The Front Gate in Literature

The history of the front gate probably goes back to the first walled villages in ancient times. Walls were of course built to keep out the wild animals and the pillaging hoards from across the river. And of course whenever one builds a wall, one must build a gate, which is merely a moveable section of wall, after all. Egress and entrance being a necessity, being forced to clamber over a wall (or fence) is both impractical and seriously undignified. Hence the need for the gate.


Over time, gates grew in size, strength, and were eventually joined by other gates – side and back, sluice and flood, gates to enlightenment, and gateways to reason, the soul, and sundry other places one might wish to enter, or to leave.


But it is the front gate that is prominent, most obvious, and, not surprising after millenniums of presence among us, so ubiquitous as to be hardly noticed at all, except as something we need to get through, to get to the other side. That is to say, an obstruction that must be dealt with, but hardly thought of once passed by.


It is perhaps a long way from the front gate of Troy to the front gate of one’s home, but many of the same rationale for such a barrier remains the same –to keep out, to regulate the passage through, to demarcate one’s boundaries from the rest of the world. We think today of the front gate through the lens of security, privacy, and less often, as the initial face of our domiciles to the approaching visitor.


It is to this last aspect this blog is dedicated – the manner in which our front gate welcomes, invites, makes a statement about what lies beyond. In these fear-filled times, such welcoming is heartening, gives small but needed hope to us in a small and hopeful way, extends our hand to the passers-by and the approaching visitor, says “yes, this is the boundary of what is mine, but allow me to welcome you across into my world, if only for a moment.”


Some gates are true barriers – solid, stolid, locked and impenetrable, while others are open, ephemeral, and easy to pass. Some are not present at all – more entry-way than gate-way, still, they serve to invite, entice, beguile, and tease, leading us into their embrace, coaxing us forward to the completion of our journey, or the beginning of the same.


There is no intent here to disparage the more common-appearing gate – the gate that merely continues the design of the fence itself – but to celebrate the gate and entryway that goes beyond the mere formalism of “gate” to become a small force to impel one onward, through the entrance, and into the small or endless beauty,  and comfort or adventure beyond. To celebrate the art of welcome, as I now welcome you, gentle neighbor, through the following portals, and into a friendly place.


Through here one may find welcome, and the heart be glad….


Front Gate in Literature – quotes and citations



“Don’t I know what it is to stand a-leanin’ over the front gate on a still spring mornin’, the smell of the lilacs in the air, and the brier roses. A dew sparklin’ on the grass under the maples, and the sunshine a-fleckin’ the ground between ’em, and the robins a-singin’ and the hummin’ birds a-hoverin’ round the honeysuckles at the door. And over all and through all, and above all clear and sweet, comin’ from fur off a-floatin’ through the Sabbath stillness, the sound of the bells, a-bringin’ to us sweet Sabbath messages of love and joy. Bringin’ memories too, of other mornin’s as fair and sweet, when other ears listened with us to the sound, other eyes looked out on the summer beauty, and smiled at the sound of the bells. Heavenly emotions, sweet emotions come to me on the melody of the bells, peaceful thoughts, inspirin’ thoughts of the countless multitude that has flocked together at the sound of the bells. The aged feet, the eager youthful feet, the children’s feet, all, all walkin’ to the sound of the bells. Thoughts of the happy youthful feet that set out to walk side by side, at their ringin’ sounds. Thoughts of the aged ones grown tired, and goin’ to their long dreamless sleep to their solemn sound. Thoughts of the brave hero’s who set out to protect us with their lives while the bells wuz ringin’ out their approval of such deeds. Thoughts of how they pealed out joyfully on their return bearin’ the form of Peace. Thoughts of how the bells filled the mornin’ and evenin’ air, havin’ throbbed and beat with every joy and every pain of our life, till they seem a part of us (as it were) and the old world would truly seem lonesome without ’em.



Samantha Among The Bretheren

Marietta Holley

Chapter 24


The place to take the test of a man is not the forum or field, not the marketplace
or the amen corner, but at his own fireside.  There he lays aside his mask
and you may judge whether he is imp or angel, king or cur, hero or humbug.
I care not what the world says of him, whether it crown him with bays
or pelt him with eggs; I care never a copper what his reputation or religion may be;
if his babes dread his homecoming and his better half has to swallow her heart
every time she asks him for a five dollar bill, he’s a fraud of the first water,
even though he prays night and morn until he is black in the face,
and howls hallelujah until he shakes the eternal hills.  But if his children rush
to the front gate meet him, and love’s own sunshine illumines the face
of his wife when she hears his footsteps, you may take it for granted
that he is true gold, for his home’s a heaven and the humbug
never got that close to the great white throne of God.


William Cowper Brann


I remember the evenings at my grandparents’ ranch, at Sagle, and how in the daytime we chased the barn cats and swung on the front gate and set off pitchy, bruising avalanches in the woodshed, and watched my grandmother scatter chicken seed from an apron with huge pockets in it, suffering the fractious contentment of town children rusticated. And then the cows came home and the wind came up and Venus burned through what little remained of atmosphere, and the dark and the emptiness stood over the old house like some unsought revelation.


Marilynne Robinson, “My Western Roots” (1993)



A visit to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery — not far from The Wayside and Orchard House — is a must because it is the final resting place of these famous Concord writers. Thoreau did the surveying for the cemetery’s pond and front gate, and his great friend, Emerson, gave the address at the formal consecration in 1855.

 “I learned this, at least, by my experiment, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours,” Henry David Thoreau wrote in “Walden.”


A dog does not always bark at the front gate.

Spanish Proverb



  In this temper he emerged from behind the house nearest to his own, and, glancing toward the street, saw his mother standing with Eugene Morgan upon the cement path that led to the front gate. She was bareheaded, and Eugene held his hat and stick in his hand; evidently he had been calling upon her, and she had come from the house with him, continuing their conversation and delaying their parting.         52     

  They had paused in their slow walk from the front door to the gate, yet still stood side by side, their shoulders almost touching, as though neither Isabel nor Eugene quite realized that their feet had ceased to bear them forward; and they were not looking at each other, but at some indefinite point before them, as people do who consider together thoughtfully and in harmony. The conversation was evidently serious; his head was bent, and Isabel’s lifted left hand rested against her cheek; but all the significances of their thoughtful attitude denoted companionableness and a shared understanding. Yet, a stranger, passing, would not have thought them married: somewhere about Eugene, not quite to be located, there was a romantic gravity; and Isabel, tall and graceful, with high colour and absorbed eyes, was visibly no wife walking down to the gate with her husband.


Booth Tarkington (1838–1918).  The Magnificent Ambersons.  1918.       


How about you? Do you have any wonderful additions to this quotidian pile of quotations?


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Joseph de Lange
    Jul 06, 2012 @ 14:29:42

    Hello Gatemaster, I like your collection of quotes. Among other things they remind me to re read Walden. On the subject of gates there is an inexhaustible number around the world all with different uses and stories, originality and established styles . I very much look forward to seeing your future posts.


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