Mending Wall by Robert Frost: A Summary
Mending Wall by Robert Frost seeks to analyze the broad issue of divisions between humans under the garb of a common yearly ritual, wall repairing. The poem, written in the same year in which the World War 1 took place, aptly manifests Frost’s mastery in exploring a serious subject, while being calm and tranquil throughout.
Line Wise Summary
Lines 1 to 11
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.
Summary: Going directly into the heart of the matter, the poet commences with a probable hypothesis, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” thereby hinting at some unknown power (not human), that does not appreciate the building of walls. Now, what propels him to form such a conclusion? Obviously, the unmistakably wide gaps in the wall resulted due to the coupling effect of two natural phenomena’s – swelling of the “frozen ground” brought about by the shrinking of water particles in winter and the subsequent warming of wall “boulders in the sun.” Now, who are the suspects? The poet accuses “hunters,” rabbits and “yelping dogs” to be the culprits besides that “something.” Little bunnies take refuge inside crevices in walls to hide from hunters, who in turn knocks down the wall to get them and eventually please the rabbit chasing dogs. Sensing that much has been said about rabbits and hunters, the poet reminds us by repeating, “The gaps I mean.” It is mysterious in the way he keeps on harping about an unknown force, “something” that remaining unseen and unheard creates the gaps. Interestingly, two important aspects are revealed in line 11, the walls are mended in “spring,” and the work involves someone else too, “we.”
Lines 12 to 22
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
Summary: The identity of one of “we” is revealed in line 12. It is his neighbor with whom the poet takes a walk of the entire length of the wall on a particular day for picking up “boulders” that resemble either “loaves” of bread or tennis balls. However, the fallen boulders seem unwilling of remaining in their places; as such, the poet and his neighbor resort to a spell, “Stay where you are until our backs are turned!” thereby hoping that they would stay intact at least as long as they are present. The idea that the wall has to remain erected irrespective of what happens, is echoed in the lines, “And set the wall between us once again / We keep the wall between us as we go,” to instill the sense that the wall is an absolute certainty, perhaps a dependable emblem glaringly segmenting their possessions. Their fingers become sore by handling the rough rocks, and it actually appears to be more a playful activity “just another kind of out-door game.” Now, comparing this routine ritual to an “outdoor game,” the poet points at a serious reality, his intended message that is faintly mentioned in line 22,” It comes to little more.”
Lines 23 to 35
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
Summary: In the next lines, the poet attempts to establish a series of facts to support his claim that walls are unnecessary. The poet’s land comprises of “all” apple trees and his neighbor has all pine trees. Consequently, his “apples” would “never get across/ And eat the cones under his pines,” he argues. This prompts his neighbor to repeat a familiar proverb, “Good fences make good neighbors,” an age-old belief that separation of boundaries allows one to remain cordial and friendly. To stir his orthodox values, the poet tries to be a bit mischievous. He turns the question to, why are “good fences” needed to “make good neighbors?” “Fences,” he contends are required to keep of straying cows, “But here there are no cows.” So, the next question becomes, “What I was walling in or walling out,” an introspection into the walled hearts of modern man that supports peaceful existence by forceful partition.
Lines 36 to 45
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.”
Summary: Again the idea that “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” is revived and the poet now seeks to assure his neighbor that maybe they are the “Elves.” However, he declines doing so and lets his neighbor come up with an explanation. As his neighbor approaches clutching a stone “firmly by the top,” the poet sees in him “an old-stone savage” – an earnest representative of a primitive culture, rigid upon blindly executing inherited rules. Naturally, such a primeval man “moves in darkness” – the “darkness” of unreason and dares not to abandon his father’s saying, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Mending Wall, besides discussing a serious topic is also autobiographical, for the mundane activity of wall mending recalls a ritual in which both the poet and his neighbor participated while living in New Hampshire from 1900 to 1909. Now, if you want to have an in depth understanding of the poem, you may go through the poem’s analysis.
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- mending wall summary