An Analysis of Robert Frost’s Mending Wall
In his poem, “Mending Wall”, Robert Frost presents two gentlemen and their annual effort to repair a wall that separates their property. Frost uses the wall as a metaphor to portray the idea of barriers between people, and the repairing of the wall to demonstrate repairing a friendship and coming together. Frost uses metaphoric symbolism in the poem, using the process of repairing an actual wall, as a representation of the barriers that separate two neighbors. Behind the literal representation of repairing this wall, there is a much deeper meaning, which reflects coming together, overcoming obstacles, and resolving social barriers. While the belief is that barriers offer a source of protection and privacy, in this case, they are used to bring friends together. Clearly, the process of mending the wall is a metaphor that Frost uses to exemplify an idea about borders as a representation of barriers but also as a vehicle for demonstrating the mending of a relationship.
As for his interpretation of “Mending Wall”, Craig Dworkin dissects the poem with an idea that the entire poem is based on figurative words, meanings, and implications. He states, “When Frost wrote “Mending Wall”, the figurative use of a ‘spell’ would still have carried the meaning of guessing something secret or discovering something hidden, and the words would have explicitly denoted decipherment.” Dworkin claims that just as the speaker in the poem has to use a spell to make the stones balance, “we have to use a spell to make the poem balance with its matrix” (Dworkin). Here he alludes to the idea that Frost has used inventive play on words along with leading the reader to a summary, which is hidden deep within the lines of the poem. He goes on to call the encryption of “the matrix a “hypogram” (hypo “under” + gram “writing”); the hypogram is quite literally the subtext of the poem, underwriting the text on the page without actually appearing as part of that text. (Dworkin)” Essentially, he is implying that there is a much deeper message hidden within Frost’s poem, one that requires a great deal of analogy and dissecting to be able to understand.
Though his article never does state his opinion of the actual translation of the poem, he clearly states, “In fact, we must undertake the effort of those letter-by letter readings in order to better access the complexity of references woven into a poetic text” (Dworkin). While his actual critique is never revealed, he explains that one would have to dissect the poem in the most critical manner to uncover the hidden message, which Frost has buried within the text. With an opposing opinion, Frank Lentricchia’s analysis supports the theory that Frost is writing about the ‘process’, rather the literal task. He starts by saying, “It does not take more than one reading of the poem to understand that the speaker is not intending to instill great importance upon the wall” (Lentricchia). He identifies what he feels is the true objective, which is identifying two kinds of people. He goes on to say, It is a poem that celebrates a process, not the thing itself. It is a poem, furthermore, that distinguishes between two kinds of people: one who seizes the particular occasion of mending as fuel for the imagination and therefore as a release from the dull ritual of work each spring and one who is trapped by work and by the past as it comes down to him in the form of his father’s cliché. Lentricchia’s analogy of Frost poem is that this ‘action’ is one man’s break from actual tasks while it remains another mans necessity to maintain his own father’s philosophy about personal space.
He suggests that this poem is about coming together each spring, replacing the pieces of the wall, and socializing between two neighbors. While the narrator enjoys the engaging activity, his neighbor does this out of necessity to maintain a culture that his father instilled within him, though it is apparent that he too, enjoys the process. While Dworkin argues that the true meaning is so complex that it is not easily identifiable, Lentricchia claims that the meaning of “Mending Wall” is symbolic of a process. Though both are fair interpretations, it is clear that Frost intended the reader to uncover a conflict between the neighbors and their attempt to come together to mend the obstacle (or wall) that has come between them in the friendship. Frost’s description of each detail within the poem is easy to read and lends itself to intentional interpretation. Some of the techniques used in his poem, “Mending Wall” are irony, imagery, and use of metaphors. Though he leaves the reader to decide which interpretation they take from this poem, it is clearly about a conflict and each of the farmers individual needs to repair it. On one
hand, Frost makes literal implications about what the two men are doing. On the contrary however; is the underlying tone that these men are also working to build upon and repair their friendship. While the reader can easily identify that these men are completing a task, Frost suggests that they are also building or mending some type of relationship.
Another of the techniques that Frost uses in “Mending Wall” to convey these ideas is imagery. Frost uses the first eleven lines to describe the poor condition of the wall, therefore creating a lifelike characterization for the reader. Here, he is illustrating a pictorial of the deterioration of the wall, which is representative of their deteriorating friendship, also in need of repair. In lines twelve through fifteen Frost uses metaphors, (“I let me neighbor know beyond the hill and on a day we meet to walk the line”), as he talks about the coming together, or the reuniting of friends. Lines sixteen and seventeen represent the conflict within their friendship, (“To each the boulders have fallen to each”), suggesting that each man has done wrong and (“some are loaves and some are nearly balls”) though some of the struggles large and some are small. Nevertheless, it is this conflict that requires repair. The narrator is clearly ready to forgive and overcome the disagreement between them. He openly argues that he does not understand the need to ‘wall in’ or ‘wall out’ anything or anyone, suggesting to his desire to give and accept forgiveness.
For the neighbor with the pine trees, the wall is of great significance, as it provides a sense of security and privacy, suggesting that he still requires distance and man not easily overcome this obstacle within the friendship. When they meet to repair the wall, it could further be metaphorically interpreted as repairing their friendship and resolving disputes. While one might suppose at the onset that this wall is only a literal barrier, it is also representative of bonding or coming together, which is Frost’s play on irony. Modestly speaking, walls keep people apart. Conversely, this one has clearly brought them together. Beyond the laborious task of actually repairing and the social aspect of coming together, the men are distant which implies that there is a personal matter between them that also requires repair. This demonstrates the narrators desire to be close, yet the neighbors desire to maintain distance, suggesting that they each are working through the conflict in their own way. Both men exhibit combined effort to overcome the underlying issue, which is obviously in support of reunion and coming together. Overall this poem is very effective in delivering it’s message of how obstacles within a friendship can be repaired, however it requires dedication and effort from all sides
20 July 2011
Works Cited and Annotation
Dworkin, Craig. “Critical Essay on ‘Mending Wall’.” Poetry for Students. Ed. Mary K. Ruby. Vol. 5. Detroit: Gale Group, 1999. Literature Resource Center. Web. 15 July 2011. Craig Dworkin’s analogy of ‘Mending Wall’ does not dissect the actual content of the poem, nor does he offer his opinion of the real meaning to this poem. Dworkin does, however, claim that the poem is to grand to be analyzed simply. He feels that there is a far deeper message within the poem, one that requires great literary technique to unveil. This contrasting opinion is a viable argument because poems are intended to be interpreted many different ways.
Lentricchia, Frank. “Experience as Meaning: Robert Frosts’s ‘Mending Wall,’.” The CEA Critic 34.4 (May 1972): 9-11. Rpt. in Poetry for Students. Ed. Mary K. Ruby. Vol. 5. Detroit: Gale Group, 1999. Literature Resource Center. Web. 15 July 2011. Frank Lentricchia’s interpretation of this poem supports my initial reaction that the poem is about barriers, friendships, struggles, and socializing rather than segregating. His analogy will strengthen my argument that this is the only interpretation based on the line-by-line dissection of the poem.