English Literature: Robert Frost - Analysis of Mending Wall

No other poem in the Frost canon better illustrates his manner—as hedescribed it—and his overall poetic intention. "Mending Wall" isconstructed around the idea of mischief. The poet's mischief ultimately erectsthe verbal barrier that his neighbor is bullied into trying to surmount orwithstand. "Why rebuild ancient walls?" is a question offered to tripthe neighbor. But one of the surprises in "Mending Wall" is that theneighbor responds with a defense. He does not fall forward. He cannot be trippedinto darkness—and a new outlook. Instead, threatened, he reaches into the pastfor support and comes up with his father's proverb: "Good fences make goodneighbors." When we fail to recognize that the neighbor replies to the poet’sprodding with a proverb, we miss a good deal of Frost’s point.

"Mending Wall" is a poem by the twentieth century American poet Robert Frost (1874–1963)

Several phrases refer to the seasons, particularly in a repetitive, cyclic way:"spring mending-time," "frozen ground-swell," "once again,""spring is the mischief in me." One of the major themes I see, then, is thecycle of the seasons. Associated with it, critic George Monteiro points out, is an ancientritual antedating the Romans, the an annual reaffirming of boundaries,surely not unknown to Robert Frost, student of the classics.

Mending Wall by Robert Frost: Summary and Analysis | …

Robert Frost's poem Mending Wall is rich with subtle textures, which we will explore further here

The first line of "Mending Wall" is also notable because it functionseffectively as a counterpoint to the farmer's "good fences" apothegm, whichappears once in the middle of the poem and then again in the final line. The farmer issummed up by his adage, fittingly his only utterance; his reiteration of it is anappropriate ending to the poem because it completes a cyclical pattern to which thespeaker has no rejoinder and from which he cannot escape. Beyond expressing an attitudetoward walls, it evokes the farmer's personality through its simplicity and balanceddirectness. The basic subject-verb-object syntax of the five-word maxim is reinforced bythe repeated adjective and by the symmetrical balance and rhythmic similarity of subject("Good fences") and object ("good neighbors") on either side of themonosyllabic verb "make." The persona's initial observation, "Somethingthere is that doesn't love a wall," with its hesitations and indefinitecircumlocutions, conveys not only a contrasting opinion, but also a different way ofthinking from the tight-lipped Yankee's. Significantly, though the speaker's observationis reiterated later in the poem, it is not a self-contained statement. Unlike the farmer'sencapsulated wisdom, it is a protest, a complaint leading into a series of tenuouslylinked explanations, digressions, and ruminations.

Carl Sandburg | Poetry Foundation

"Mending Wall" opens with a riddle: "Something there is . "And a riddle, after all, is a series of hints calculated to make us imagine and then nameits hidden subject. The poem doesn't begin, "I hate walls," or even,"Something dislikes a wall." Its first gesture is one of elaborate and playfulconcealment, a calculated withholding of meaning. Notice also that it is the speakerhimself who repairs the wall after the hunters have broken it. And it is the speaker eachyear who notifies his neighbor when the time has come to meet and mend the wall. Then canwe safely claim that the speaker views the wall simply as a barrier between human contactand understanding?

Robert Frost | Poetry Foundation

"Mending Wall" seems to present us with a problem, and appears to urge us tochoose up sides. I suspect most readers are eager to ally themselves with the speaker, toconsider the neighbor dim-witted, block-headed, and generally dull. Such a reading isnicely represented by the following passage from a booklet on Robert Frost put out byMonarch Notes:

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This creation of a wall raises the question with the poet, Robert Frost, as to what they are “walling in or walling out.” In his poem “Mending Wall,” Frost as the narrator participates in the repairing of a wall that he finds little purpose in....

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Enjambment and metrical variations—trochaic feet for iambic ones, spondaic andpyrrhic substitutions, and so on—contribute subtly to the theme of these lines. It isexactly as Pope would have it. How better to, describe a disordered wall than in linesthemselves disordered? At such times Frost's blank verse recalls "TinternAbbey," in which Wordsworth describes those "hedgerows hardly hedgerows" ineloquently unruly lines. In any case, here—as at a number of moments in "MendingWall"—metrical and rhythmical patterns work in a kind of loosely runningcounterpoint characterized more by "formity" than by "conformity," asFrost might say. By contrast, when Frost imagines the reconstruction of the wall as thetwo men labor, the rhythm and meter of his lines coincide quite exactly: