1 EAGLETON NOTES: Blogging Is Educational



Sunday, 30 August 2009

Blogging Is Educational

Yesterday I posted I Said to Her.... on the blog Soaring Through the World in Pictures. It was supposed to be amusing. In the comments DawnTreader said...
Good fences make good neighbours... (Phrase popped to mind because it occurred in this week's "wordzzle" creative writing challenge that I'm partaking in...)
I have enough problems keeping up with the rest of the blogs and the Wordzzle challenge seemed a bit cerebrally challenging as well as time consuming so I haven't been following it. Doing a Scriptor I wondered where the saying came from because I was not sure that I understood nor agreed with it. The line is listed by the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations as a mid 17th century proverb, which was given a boost in the American consciousness due to its prominence in the metaphorical poem Mending Wall by the American poet Robert Frost.

The more times I read it the more I came to the conclusion that it was suggesting that, however close one was to a friend, there should always be an ultimate fence between two people. I really found this hard to agree with. Then I discovered that, whatever I thought, the overwhelming evidence was against me:

Quoting from The Twenty-First Katharine Briggs Memorial Lecture, November 2002:
People everywhere and at all times have seen the pros and cons of a fence marking property lines and keeping people from infringing on each other's space. Some of them are similar to the basic idea of the proverb "Good fences make good neighbours" that advocates some distance between neighbours: "There must be a fence between good neighbours" (Norwegian), "Between neighbours' gardens a fence is good" (German), "Build a fence even between intimate friends" (Japanese),"Love your neighbour, but do not throw down the dividing wall" (Indian [Hindi]), and "Love your neighbour, but put up a fence" (Russian). There is even the German proverb "A fence between makes love more keen". If only social and political walls could bring about love between the parties! As in the late medieval Latin proverb Bonum est erigere dumos cum vicinis ("It is good to erect hedges with the neighbours"), folk wisdom states again and again that some distance between neighbours might be a good idea for the sake of privacy.
Another case of 'Ah well....'


  1. Wow...you really did get involved with that quote, huh? I agree with you..."ah, well".


  2. If so many people say so...

    I agree: Ah, well. :)

  3. Fences and neighbors are definitely good together. We don't have one...I wish we did. Their dog is forever escaping, due to their 3 year old letting him out of the dog pen, and my two go insane when they see another dog in their yard. LOL!

    You know St. Clair? WOW! That is where my husband spent most of his childhood, and my Dad used to drag my family out there so he could relax and watch the boats.

    Small world indeed.

  4. Being a rural person I definitely agree about fences and neighbours. As the majority of my neighbours are animals I want them on the other side of that fence or I would have no garden. I don't think it applies between friends, just neighbours. ("You choose your friends, but not your neighbours.")

  5. Thanks for the link to the Robert Frost poem, I had not read it! (The proverb was familiar to me from before, so for a change I did not bother to google this one when it turned up in the wordzzle challenge!) It seems to me that Frost was questioning the proverb much the same way you do. It was his neighbour who wanted it more than he did, even though neither of them had any cattle to keep in or out.

    I can imagine the proverb growing popular among the American settlers, though. Claiming their piece of land in the new world by surrounding it with fences.

    I have the Penguin Dictionary of Proverbs. Under "neighbours", besides "good fences make good neighbours", they also list:
    "A hedge between keeps friendship green" and "Love your neighbour, yet pull not down your hedge".

  6. I did not know that this proverb had such a vast reaching through different cultures....
    We studied the Robert Frost poem last semester in a literature class...I agree with DawnTreader...I don't think Frost wanted the fence, but his neighbor did. His neighbor was very private and did not want to grow too close---he shut everything out except the neighborly fence-re-building project itself.