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Robert Lee Frost was an American Poet born in San Francisco, his life spanned from March 26th, 1874 to January 29th, 1963. He moved to New England with his family when he was eleven years old. He discovered his love of reading and writing poetry during his high school years when he was in Lawrence, Massachusetts. After Harvard he began writing his own poetry but it was only after his conference with the poet Edward Thomas in London that he truly discovered his voice.
On his return to America he published two collections of poems, the most famous of which was ‘North of Boston’. The two poems I will be looking at are ‘Home Burial’ and ‘Mending Wall’.
The very first thing I noticed about the two of these poems is that they are both examples of the breakdown of communication between people. The first poem ‘Home Burial’ is an example of an eclogue. The title ‘Home Burial’ has both connotations of a warm, comfortable home and also a burial, which is both related with death and mourning.
It is on the whole written in dialogue but has some narrative. The second poem ‘Mending Wall’ and its title have meanings on human communication also. “Mending” meaning to fix and also it is present tense meaning it’s ongoing and “Wall” is an object that can be used either as a barrier between humans or something to keep them together. Many people say this poem is Frost’s ‘most enduring and most typical dramatic monologue
I will look at ‘Home Burial’ first and display Frost’s ideas on human understanding and contact first.
By starting the poem with ‘He’ this already seems to make the man the main character even though ‘her’ is at the top of the stairs making her the more dominant of the two. She in unconscious of him, but when she realises he might be there she ‘looks over her shoulder at some fear’ however if they are married why does she fear him? He then asks her “what is it you see from up there always? – for I want to know.” (at this point the dominant role is passed onto him) which shows that they have never actually talked about why she always looks out that window until that moment.
At the same moment she no longer fears him and her faces turns from ‘terrified’ to ‘dull’ when she realises he is only being curious. However he then asks her again and mounts over her until she is cowering meaning she fears him. This shows that he feels the only way to get it out of her is to frighten her. But this contradicted right away when he says “I will find out now – you must tell me, dear.” The use of the comma and word ‘dear’ shows that he is now trying to appear as non-threatening to her. However even this doesn’t work as she ‘refused him any help’. She seems very stuck to being misunderstood and even when he tries to help her, she will not help, in the hope that he will discover it himself but she knows he won’t. She even lets him look out knowing that he won’t see because he is a ‘blind creature’.
However after a while of looking out he says “oh […] it’s just that I can see. However by this point the word ‘see has lost a lot of its meaning by being repeated so often. “But even after saying this she challenges him on what he sees by saying “you don’t […] tell me what it is”
He then launches into how he would have noticed it, had it not blended in with the background. But whilst talking he upsets her by talking about their child in the grave almost in passing. “It’s not the stones, but the child’s mound –” The man is shocked when she starts telling him to stop and asks why he can’t mention his late son. She then, instead of staying and communicating to him, decided to leave for some ‘fresh air’. But he then tells her how she should stay and talk to him instead of bringing their problems to other people. He then tells her how he would like to ask her something to which she replies that he doesn’t know how to ask. This to me shows that she knows what he is going to ask before he actually does, so I think although they don’t talk they do have an understanding of each other even if it’s on a small level.
She then says “My words are always nearly an offense.” This illustrates how even if he does try to communicate she does not listen or else does not take the correct meaning from what he says and just sees the negative side from everything he says. He then says “a man must give up being a man with womenfolk.” This brings in the subject if gender can be a barrier between human communication and understanding. But there is also a meaning in the subtext of how he doesn’t think any of the blame should be put on him because she finds everything he says as offensive.
He then goes on to plea for her to speak to him, to give him one more chance to redeem everything that is wrong with their communication problems, but she needs to stop being so over-reactive to everything. His statement evokes a sense of equality as he is saying that he will try to mend his wrong-doings if she agrees to do the same with hers. However once he says that her sense of loss over her child should be ‘satisfied’ she sees the negativity in this and says that he is sneering. To which he replies ‘I’m not, I’m not.’ This shocks me as this is just what they had been discussing about how they should give each other a chance and try and not be so quick to judge each other and straight away they are at it again.
This, I think, is the point where the woman begins to truly open up as she then says to her husband about how he should have more to talk about and more to feel about their dead son, especially to the fact that he was the one to bury him. And then she gets even more annoyed by how when he came in from digging the grave he talks off average, mundane even, topics. She then talks of how if he can’t grief over his son, he won’t be able to grief for anyone, and if he continues like this he will be unaware of how alone he really is. She then remarks, “If I can change it. Oh, I won’t, I won’t!” meaning that she will keep to her grief.
Then the husband says “There, you have said it all and you feel better. You won’t go now.” Which sounds very patronizing like he wasn’t even paying attention and that he only cares that she won’t leave the house for people to see her in her state. And then to prove even more that he wasn’t paying much attention to what she was saying he says “Amy! There’s someone coming down the road!” This is exactly what she had been talking about what she hated him doing and he does it. If he did it to annoy her or that he simply wasn’t listening to her it isn’t apparent, but it shows a great void in their communication and understanding of one another.
The woman is so distraught to how he directly ignores everything she was saying that her sentences are all broken up. She then opes the door wider to leave as she is in a frenzy.
The poem then ends with him using violence again to try and get her to stay, so even after they had this long and deep conversation they both returned to how they originally dodged conversation, fleeing and using violence.
Now I will go onto talk about the poem ‘Mending Wall’ and how it is used to convey human barriers between communication and understanding. The writer uses first person singular in this poem to create a persona, and so he can put his own views into the poem easily. It begins with ‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall’ this is an inverted syntax which creates a tone in the poem and contains the word ‘love’ which is a very strong word especially for an inanimate object like a wall. The next part says ‘that sends the frozen-ground-swell under it;’ this made me think that he is possibly using frost on purpose as it is his name. It also contains an active verb to create an ongoing sense in the poem.
The active verbs are carried on in the next two lines. ‘makes’ and ‘work’ these are the two other active verbs. He then says ‘I have come after them and made repair’ this shows how he and his neighbour have went out year after year to fix this wall. I think the major part of this poem is if the wall is to be thought of as a barrier or as a magnet which almost brings him and his neighbour together. On one level it is separating their homes from one another, but it also brings them together once a year to repair it.
Every year he goes to his neighbour and tells him of how the wall is in need of mending again and they both stay on their own side of the wall picking up the rocks which have fallen out and placing them back in. He talks of how they use spells to make the rocks balance, this shows how the persona of the speaker is very imaginative, but it is also shown in the poem how the persona spends a lot of the poem ruminating over different, small things. And then in the actual spell there is an exclamation mark to add to it. He finds it fun calling it an ‘outdoor game’ almost like how a child would treat it.
‘He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says “Good fences make good neighbours.”
This paragraph I think shows how he wishes to take down the wall, but instead of directly asking him decides to show him that there is no point in keeping the wall. The neighbour replies with a quote which he has obviously learnt from generations before him and hasn’t actually put much thought into. I think this is a classic case of how bad communication can come up, this man has no views on the wall and is only using views of which he has heard from his father possibly and doesn’t even consider what his neighbour is saying.
‘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 offence.’
This is where the poet realises he has no need for this wall and wishes it wasn’t there. I also think he is actually offended buy the way his neighbour doesn’t want to take it down by the way it says ‘ to whom I was like to give offence.’
There is repetition of the phrase ‘something there is that doesn’t love a wall.’ But this time instead of thinking of an animal I think you are made to think of how the neighbour doesn’t listen to the poet and decides to keep the wall up. And however, much he would like to make the neighbour realise the wall is doing no good, he wants him to want the wall down without him saying anything. The poet then notes how his neighbour ‘moves in darkness’ or in other words is unaware of how there is no need for the wall.
So in this poem I think there is a very large barrier in the way of their communication between each other. The poet tries to reason with the neighbour to show there is no need for the wall, but the neighbour prefers to stick with his old quote, because it is one he has already though of a lot.
Between these two poems I prefer ‘Mending Wall’ to ‘Home Burial’ because of it’s rhythm throughout it and also I like the very child-like views in it as it makes me feel like I can relate to it more. ‘Home Burial’ also used terms and wording structure which I found very hard to understand.
I think there is also a lot of differences in the culture in these poems and that may determine why the characters could not understand or communicate with each other. The fact that ‘Mending Wall’ was set in a farmland could mean there is not many other people there and that could determine people and their communication skills. And ‘Home Burial’ is set between a couple who seem to argue a lot so that doesn’t show how every human has trouble understanding each other, just them two.
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