Robert Frost

Mending Wall by Robert Frost

‘Mending Wall’ by Robert Frost explores the nature of human relationships. The speaker suggests there are two types of people, those who want walls and those who don’t.

Born on March 26, 1874, in San Francisco the poet began to take interest in reading and writing poetry while he was in high school in Lawrence. My Butterfly was his first published poem, which appeared on November 8, 1894, in The Independent. Frost’s poetry, such as ‘Mending Wall‘ was greatly inspired by his wife, Elinor Miriam White, who died in 1938. Contemporary British poets like Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, and Robert Graves also had a great influence on Frost.

By the 1920s, Robert Frost was immensely recognized as a poet in America, and with each new book—his fame and honors increased. Though his work mainly relates to the life and landscape of New England—and though he wrote his poetry in traditional verse forms and metrics and remained completely aloof from the poetic movements—he is more than a regional poet.  He is in fact an author of universal themes; he used quite an easy-to-understand language with layers of irony and ambiguity.

Mending Wall by Robert Frost


About Mending Wall

Frost’s ‘Mending Wall’, which can also be read in full here, was published in 1914 by David Nutt. In modern literature, it is considered as one of the most analyzed and anthologized poems. In the poem, the poet is a New England farmer, who walks along with his neighbor in the spring season to repair the stone wall that falls between their two farms. As they start mending the wall, the narrator asks his neighbor why we need a wall. The poet says that there is something that doesn’t love a wall, but his neighbor says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

‘Mending Wall’ principally analyses the nature of human relationships. When you read ‘Mending Wall’ it feels like peeling off an onion. The reader analyses, philosophizes and dives deep to search for a definite conclusion that he is unable to find. Yet the quest is more thrilling and rewarding as compared to the Holy Grail itself. The reader understands life in a new way and challenges all definitions.

At the very outset, the poem takes you to the nature of things. Therefore, the narrator says something does exist in the nature that does not want a wall. He says man makes many walls, but they all get damaged and destroyed either by nature or by the hunters who search for rabbits for their hungry dogs. Hence, as soon as the spring season starts, he (narrator), with his neighbor, sets out to repair the wall that keeps their properties separated. Though the narrator comes together with his neighbor to repair the wall, he regards it an act of stupidity. He believes that in fact both of them don’t need a wall. He asks why should there be a wall, when his neighbor has only pine trees and he has apples. How could his apple trees go across the border and eat his neighbor’s pine cones. Moreover there is no chance of offending one and another as they don’t also have any cows at their homes. While the narrator tries to make his neighbor understand that they don’t need a wall, his neighbor is a stone-headed savage, who only believes in his father’s age-old saying that, “Good fences make good neighbors.”


Style and Form

The baseline meter of Frost’s ‘Mending Wall’ is although blank verse, some of the lines go beside the blank verse’s characteristic lock-step iambs, five abreast. The poet has made perfect use of five stressed syllables in each line of the poem, but he does extensive variation in the feet so that the natural speech-like quality of the verse can continue to be sustained. While the poem doesn’t have any stanza breaks, obvious end-rhymes, or rhyming patterns, yet a number of end-words (for example., wall, hill, balls, wall, and well sun, thing, stone, mean, line, and again or game, them, and him twice) share an assonance. Besides, the poem has internal rhymes, which are slanted and subtle. Moreover, there is no use of fancy words in the poem. All words are short and conversational. And this may be the reason why each word in ‘Mending Wall’ brings out perfect feel and sound by resonating so consummately.


Detailed Analysis

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:

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,

From lines 1 to 9, the narrator says that there is something mysterious in nature that does not want walls. That something always destroys the walls, making a gap in the wall through which two people can easily pass. The narrator says that sometimes the wall is damaged by some careless hunters, who pull down the stones of the walls in search of rabbits to please their barking dogs.

No one has seen them made or heard them made,

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.

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.

Oh, just another kind of out-door game,

One on a side. It comes to little more:

There where it is we do not need the wall:

From lines 9 to 22, the narrator says that though no one has ever heard the noise or seen anyone making the gaps, they do exist when it is time to mend the walls during the spring season. They are realities, and so the narrator asks his neighbor to go beyond the hill and find out after all who creates these gaps. One day, when both of them (narrator and neighbor) determine to walk along the wall, they are surprised to see stones scattered on the ground. They see that some stones are shaped like bread loaves, while a few of them are round in shape. Due to their mysterious shape, the narrator and neighbor find it quite difficult to put them in their previous position. Seeing the unusual shape of these stones, the narrator thinks of using some kind of magic trick to place the stones back on the wall. Though all through the process of tackling the stones their fingers become too rough and make them exhausted, it is like an outdoor game for them, wherein the wall works as a net and both (the narrator and his neighbor) are opponents.

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 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

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,

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

From lines 22 to 36, the narrator makes every possible effort to make his neighbor understand that we don’t need a wall. He asks why to have a wall, when he has only pine trees and I have only apple. How can his apple trees trespass the wall border and eat his neighbor’s pine cones. Moreover, there is no chance of offending as they don’t also have any cows at their homes. While the narrator tries to make his neighbor understand that they don’t need a wall, as there is something that does not love a wall, his neighbor is a stone-headed savage, who continues to believe in his father’s age-old cliché that, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

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.

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.’

From lines 37 to 46 of ‘Mending Wall’: Though all through the poem, the narrator wants to put his notion into his neighbor’s mind, the kind of imagination he makes to convince his neighbor about the existence of wall (s) sometimes also makes me think twice about the poet. For example, let’s take these lines wherein the narrator tells his friend (neighbor) that there is something like non-human entity as elves that come and break the walls. We all know that elves are those supernatural beings that are tiny in size and can only be seen in the mythological stories and folklore. But immediately when the narrator changes his opinion and feels that it is not the work of elves rather some kind of power in nature, I feel relieved as the narrator is finally talking sense. He says it is the work of nature that works against any type of walls and barriers.

However, the narrator gets immensely irritated to see his neighbor firmly holding a stone and giving a look of an ancient stone-age man, who is getting armed to fight. The narrator feels that his neighbor is too ignorant to convince. He always wants to be stuck and follow his father’s words that good fences make good neighbors.


Final Comments

‘Mending Wall’ is one of my most favorite poems by Frost. Where the poem suggests a wiser perspective on the boundary wall, it also tells how good fences make good neighbors and how we can keep our relationship with our neighbors peaceful and stable by establishing walls. This poem also makes us realize the importance of walls and boundaries between two countries. In our lives, where a wall acts as a hurdle for people like seemingly unsociable, it also helps respect the privacy of your neighbor. After all, we live in a civilized society. It is always better to maintain a distance, and good fences keep that distance maintained.

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Dharmender Kumar Poetry Expert
Dharmender is a writer by passion, and a lawyer by profession. He has has a degree in English literature from Delhi University, and Mass Communication from Bhartiya Vidhya Bhavan, Delhi, as well as holding a law degree. Dharmender is awesomely passionate about Indian and English literature.
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