Sarah Palin made a reference to Robert Frost in a Facebook note this morning—but she missed the American poet and former Atlantic contributor's point. Reacting to news that a man planning to write a critical book about her is about to become her next-door neighbor, the former Alaska governor echoed the 1915 poem "Mending Wall," whose refrain is "good fences make good neighbors":
And you know what they say about "fences make for good neighbors"? Well, we'll get started on that tall fence tomorrow, and I'll try to keep Trig's squeals down to a quiet giggle so we don't disturb your peaceful summer. Enjoy!
As Andrew Sullivan points out, however, Palin's desire for a tall fence is completely contrary to the spirit of Frost's poem. "Mending Wall" is a polemic against building walls that separate us from our neighbors—the poem opens with the line,"Something there is that doesn't love a wall" and goes on to describe the narrator's attempts to talk his neighbor out of putting one up.
This back-and-forth sounds eerily similar to a plotline from The West Wing— the now-defunct NBC series that has been eerily prescient before. In the show's fourth season, a Republican campaign strategist misuses the "good fences make good neighbors" line, inspiring some literary-minded White House staffers to set the record straight:
Here he quotes Robert Frost. "Good fences make good neighbors." Did he talk about that?
What did he say?
Basically, that if you stay within your personal space, you'll end up getting along with everyone.
You had to study modern poetry.
Is that what Frost meant?
No, he meant that boundaries are what alienate us from each other.
Why did he say "Good fences make good neighbors?"
He was being ironic.
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