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Letters About Literature National Winners 2010

National Honor Winner, Level 2: Caroline George, ME

Dear Robert Frost,

Your poem, “Mending Wall”, grabbed my imagination and held it captive! Maybe you should have your poem published with a warning in bold on the top: CAUTION! MAY CHANGE YOUR VIEW OF THE WORLD! I read your poem one morning at school, but it wasn’t until I went into the cafeteria for lunch that I experienced the alarming side effects. I was stunned to see a wall winding throughout the whole cafeteria, a beautiful New England stonewall, just like in your poem. I could see in some places the wall had been carefully taken care of, and in other places stones had fallen haphazardly on either side and left the wall with gaps. The wall wound around the popular kids table and encircled the geeks; it ran past the football players who were animatedly discussing the latest game.

As I stood in the doorway, I watched a group of girls point at a boy on the other side of the wall. They giggled and whispered as they haughtily added jagged, sharp rocks to their tall and imposing section. I wondered at the irony of the neighbor’s comment in your poem when he said, “Good fenced make good neighbors.” I was pretty sure I was looking at a boy who would not agree.

I saw that the wall prevented us from getting to know out own classmates. For a popular kid to meet a geek, they would have to climb the wall. Everyone would laugh and make fun of them because they didn’t belong on the same side. Though my friends and classmates couldn’t see the wall, they knew it was there. They didn’t know how much it was restricting everyone, though. They couldn’t tell it was creating unspoken and ridiculous rules. They simply knew that a geek and a popular kid couldn’t get to know each other.

I closed my eyes and shook myself hard to free my imagination from the grip of your poem. When I opened my eyes I was relieved to see my school’s cafeteria had returned to normal. I could no longer see the wall dividing the cafeteria, but I felt it, and still do. I began to think about other walls, walls that had divided people throughout history.

I realized that one of the largest and saddest walls was made right here in the United States. The wall between African Americans and white people was much taller and much more menacing than the one in my cafeteria. The Jim Crow laws dictated how people could and couldn’t interact. This is similar to how, on a much smaller scale, the popular kids and geeks have rules on how they can and can’t interact.

Your poem also triggered thoughts of the wall Adolph Hitler constructed. One by one, he lifted the crude, heavy stones of hatred. One by one, he balanced the shiny stones of jealously onto each other. One by one, he raised the rough and secluding stones of distrust. He encouraged people to add the cold, rounded stones of hostility to this terrible, murderous wall. They did.

It wasn’t until I read your poem that my eyes were opened to the fact that in Germany, a wall made it so religion decided weather you would live or die. In the United States, a wall made it so the color of your skin determined how you would live. In my cafeteria, a wall made it difficult to get to know other kids. Each wall is hard to knock down, and each wall leaves deep scars.

I now notice walls almost everywhere I look! Your poem showed me that with every difference comes a wall, and with every wall, heartache. I have been inspired to knock down a few stones from the wall each time I enter the cafeteria. Thank you for changing my view of the world with your poem…though I still think you should consider a warning on the top!

Caroline George