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Mending Wall by Robert Frost: An Analysis

The Poem

  • Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
  • That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it
  • And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
  • And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
  • The work of hunters is another thing: 5
  • I have come after them and made repair
  • Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
  • But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
  • To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
  • No one has seen them made or heard them made, 10
  • But at spring mending-time we find them there.
  • I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
  • And on a day we meet to walk the line
  • And set the wall between us once again.
  • We keep the wall between us as we go. 15
  • To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
  • And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
  • We have to use a spell to make them balance:
  • “Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
  • We wear our fingers rough with handling them. 20
  • Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
  • One on a side. It comes to little more:
  • There where it is we do not need the wall:
  • He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
  • My apple trees will never get across 25
  • And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
  • He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
  • Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
  • If I could put a notion in his head:
  • “Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it 30
  • Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
  • Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
  • What I was walling in or walling out,
  • And to whom I was like to give offense.
  • Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, 35
  • That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
  • But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
  • He said it for himself. I see him there,
  • Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
  • In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed. 40
  • He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
  • Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
  • He will not go behind his father’s saying,
  • And he likes having thought of it so well
  • He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.” 45

Starting with the Poem

The first poem in Frost’s second poetry book, “North of Boston,” Mending Wall is a quintessentially Frostian poem; beneath a seemingly ritualistic activity (wall repairing), it explores a complex, deeper truth – the relevance of divisions between human beings.

Background

Mending Wall is autobiographical in the sense that it recalls real life events occurring between the poet and his neighbor, Napoleon Guay, while staying in New Hampshire from 1900 to 1909. The very subject of the poem is derived from the observations made by Guay, during the long walks they took along their demarcated landscapes. In fact, the poem’s most popular line, “Good fences make good neighbors,” refers to a phrase frequently used by Guay, about wall mending that undoubtedly formed a seasoned issue of discussion during such walks. Much of the poem’s preoccupation with nature’s delights, its pastoral setting, highlights the poet’s imbibing of a rural sensibility of peaceful country life.

Central Idea of the Poem

Man makes walls to define his boundary, but nature creates gaps therein to make him understand that divisions are ultimately useless. Now, to have a better idea of how the poet explores this idea, you need to go through the summary of the poem.

Critical Analysis

The Themes

Nature’s Derision against Man-made Barriers

It is quite natural for the “frozen ground” to “swell” in winter, the wall “boulders” to “spill” so that wide “gaps” are created on the walls. However, the entire phenomenon is skillfully seen by the poet as a purposeful vengeance of nature against man’s stoic stubbornness to erect barriers and accept absolute isolation. Written in 1914, the year World War 1 happened, the poet employs the commonplace ritual of wall repairing to highlight modern man’s conscious and deliberate endeavors to safeguard his property, suspect his neighbor – all of which in a global context might even culminate in war. Consequently, nature hailing universal freedom, and equality amongst all, seems to make gaps in walls, to teach man some priceless lessons of trust and companionship.

Criticizing Man’s Stoic Attitude

The poet calls his neighbor, “an old-stone savage,” in view of his blind observation of his father’s saying, “Good fences make good neighbors.” In fact, through him, Frost reflects a fatal trait of man to remain contented in being detached and placid – a sort of vegetable existence that is utterly devoid of vibrancy and action. The listless attitude of man is so pronounced that even the desire to offer a somewhat possible solution to a simple mystery as to who breaks their wall, seems tedious and uninviting.

Passive Acceptance of Reality

It seems as if the poet is a conscious sinner, a follower of mandatory norms of society. Indeed, the poem’s paradoxical nature – the dichotomy between “something there is that doesn’t love a wall” and “good fences make good neighbors,” leads the reader to ponder about the ultimate message of the poem – whether it is imperative to build walls or break them. It appears as if the poet acknowledges that walls define privacy and social coexistence, yet feels that this very founding structure of civic living should not be the force behind pushing man into unfriendly cells.

Title Justification

The title aptly serves to convey a very meaningful message of the poem; on a literal level, it describes at length the seeming repetitiveness of an annual ritual, at a deeper level, it refers to man’s rethinking about the need to mend his broken relationships, with the wall standing as a reminder. It is important to note that according to the poet, it is this yearly procedure that allows them to meet and communicate.

Tone and Mood

The poet starts out with being contemplative about something he wants to discuss –  yearly incisions in a wall that separates his land from his neighbor’s. However, as the poem progresses, his tone becomes critical when he goes on to question the very justification of creating barriers.  Towards the end, he adopts a rather indifferent tone that reflects his passive acceptance of the entire matter. Similarly, the mood of the poem at the beginning is calm, but towards the end, it becomes mildly frustrating, as the poet cannot make his rigid neighbor think beyond his father’s saying.

Literary Devices

Symbols

The “Wall” stands for both connection and partition

“Something” symbolizes a potent power in nature that resists human aloofness.

The poet’s neighbor as “an old-stone savage” suggests his adherence to orthodox customs

The “hunters” are portrayed as careless mischief makers

Imagery

In line 7, “not one stone on a stone,” one can almost see the fallen stones of the wall.

In lines 8­‑ 9, “But they would have the rabbit out of hiding, /To please the yelping dogs,” one can visualize the rabbits being chased by dogs.

Repetition

The two significant lines that are repeated in the poem are, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” and” Good fences make good neighbors.”

Form

The poem, written in a blank verse has no rhyme scheme.

Language

The poet makes use of simple everyday words and expressions such that his narration sounds effortless. His use of New England idioms often turns understanding the poem, a bit puzzling for the reader.

Figures of Speech

Metaphor

Throughout the poem, the “wall” is an extended metaphor that determines the segregation lying between the poet and his neighbor.

In line 5, the word, “hunters” is a metaphor for interfering humans that heedlessly have a habit of prying into anything.

In line 17, the stones are compared to “loaves” and “balls.”

In line 24, “He is all pine, and I am apple orchard,” the poet compares himself to apple trees and his neighbor to pine trees.

In line 21, “Another kind of out-door game” is a metaphor for the wall repairing procedure.

Simile

In line 51, the poet compares his neighbor to an “an old-stone savage.”

Pun

In line 35, the word “offense” is a pun, sounding like “a fence.”

Personification

In lines 25‑ 26, “My apple trees will never get across 25 /And eat the cones under his pines,” the poet personifies the “apples.”

Irony

It is ironical that one the one hand, the poet condemns his neighbor for maintaining the “wall” between them and on the other hand, he is the one who eggs the latter to mend the gaps. Again, it is an irony that the wall that alienates them, also helps them to meet on account of its repairing activity.

Hyperbole

In lines 18 ‑19, Frost uses hyperbole to describe his method of making the stones remain transfixed to their place.

Onomatopoeia

In lines 2­‑ 3, “That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it/And spills the upper boulders in the sun,” one can almost hear the bursting of the wall boulders.

Meanings of Some Expressions

Line 24, “He is all pine…orchard”: The poet tries to explain that his neighbor has pine trees on his land while his land contains all apple trees.

Line 41, “He moves in darkness”: Being rigid and orthodox, the neighbor’s mind appears to be clouded by the darkness of unreason.

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