Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

Charles Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Mon Jun 5 21:23:43 UTC 2006

See Wolfgang Mieder, "Good Fences Make Good Neighbors: The
Sociopolitical Significance of an Ambiguous Proverb," in
Mieder, Proverbs Are the Best Policy: Folk Wisdom and
American Politics (Ogden: Utah State UP, 2005), 210-43.


---- Original message ----

>Poster:       "Baker, John" <JMB at STRADLEY.COM>
>Subject:      Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

>        There seems to be a remarkably widespread
misapprehension that
>this proverb was invented by Robert Frost, who quoted it in
his 1914
>poem, Mending Wall.  But it's a real proverb - one used by
>farmers, including my own father - and older than Frost.
The relevant
>portion of Frost's poem, which is about the effort by the
narrator and
>his neighbor to mend a stone wall:
><<He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors.'
>Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
>If I could put a notion in his head:
>'_Why_ do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
>Where there are cows?
>But here there are no cows.
>Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
>What I was walling in or walling out,
>And to whom I was like to give offence.
>Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
>That wants it down.' . . .
>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 neighbors.'>>
>        As Frost himself recognizes, it is an old saying
and of
>incontestable accuracy where there are cows or other
animals that can
>damage crops.  Here's an 1859 example, from Transactions of
the State
>Agricultural Society of Michigan; With Reports of County
>Societies, for the Year 1859, Vol. XI, at 342 (1861) (via
Making of
>        <<Good fences make good neighbors, and enable the
farmer when he
>retires to bed at night, to awake in the morning conscious
that his
>crops are secure, and that the labor of weeks are not
destroyed in an
>hour by his neighbor's or his own stock.>>
>John Baker

The American Dialect Society -

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