The coronavirus and Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall”
Holed up at home at my dining room table, I’m continuing with my lesson planning as scheduled during our two-week school closing. After our recent Ernest Hemingway unit concluded last week, my plan was to introduce my juniors to Robert Frost.
Frost’s poetry is poignant, honest, and direct and comments beautifully on personal wonderings, human relationships, and living in general. I always find Frost’s work to be rejuvenating and clarifying.
On my distance learning plan for today, I scheduled my juniors to read some short biographical background articles on Frost in our textbook.
Then, they were to freewrite in response to a prompt designed to prepare them for reading “Mending Wall.”
“Mending Wall” is one of Frost’s most well-known poems. It’s about the barriers that people use (and often work darn hard to maintain, by the way) to keep others at a distance. Here’s the freewriting prompt my students have for today:
“Think about the people who live near you. Do you see them often? Are you good friends, or do you barely speak? What activities, if any, bring you together? What things keep you apart?”
When I first read this prompt, I thought of the coronavirus.
What brings us together? Coronavirus. What keeps us apart? Coronavirus.
Yes, the coronavirus is literally keeping us apart. Social distancing is the new buzzword and best practice.
However, we can also say that the coronavirus pandemic and school closings are bringing us together. For example, I’m emailing regularly with one of our neighbors, an elderly woman who lives across the street. Before the social distancing began, even though she lives just across the way, our busy schedules prevented us from seeing her outside of our weekly meet-up at church (which is now cancelled indefinitely, of course). However, now, due to the coronavirus, we’ve had more contact with her this week than we usually do.
Bottom line: the walls that keep us from more regular contact with our neighbor — busy schedules — don’t have to exist. And that’s what Frost is getting at with “Mending Wall,” his little poem that questions why humans erect and then maintain barriers that distance themselves from those nearby.
And that brings me back (yet again) to another reason why I love Robert Frost. His work, and “Mending Wall” in particular, is as relevant today — possibly more so — than it was when it was written in 1914.
And that’s a good reason to stick to my regularly scheduled lesson plans during this two-week school closure.