MENDING WALL ANALYSISThe Wall/FencesSymbol AnalysisThe wall is the shining star of this poem. It unites our speaker and hisneighbor, but separates them as well. As we hear the neighbor speakthe proverb twice ("Good fences make good neighbors"), we start toconsider all of the wall-like structures in our life: fences, gates,boundaries, lines, etc. The wall serves as a canvas upon which a lotof complex ideas about the ways in which people, and theirrelationships with others, are painted and discussed.• Line 13: The wall is ironic because, even though it separates the speaker from his neighbor, it also brings them together every year.• Line 14: "The wall" is present throughout the poem as an extended metaphor for the division that exists between the speaker and his neighbor.• Line 16: "To each" is a parallelism, as its repetition emphasizes the fact that the speaker and his neighbor are on opposite side of the wall.• Line 21: "Another kind of out-door game" becomes a metaphor for the wall-mending process• Line: 27: The proverb "Good fences make good neighbors" is also a cliché; we hear it all the time.• Line 27: The proverb "Good fences make good neighbors" is a paradox when you contrast it with the first words of the poem, "Something there is that doesn’t love a wall." In the first case, barriers are good things; in the second, they are not.Line 35: "Offence" is a pun – it sounds like "a fence."Nature and TraditionSymbol AnalysisNature seems to act as the third wheel in this poem – the silentcharacter swirling around the speaker and his neighbor. Although hedoesn’t explicitly describe the landscape, we see it very clearly, and
we seem to know what the seasons are like in this part of the world.Similarly, tradition seems to be the silent subject over which thespeaker and his neighbor wrestle. The neighbor upholds hisancestors’ way of life, while our speaker questions this philosophy.• Line 5: "Hunters" are a metaphor both for the speaker and for us (the readers), all of whom try to get at something (even if we don’t know exactly what that something is).• Line 25: The apple trees are momentarily personified, as the speaker claims that they will never wander across and eat the pine cones on his neighbor’s property.Line 51: The speaker uses a simile and likens his neighbor to "an old-stone savage armed," or a caveman ready for battle.Mending Wall: Rhyme, Form & MeterWe’ll show you the poem’s blueprints, and we’ll listen for themusic behind the words.Blank VerseFrost writes this poem in blank verse, meaning that it doesn’t rhyme(sad), but it does have interesting structure stuff going on. The poemloosely follows an iambic pentameter structure. Let’s get our handsdirty and break down this architecture. Counting is always a goodway to begin. We know that the poem has 46 lines, making "therewhere it is we do not need the wall" (line 23) the dead center of thepoem, which is the exact point at which we figure out that our speakerisn’t so gung-ho about the wall that he mends. The majority of thelines in this poem have 10 syllables (in true iambic pentameterfashion), but we can find ten lines which have eleven syllables. Whenwe encounter these lines, they momentarily throw our internal rhythmoff kilter, and make us pay extra attention to the lines themselves. Anexample of this comes in line 8, when the speaker says, "But theywould have the rabbit out of hiding." The eleventh syllable here
seems to parallel the actual act of trying to force a bunny out of hishole. The last syllable of this line falls off the edge of the poem in thesame way that a bunny falls out of its hiding place when it’s pursuedby ferocious dogs. Frost repeats two lines in this poem. Can youtell which lines they are? You guessed it: "Something there is thatdoesn’t love a wall," and "Good fences make good neighbors." Therepetitions of these lines, as well as the repetition of certain phrasesthroughout the poem, emphasize the whole "this is my side of theargument, and that’s your side of the argument" theme. The poem isnot broken into stanzas, which makes the poem itself look visuallylike a rock wall turned on its side. We can see the "gaps" in the wallwhen we look at the way that the line endings form an imperfect lineall the way down the page.Mending Wall SettingWhere It All Goes DownRead this poem, and then close your eyes. What do you see?Perhaps you see a New England countryside, muddy and green aftera spring rain? Do you see an ancient, crumbling rock wall runningalongside an apple orchard and some tall pine trees? Or, maybe yousee two men in the distance, kneeling in the mud, trying to fit littleboulders into the spaces of the rock wall. You might also hear thedistant sound of hunters and their dogs chasing after a little bunnyrabbit. As you walk along, the sun filters through the treetops andbathes everything in shadows which shake with the breeze. Do yousmell those pine trees? This is not a place where ferociousanimals dwell. In fact, dogs and humans are the most ferociouscreatures here. We can assume that the winters here are pretty roughand snowy, so we can’t blame our speaker for wanting to get out andabout in the spring. We would want to walk the whole length of a rockwall, too, if we’d been cooped up in our little house all winter long.The leaves are so thick above our heads that things get a little dim inthese woods. This is not suburbia, folks; this is genuine country,where neighbors live miles from one another. We don’t know aboutyou, but we’re starting to feel just a wee bit lonely.
Sound CheckRead this poem aloud. What do you hear?"Mending Wall" sounds and feels like the experience of shouting intoan empty barn and seeing startled birds fly up, or of hearing thebarn’s wooden walls creak and shift a little. The poem also soundslike we are in the middle of the woods, hearing nothing but the leavesrustle in the trees. Yes, siree, this is a quiet poem. The hunters andtheir noisy dogs are a far-off memory when the speaker tells us aboutthem, and the their supposed noise only helps to intensify the poem’ssilent nature. In fact, we can’t help but feel little lonesome, simplybecause there is such an absence of sounds, people, places, andthings. The presence of the spell, "Stay where you are until ourbacks are turned," makes us hear the two repeated lines –"Something there is that doesn’t love a wall" (1, 36) and "Goodfences make good neighbors" (lines 27, 46) – in a more spell-likeway. Coupling those repetitions with the quietness which lurksthroughout the rest of the poem compels us to ponder that age-oldquestion: "If a wall falls in the forest and no one is around to hear orsee it fall, does it actually fall?" Work on that for us, will you?What’s Up With the Title?The title reflects on the famous wall at hand, and refers to the ritualthat our speaker and his neighbor undergo every spring to fix thiswall. That’s all well and good, but we have a few questions about thisseemingly self-explanatory title, Mr. Frost. For example, why didn’tyou call the poem "Mending the Wall" or "Wall Mending?" The title,"Mending Wall," makes us think that this wall is a supernatural thingwith healing powers which magically mend any broken thing that yougive it. We also can’t help but think about the medical connotationat the heart of the word "mend," as in "I’m on the mend," or "my
wound is mending well." The title also sounds to us like a short-handmessage left on our speaker’s front door, explaining his whereaboutsto people who happen to visit while he’s away (kind of like a "gonefishing" sign). Whatever the case may be, the title draws our attentionto the star of the poem, the wall. Perhaps you’ve seen this wall inother hits, such as "Humpty Dumpty" and Wall-E… hehe. The –ingending of "mending" makes us think that the mending process is inthe works, and it gives the title a little momentum and movement (likethe little round stones that keep falling out of the wall).Robert Frost’s Calling CardWhat is the poet’s signature style?Rural New England Landscape and AbsenceThis San Francisco-born poet loved the New England countryside,and many of his poems dwell in the eerie quiet of the woods. He livedon a farm in Derry, New Hampshire for much of his life, so he waswell acquainted with the work that country life demands. Tasks likeapple picking, mowing, milking, sewing, digging, mending, andbuilding are prominent throughout Frost’s poems. Frost’s easylanguage complements these descriptions of farm life. By "easy,"we don’t mean "the opposite of difficult." Rather, we mean that Frostcaptures people’s natural rhythms of speech. If we overhearsomeone say, "My apple trees will never get across/ and eat thecones under pines," (lines 25-26), we won’t necessarily think, "Oh,they’re speaking in poetry." Instead, we’ll probably chuckle and say,"No, your apple trees probably won’t!" Unlike many of hiscontemporaries who experiment with language in all kinds of crazyways, Frost doesn’t try to jar his readers in such a way. He wants hisreaders to think about the universal ideas that he kicks around, and tohear the meaning of the poem unfold as they read it. It may comeas no surprise to us that Frost loses many family members and lovedones in his lifetime, outliving several of his children and his wife. He isno stranger to grief and loneliness, and struggles with suicidal
tendencies for a time. His poems seem as much about what isdiscussed and what is present, as they are about what isn’t talked ofand what is absent. For example, the speaker begins "Mending Wall"by saying, "Something there is that doesn’t love a wall." It is preciselythis something, this unknown ghostlike thing, that lurks in almost all ofFrost’s poems. Even as our speaker and his neighbor go about thequiet task of mending their wall, we feel that, at any minute,something drastic can happen, or some thing can appear.-----Even if we’re not quite sure who continues to destroy the wall, andeven if we don’t know specifically what our speaker wants, we have apretty good fix on what is going down in this poem: There’s a wall thateither needs mending, or tearing down. What’s so great about thispoem is that we can simply walk into it, and revel in the mysteriousquietness that inhabits the dark woods. The language makes us feelas if we’re staring into a crystal clear creek.President John F. Kennedy once says of Frost, "He has bequeathedhis nation a body of imperishable verse from which Americans willforever gain joy and understanding." (Source)Frost was co-valedictorian of his high school class with his futurewife, Elinor Miriam White. (Source)Frost was a very nervous little boy, and was home-schooled for muchof his childhood. (Source)When asked what the intention behind "Mending Wall" is, Frostresponded: "In my Mending Wall was my intention fulfilled with the charactersportrayed and the atmosphere of the place? […] I should be sorry if asingle one of my poems stopped with either of those things—stoppedanywhere in fact. My poems—I should suppose everybodyspoems—are all set to trip the reader head foremost into the
boundless. Ever since infancy I have had the habit of leaving myblocks carts chairs and such like ordinaries where people would bepretty sure to fall forward over them in the dark. Forward, youunderstand, and in the dark. I may leave my toys in the wrong placeand so in vain. It is my intention we are speaking of—my innatemischievousness."(Source)