Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall”: Poem and Analysis

“Mending Wall” by Robert Frost is a poem about a wall between two neighbours that keeps getting damaged but is continuously repaired.

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Poem

Mending Wall1
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, No one has seen them made or heard them made, But at spring mending-time we find them there. I let my neighbour 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 are 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 outdoor game, One on a side. It comes to little more: There where it is we do not need a wall; 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.' Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder If I could put a notion in his head: 'Why do they make good neighbours? 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 offence. Something there is that doesn't love a wall, That wants it down.' I couldn't say 'Elves' to him, But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather He said it for himself. I see him there Bring 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 neighbours.' — Robert Frost

Analysis

Mending Wall” by Robert Frost is a poem about a wall between two neighbours that keeps getting damaged but is continuously repaired. One neighbour wants the wall removed, while the other insists on keeping it, saying that “good fences make good neighbours.” The wall is symbolic of the barriers that prevent communication and understanding between people and nations.

The poem is set in an urban society with gates, fences, and barriers. While it can be found anywhere, it is more common in Europe than in Africa. The problems of communication and understanding are more prevalent in cities than in rural areas.

Frost’sMending Wall” explores themes of boundaries, tradition, change, communication, and the relationship between nature and humanity.

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The poem explores the concept of physical and metaphorical walls that separate individuals and communities. It questions the necessity and purpose of such barriers and highlights the potential harm they can cause by hindering communication and understanding.

The conflict between the two neighbours represents the tension between traditional values and progress. One neighbour adheres to the old tradition of maintaining the wall, while the other questions its relevance in a changing world. The poem prompts reflection on the importance of re-evaluating established customs and embracing change.

The presence of natural elements, such as hunters, rabbits, and stones, emphasizes the connection between nature and human existence. The poem suggests that despite human attempts to control and separate, nature often disrupts these artificial divisions.

The neighbour who insists on maintaining the wall represents the desire for individual autonomy and personal boundaries, while the narrator questions the necessity of such divisions and advocates for a more communal and open approach to relationships.

Read: Figures of Speech in Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall”

Structural Analysis

The poem consists of one continuous stanza with 45 lines and varying lengths. It is written in blank verse with no specific rhyme scheme. The style is simple, direct, conversational, and uses humour and sarcasm as the poet narrates his personal experience with his difficult neighbour.

  1. Lines 1-4: The poem begins by mentioning that the wall is constantly threatened by an unknown force that doesn’t like it. Gaps are often made in the wall, big enough for two people.
  2. Lines 5-9: The damage caused by rabbit hunters and their dogs is highlighted. They leave holes and gaps in the wall.
  3. Lines 9-22: The poet and his neighbour meet to repair the wall during springtime. They use fallen stones to fix it, using a magic spell to balance them delicately. They know the wall will come down again.
  4. Lines 22-27: The poet argues for the removal of the wall, as there is no real need for it. The difference between the neighbours is like that between a pine tree and an apple orchard. However, the neighbour insists on keeping the wall, saying “good fences make good neighbours.”
  5. Lines 28-34: The poet questions the purpose of the fence when there are no cows to stray across. He seeks justification for the fence but finds none since it serves no practical purpose.
  6. Lines 35-45: There is a refrain in line 35, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” a repetition of the line 1 of the poem. The poet dismisses the possibility of mischievous fairies causing the wall to fall. He comments on the neighbour’s determination to keep the ancient fence.
  1. Frost, Robert. North of Boston. Henry Holt and Company, 1914. ↩︎
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