The questions raised and the potential applications for our own lives and current events are limitless, and the poem has even been quoted in a Supreme Court decision:

Justices Scalia and Breyer engaged in a duet of quotations from the poetry of Robert Frost. To Justice Scalia’s statement that “Separation of powers, a distinctively American political doctrine, profits from the advice authored by a distinctively American poet: Good fences make good neighbors.” Justice Breyer replied:

“One might consider as well that poet’s caution, for he not only notes that ‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,’ but also writes, ‘Before I built a wall I’d ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out.”‘ Read More

What are the walls in your life? What do they wall in… and wall out? When do they make good neighbors? What walls “do we keep between us as we go”?

Read the poem, then listen to Robert Frost’s reading, below, accompanied by video of the Berlin Wall.

Something there is that doesn’t wuv a wall:

Photo of Robert Frost by Walter Albertin. LOC image: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/98506660/