A Poem The Mending Wall by Robert Frost

Categories: Poems

Robert Frost's poem "The Mending Wall" may not seem to be a poem with a lot of meaning but if readers take time to listen to what the author has to say they will discover that it is talking about the basic relationships between people. The author is focusing on an inanimate object that separated two individuals even though it is nothing more than a little stone wall in the middle of a field.

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 above selection of the poem shows how impersonal the wall is.

There is no humanity associated with this object, nor is there any emotion attached to it. Even thought the object has no emotion itself, there is emotion directed toward it as we see in line 1 of the poem. There is something out in the world that doesn't like this wall.

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Not only does this relate the author's feelings about how it keeps objects separated, This feeling of animosity has gone so far that something has gone as far as to destroy sections of the wall.

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,

The author goes even further in his description of the emotions directed at the wall, and explains that other dislike the wall as well.

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Although they dislike it because it is helping to hide the quarry they are after. The hunters express this dislike of the wall but physically destroying the wall, they tear it down even though it is not their wall. This goes a long way at letting the reader understand that this poem is also about relationships between people. Often times others will attack a person to get something they want with little to no regard for the person that is being attacked.

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 a line
And set the wall between us again.

This little wall goes a long way in effecting the author's relationship with his neighbor. They go out of their way to make repairs to this small stone wall, that really has no purpose other than to keep their lives separated. This purpose may seem like a small one but both individuals meet to make sure the wall stays standing and keeps their lives separate. They are meeting and interacting only because the thing that makes them comfortable with each other has fallen in to disrepair and needs to be erected again.

My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbors."

The author is trying to get past the barriers that people erect between themselves and the rest of the world in the above section. He tells his neighbor that even without the wall their lives will never interact with each other's. Even with his insistence the other man makes sure that the wall will go up again. He is going to do everything he can to ensure that every facet of his life is separated from that of his neighbors.

Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where are the 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,

Here the author is confused because once again he is trying to get past the barriers that keep people separated. The author doesn't feel like there is anything that needs to be separated, he would be able to understand it if there were some sort of object that might cross into his neighbor's world, but there is no such object. The only thing to keep separated is the two worlds them selves.

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."

Once again the neighbor's grasp on an old tradition and saying are all that justify the wall being in existence. The neighbor cannot explain the reason for the wall, he just knows that it has always been there and it adds to his discomfort when there is a hole in the wall, or a section of it missing. The author finally gives up trying to penetrate the barrier between himself and his neighbor, and puts the wall back into place to once again keep their lived from mixing. The whole tone of this poem suggests that the author believes that people should have more interactions with one another and not hide behind thing. If we all stopped hiding behind these wall that we create we would have more time to devote to better pursuits

“Mending Wall” is a poem that presents two opposing attitudes towards keeping barriers up between people. Each neighbor has a different opinion. One neighbor wants a visible line to separate their property lines and the other sees no reason for it. The poem implies a lack of security and trust one person may have towards another, even when it may not seem illogical or necessary. Each year the two neighbors meet annually at the adjoining wall. Both men walk the length of the wall to assess and repair the year’s wear and tear.

Frost’ writing style invites the reader to probe the need for communication or, more precisely, the way people put up walls to create barriers between themselves. The visual imagery of the wall helps the reader to shift from just seeing the wall as a basic, natural setting to an abstract consideration of human behavior. In the first stanza of the poem it establishes the sense of mystery, a true color of atmosphere, “something” that does not want the wall to be there. Whatever it is, it’s a powerful force and it creates a “ frozen ground swell” that disrupts the wall from underneath, forcing stones on top to tumble off.

Damage appears each year so the neighbors walk along the wall to repair the gaps and fallen stones that have not been created by either of the two neighbors. Frost then gives the reader an uncertain question as to why should neighbors need walls anyway. Why do good fences make good neighbors? If one or both neighbors had cattle or something that could do possible damage then a fence would be reasonable. However, it is pointed out in the poem that there are no cattle. So, there must be some sort of human distrust between one of the neighbors. What is the distrust? Frost doesn’t let the reader know. Perhaps it is an age difference that results in extreme points of view or tradition. Or maybe there is a religious bias about the other. One neighbor wants to separate and possibly his family. The wall prevents the evil of indifference from entering. The phantom of discomfort seems to be kept in check by this rock structure.

Frost gives us the impression that he doesn’t agree with separating people. The poem might have something to do with racism. Maybe one neighbor is black and the other is Caucasian. Perhaps one of the neighbors can’t deal with the difference in ethnicity therefore separates and creates a barrier. He gives a suggestion that good fences make good neighbors but that statement may be a friendly way of saying, “if I can create a visible way of keeping you away then we can get along because I can fend off your strangeness from me. Frost might be using the simplicity of a common object to allude to a prevalent human dilemma-fear of the unknown. The wall prevents investigation to confirm or negate our presumptions about others. Conversely, the hard, cold rock represents the extreme measures taken to preserve our ridged thinking.

Using the tool of visual imagery, Robert Frost challenges the reader to travel deeper within to visit our own personal boundaries. A wall is a physical demonstration of isolating that which we do not wish to trespasses into our domain. I believe Frost wants the reader to question the implications for our emotional limitations. Who do we keep abbey and why? Even the civility of shared responsibility, the fixing of the wall, presents a pretense of cooperation and acceptance. Yet, the very act of repair denotes a willingness to keep distance the trend.

It is arguable that the self-righteous speaker of "Mending Wall" is himself obsessively committed to wall building, far more intractably and instinctively committed than his cliché-bound neighbor. While the speaker of "Mending Wall" justifiably castigates his unthinking neighbor and is himself far more aware of the powers of language for good and for ill, he is nonetheless caught up, ironically perhaps, in the same actual task, wall building, which will have the same results and look no different from his neighbor's contribution despite the narrative he brings to it.

There are several possibilities for irony here, depending on the level of Frost's self-awareness. Wall imagery pervades his poetry, as a conscious poetic image and as a psychosexual marker of control and limitation. That the speaker is the one who calls the neighbor to mend the wall is vitally important, then, but it is not clear that Frost meant for the speaker to be ironically perceived as a hypocrite. The simple explanation, that the speaker acts out of a sense of inevitability, knowing his neighbor's habits, seems hardly enough given the contextual symbolism of the wall in Frost's poetry; the psychological explanation attendant upon this version might suggest that Frost's conscious intent was subverted by his own unconscious need for walls.

So while Frost might not mean the speaker to be self-parodic, the reader might judge that there is an ironic discrepancy between what is said and what is meant, both by the speaker and by the poet. On a deeper level even than this is the possibility that Frost was aware of, had taken account of and justified, his own need for barriers. One does, after all, need something against which to push.

In this case, the poem might be completely unironic, for while both men are engaged in the same task, each brings a different narrative to it, the one limited to a thoughtless clichJ , the other enriched philosophically. It could be that Frost is illustrating what it means to move from delight to wisdom: the road less traveled may not look any different, but it is made different by the inner progress of the traveler. The one wall becomes, in this reading, two walls, the speaker's wall a philosophically differentiated structure, the neighbor's wall a mere landmark of past cliches.


Updated: Dec 12, 2023
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A Poem The Mending Wall by Robert Frost. (2016, Dec 28). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/a-poem-the-mending-wall-by-robert-frost-essay

A Poem The Mending Wall by Robert Frost essay
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