. . . that doesn’t like a wall, that wants it down—says poet Robert Frost.
He blames the ruin of New England’s stone walls on winter, hunters and even elves.
Walls define relationships, he says. They’re necessary but hard to maintain. Frost repairs his own walls with the guy next door, who mutters famously, Good fences make good neighbors.
I’m writing this on our woodland property in Vermont, laced with stone walls that once defined pasture land for livestock and orchards. Forest has taken over those pastures, with trees now large enough to earn us a buck or two. The walls, though, still remain. Time—and elves—have eroded some, but others remain works of art and skill, built to last.
Jim and I walk a lot, and we sometimes see modern attempts at wall building, usually amounting to a line of stones perched one on top of another. Old-time farmers would laugh at the effort. No elves needed here for their destruction! A good puff of wind would do them in.
Those brawny pioneers, however, knew that a wall with staying power needs a sturdy platform two to three feet thick, with smaller stones carefully layered on top. Thus, boundary lines were clearly defined. Good fences do make good neighbors.
I came across another aspect of wall building while reading a Ken Follett novel, Pillars of the Earth, about constructing a cathedral. No small job. Sometimes took several generations to accomplish the task. He says,
The walls of a cathedral had to be not just good, but perfect. The cathedral was for God. And because of a cathedral’s great size, the slightest lean in the walls, the merest variation from the absolutely true and level, could weaken the structure fatally.
The physics of wall building is instructive. According to Scripture, we are to build our lives on solid rock and make straight the way of the Lord. Reflect on this hymn:
One holy temple, rising, of living stones is made;
One sure foundation able to bear the weight that’s laid. . . .
We sing, “Build us true;”
Your level measures straight.
We sing, “Build us strong;”
We know the hour’s late.
We sing, Build us tight;”
Divided houses fall.
Cement these stones You’ve fitted for glory,
Lord of All.
What’s your favorite Robert Frost poem? Have you visited any cathedrals? Would love to hear. Email me at email@example.com. Double click on photos to enlarge them.