Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall,” Yusef Komunyakaa’s “Slam, Dunk, & Hook,” and Judith Ortiz Cofer’s “Common Ground” all emphasize how the world surrounds us with differences and opposites that act as barriers. These barriers limit our ability to understand the real world versus the world we perceive through our own desires and perspectives. This is also a reoccurring theme in Witi Ihimaera’s “The Whale Rider” as many characters reject that which is different and do not comprehend its true meaning and importance until the barriers are broken and there is acceptance. In a situation like this, Kolvenbach inspires us to transform ourselves according to the Jesuit ideals. Essentially, students who wish to fulfill a Jesuit education must look beyond what sets them apart from others and search for the deeper meaning that will bring them together.
Yusef Komunyakaa’s “Slam, Dunk, & Hook” emphasizes that although there may be differences and opposites, they work together to function as a single entity. “On swivels of bone & faith, through a lyric slipknot of joy, we knew we were beautiful & dangerous” make the reader question how comparable the descriptions actually are to their counterpart (552). Though Komunyakaa poetically formats the words to flow and intertwine with each other, they actually are complete opposites. For example, a slipknot is used when making nooses for a death by hanging, while joy characterizes itself as a feeling that possesses much life. The comparison between the joy of life and the death that the noose portrays are polar opposites, but still function as a beautiful entity. This is how Ihimaera wants the reader to feel about the opposites that challenge each other in “The Whale Rider” including issues such as gender roles, power struggles, and racism.
In “Common Ground,” Judith Ortiz Cofer defines us as similar, biologically, to everyone else, yet sets us apart through our differences. The common ground we hold with each other reminds us that we are all similar and do not have to believe that the “inequalities and injustices of the world … are inevitable” (32). The format of the poem is symbolic in itself as well. Before we can fully understand and define ourselves, we must understand what is universal and common among all people. In Witi Ihimaera’s “The Whale Rider,” Koro Apirana had to first accept the fact that women and men are equal before he was able to see what exactly it was that set Kahu apart. Cofer also puts a negative connotation on the traits that make herself different from the biological human she described in the first stanza, meaning that when we focus on ourselves, and only ourselves, we struggle more to accept who we are.
In Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” he portrays this idea that if two things are different, they must be separate. “He is all pine and I am an apple orchard” (24). However, we tend to establish these differences ourselves and build these walls because it is easier to live according to our goals and desires in comparison to the goals and desires of others. However, according to Kolvenbach’s reading, we are able to break down this wall just like our “society is able to solve problems such as feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, or developing more just conditions of life” (32). However, we choose not to. We put these walls up as barriers so we do not see the drastic differences that stand between us. Good fences may make good neighbors, but they do not make good people or ignite change “for the greater glory of God” (41).
In all these poems, there is an underlying meaning that emphasizes that objects or ideas that appear to be different should not be separate for those reasons, but should be brought together in order to function as a single entity. Robert Frost, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Judith Ortiz Cofer all reveal to us how we set ourselves apart from each other while Kolvenbach encourages us, students aspiring to receive a Jesuit education, to take “responsibility for human society” (40).