It took an engaging, enthusiastic, patient seventh grade English teacher to show me that I could enjoy reading the classics as much as I enjoyed reading for pleasure. Poetry is a great example of this. It felt like all of my peers were so in touch with the imagery and the emotion of the poems we were reading, while I trailed along completely lost. I didn’t understand what was going on – there were flowers, but they weren’t flowers, they were feelings – it couldn’t hold my attention the way that Lord of the Rings did. And then Mr. Laszlo picked up Robert Frost, said “this one is for Hanna” (to the entire class’s confusion), and read “Mending Wall” aloud.
“…Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him…”
My ears perked up. That crafty man had read enough of my bad, 13-year-old epic fantasy to know which poems to show me. He showed me the common ground between the things I wanted to read and the classics, creating a little niche in the canon just for me. These were the things that I needed to read.
(Just wait until I start baking Yeats.)
In the literal narrative of the poem, two neighbors meet in springtime at the stone wall that divides their property. They walk along it, each on their respective side, and replace the stones that have fallen during the long winter. “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” just that opening line alone is enough to give me chills. It’s an uncanny mystery. Perhaps hunters and the shifting frozen ground are to blame, or perhaps something came in the dampened quiet of a winter’s night and tore down the stones. Elves, maybe.
Notes From The Piebrary:
Poetry is not my forte by any means. I always feel a bit sheepish in my analyses. Not that parsing fiction is any more objective, but somehow I find the emotion and malleability of poetry intimidating. (I like concrete context, I like to know what is happening at all times. Poetry is a bit like a dark cave, you shout into it and interpret the sounds come back. And even the, whose emotions are echoing whose?) Inevitably, to some degree, it has the familiar veil of your own sentiments, your own feelings and experiences. The context you provide to a poem more often than not, is your own, I think. With that in mind, I always approach poetry with a romantic’s open heart and a bashful naivete: I would welcome any and all thoughts on this piece, because mine are going to be more personal than academic.
This poem always forces me to confront what, exactly, divides me from other humans. We love our walls and hate our walls, we build them up and tear them down, what are we walling in or walling our and to whom are we likely to give offense (as Frost puts it)? I always imagine the speaker of this poem and his neighbor divided by their wall, the narrator’s hands clasped behind his back, smiling wryly as he teases his neighbor. He seems to only encourage the rebuilding of the wall, and yet I feel him reaching out to the owner of those pine trees, yearning to keep the wall down and connect on some level.
The end, “Good fences make good neighbors,” calls attention to itself, forces you to linger on it… So, what is a good neighbor?
Parsing This Pie:
A good neighbor is someone who will lend you a cup of flour in return for a slice of quiche. (This is the part where my practical brain takes over and barrels through the poetry like an Ohioan in a china shop.) I haven’t done a quiche yet, in a very literal sense it seems like the perfect hearty breakfast to have before traipsing out into the misty spring morning to complete an extensive building project with your surly neighbor.
I wanted to use lots of light, crisp spring vegetables, peas being the obvious starting point for me. From there I thought of the smell of wet spring earth and the image of pine cones under the neighbor’s trees; asparagus seems to cover those. After consulting my flavor thesaurus, I decided that parsnips would add some much needed texture and a nutty flavor that would compliment that of the asparagus. Goat cheese and prosciutto were just natural choices to round the flavors out, the meat providing just a hint of crisp smokiness without being greasy or overwhelming. And what is a quiche without a bit of cheese, really though?
– 1 cup flour
– 1/3 cup butter
– 2-3 tbs water
– 1 cup peas
– 11 stalks of asparagus, cut into thirds
– 1 medium parsnip in rounds
– 4 oz of chevre
-8 slices of prosciutto
– 9 eggs
– 1 1/2 cup whole milk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Prepare a single, open faced crust. Do not blind bake, leave it uncooked!
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and then layer the peas (I used frozen, it’s okay, no shame), asparagus, and parsnip rounds. Roast in the oven for approximately 15 minutes until the asparagus is tender.
Line the bottom of the uncooked crust with vegetables. Layer four slices of prosciutto on top of the veggies, followed by big chunks of chevre, and topped with the remaining four slices of prosciutto. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk until fully combined. Slowly pour over the quiche filling, letting it fill the space around the vegetables, meat, and cheese.
Turn the oven up to 400 degrees and bake for 45-55 minutes, rotating 180 degrees halfway through, or until the top of the egg filling begins to brown.
Invite your neighbor over for a slice with a tall, cold glass of apple juice or a nice hot cup of coffee before a long, hard day of work.