Mending Wall Analysis

Mending Wall Analysis Robert Forst

Q. How does the analysis of Robert Frost’s ‘Mending Wall’ reveal its underlying themes and literary techniques?

“Mending Wall” is a poem by Robert Frost, first published in 1914. The title itself refers to the main activity in the poem, which is the mending or repairing of a wall between the property of the speaker and his neighbour.

The phrase “mending wall” itself has two interpretations. On a literal level, it refers to repairing a physical wall between two properties, an activity the speaker and his neighbour engage in annually.

However, on a symbolic level, the “mending wall” represents the boundaries people construct in their relationships and societies. It symbolizes the traditions, prejudices, misunderstandings, and social norms that separate individuals and communities.

Mending Wall is written in blank verse and contains 45 lines.

Mending Wall by Robert Frost Line By Line Analysis

Line 1-4

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.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall

It suggests that there might be a natural tendency for things to break down barriers. The word “something” is intentionally vague. It indicates that the force could be a part of nature, human nature, or even a spiritual or philosophical concept.

The speaker needs to identify the source of this opposition to walls, encouraging readers to consider their ideas about what might cause such resistance.

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it

The “frozen ground swell” refers to frost heaving, a natural process that occurs when water in the soil freezes, expands, and causes the ground to lift. As the ground swells, it pushes against structures like walls, exerting pressure and causing stones to become dislodged or the wall to become damaged.

This detail illustrates how nature resists artificial barriers’ permanence and presence. The line underscores the idea that there might be a natural inclination for things to connect and break down divisions, as even the earth appears to work against the wall’s stability.

And spills the upper boulders in the sun

It creates a vivid image of large stones from the top of the wall dislodging and falling out into the open, exposed to sunlight. In Mending Wall, this imagery highlights nature’s power in challenging and breaking down artificial barriers.

The word “spills” suggests a sense of chaos, as if the boulders were scattered without order or control.

The mention of the boulders in the sun also conveys the idea of openness and exposure. Sunlight often symbolizes warmth, growth, and connection, contrasting with the wall’s cold and closed-off nature.

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

In this line from “Mending Wall,” the speaker elaborates on the effects of natural forces on the stone wall. The gaps created by these forces are large enough for two people to walk side-by-side through them.

This description emphasizes nature’s significant impact on the wall to the extent that it creates noticeable openings. The image of two people passing through the gaps together symbolizes connection and the possibility of overcoming barriers.

The fact that nature creates these gaps challenges the wall’s intended purpose: to separate and divide. This line raises the question of whether the wall is necessary or beneficial if nature appears to resist its existence and promote connection.

Moreover, this line highlights the idea that the gaps in the wall provide opportunities for people to come together and interact.

Line 5-8

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,

The work of hunters is another thing

In this line from “Mending Wall,” the speaker introduces another cause of damage to the stone wall: the actions of hunters. This line differentiates between the previously mentioned natural forces, such as the “frozen-ground-swell,” and human activity contributing to the wall’s disrepair.

By bringing up the work of hunters, the speaker acknowledges that human actions also damage the wall. Hunters, pursuing game or trying to flush out animals from their hiding places, might inadvertently dislodge stones from the wall or create gaps as they move through the landscape.

The mention of hunters also reminds us that walls and barriers, whether physical or metaphorical, are subject to both natural forces and human influence.

I have come after them and made repair

In this line, the speaker is responsible for fixing the wall after the hunters have caused damage. This line reveals the speaker’s active role in maintaining the boundary between his property and his neighbour’s.

The speaker’s efforts to repair the wall show that, despite his contemplations on the wall’s necessity, he still upholds the tradition of keeping the wall intact.

On the one hand, he questions the need for the barrier, but on the other hand, he continues to contribute to its maintenance.

Where they have left not one stone on a stone,

The phrase “not one stone on a stone” illustrates the severity of the wall’s disarray, indicating that the hunters have significantly disrupted the structure.

This description emphasizes the impermanence and vulnerability of the wall as a physical barrier in the poem Mending Wall. The wall is subject to damage and disintegration despite its intended purpose to divide and separate properties. It requires continuous effort to maintain its integrity.

Additionally, the line highlights the human impact on barriers, both physical and metaphorical. The hunters’ actions, in this case, show how people can contribute to the erosion or weakening of boundaries.

But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,

The speaker explains the hunters’ intentions for disturbing the wall. The hunters want to flush out the rabbit (or other game) from its hiding place among the stones, and in doing so, they inadvertently cause damage to the wall.

This line provides context for the hunters’ actions, emphasizing that their primary goal is not to damage the wall but to pursue the game.

Line 9-12

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 neighbor know beyond the hill;

To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,

The speaker further explains the hunters’ intentions and clarifies which gaps he has been referring to. The hunters aim to please their hunting dogs by flushing out the rabbits.

The phrase “to please the yelping dogs” highlights that the hunters’ actions are driven by their desire to satisfy the dogs, which are eager to catch the rabbits.

No one has seen them made or heard them made,

In this line, the speaker discusses the gaps in the wall created by natural forces and human activities, such as hunters chasing games.

By stating that nobody sees or hears the gaps forming, the speaker conveys that the breakdown of barriers can happen slowly and gradually. It often goes unnoticed until significant damage occurs.

But at spring mending-time we find them there.

It refers to the annual tradition of inspecting the wall and fixing any damage during the winter months or due to other factors.

The mention of “spring” is significant, as it is a season often associated with renewal, growth, and new beginnings. In this context, repairing the wall together can be seen as a ritual of rebuilding and maintaining their relationship.

I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;

The speaker describes how he informs his neighbour about the need to repair the wall. The phrase “beyond the hill” indicates that the neighbour lives on the other side of the hill, which serves as a geographical marker separating their properties.

This action demonstrates the speaker’s willingness to communicate and cooperate with his neighbour, even though he questions the wall’s necessity.

By letting his neighbour know about the gaps in the wall, the speaker initiates the process of coming together for their shared responsibility of mending the wall.

Line 13-16

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 on a day we meet to walk the line

The speaker describes the annual tradition where he and his neighbour inspect the wall and repair any damage. The phrase “walk the line” suggests a deliberate and purposeful inspection of the wall to ensure it is intact.

And set the wall between us once again.

The phrase “set the wall” suggests a deliberate and purposeful action of reestablishing the boundary. This action demonstrates the importance of maintaining physical barriers between properties, even though the speaker questions the wall’s necessity.

We keep the wall between us as we go.

The line highlights that physical or metaphorical boundaries can be both a protection and a limitation. While the wall protects the speaker’s and his neighbour’s properties, it also creates a division between them, as indicated by the phrase “as we go.”

To each the boulders that have fallen to each.

It suggests that repairing the wall is divided equally between them. Each person takes responsibility for the boulders falling on their side of the wall. It is equal distribution of effort and responsibility required to maintain the barrier.

By dividing the responsibility of repairing the wall, the speaker and his neighbour demonstrate their willingness to work together for a common goal.

Line 17-20

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.

And some are loaves and some so nearly balls

In this line, the speaker describes the different shapes and sizes of the stones they use to repair the wall. It highlights the importance of diversity and individuality in the process of maintaining physical barriers.

We have to use a spell to make them balance:

This line suggests that repairing the wall between the two neighbors’ properties requires a magical or mystical effort as if the stones resist being put back into place.

It also implies a sense of futility, as if the wall is bound to crumble again eventually, despite the best efforts of the two men.

‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’

The phrase, stay where you, is a command to the stones to remain in their position. The narrator and his neighbor anthropomorphize the stones, ascribing human-like qualities to them by asking them to stay put.

In this context, the word “until” signifies the point at which the narrator and his neighbor would cease their vigilant observation of the stones they carefully arranged on the wall.

The implication lies in the notion that the stability of the stones is contingent upon the men’s watchful gaze. It hints that the stones may shift or dislodge from their positions once the men’s attention shifts elsewhere.

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.

This line emphasizes the physical toll of repairing the wall. Repeatedly handling the stones has made the speaker’s fingers rough and calloused.

It highlights the demanding nature of the task and the effort required to maintain the boundary between the two neighbors.

The rough fingers also metaphorically represent the wear and tear in their relationship caused by the constant repair work and the presence of the wall itself.

Line 21-24

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:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side.

Here, the speaker compares mending the wall to a game, something done for amusement rather than for any practical purpose.

The phrase “One on a side” alludes to the fact that each neighbor is responsible for their side of the wall, emphasizing the divide between them.

It comes to little more:

This phrase reinforces the speaker’s belief that the wall serves little actual purpose. Its maintenance amounts to little more than an arbitrary and meaningless task.

There where it is we do not need the wall:

The speaker is directly challenging the need for the wall. He feels there is no practical need for it, further pushing the notion of the wall as an unnecessary barrier.

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.  

This metaphor suggests the natural, distinct boundaries between their properties. The neighbour’s land is full of pine trees, while the speaker’s is an apple orchard.

This further amplifies the speaker’s question of why there needs to be an artificial wall when natural boundaries already exist. It also indicates the speaker’s belief that such boundaries should be acknowledged and respected but not unnecessarily fortified.

Line 25-28

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

My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

The speaker uses humor and hyperbole to point out the absurdity of the wall. He mockingly suggests an impossible scenario where his apple trees would cross the boundary to consume the pine cones of his neighbor’s trees.

This is his satirical way of highlighting that the perceived threat necessitating the wall doesn’t exist and that their properties are not in danger from each other.

He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

In response to the speaker’s reasoning, the neighbor merely repeats the old saying. This shows his unwillingness to question the tradition or engage in a deeper conversation about the need for the wall.

He’s comfortable with the barrier and perhaps with the distance it creates. This phrase becomes a refrain in the poem, and its repetition reinforces the theme of tradition vs. change and how it can hinder communication and understanding.

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder

Spring, often associated with renewal and rebirth, seems to inspire a playful, mischievous spirit in the speaker. The speaker feels curiosity and a need to question the status quo, prompted by the freshness and change that Spring brings.

Line 29-33

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,

If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors?

The speaker wishes to provoke his neighbor into thinking about the reasons behind the saying, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

He is not content with the neighbor’s blind acceptance of this adage and wishes to stimulate a more thoughtful dialogue about it.

Isn’t it Where there are cows? But here there are no cows. 

The speaker offers a situation where a fence would make sense: if there were cows, they might need to be contained or separated. But in their case, there are no cows or any other tangible reasons for a wall.

This argument is the speaker’s logical approach to challenge the wall’s necessity, emphasizing that the actual circumstances don’t warrant a wall.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,

In these lines, the speaker argues for thoughtfulness before creating a barrier. He implies that one should understand the implications and consequences of such an action.

By ‘walling in,’ he means to confine or isolate oneself or something within a boundary.

‘Walling out’ refers to excluding or keeping something or someone away. These lines convey the idea that walls or boundaries have both internal and external effects that should be considered.

Line 34-40

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
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savag armed.

And to whom I was like to give offense.

The speaker also believes it’s essential to consider how such a wall might offend or impact others. He argues for a more empathetic and mindful approach than his neighbour’s reliance on the adage, “Good fences make good neighbours”.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down. 

The speaker refers to an unspecified force that dislikes walls and wishes to dismantle them. In contrast, this could literally refer to the natural forces (like frost heaves) that wear down the stone wall yearly.

It could also symbolically represent an innate human desire for connection that opposes barriers and divisions.

I could say ‘Elves’ to him, 

The speaker playfully considers attributing the deterioration of the wall to elves.

Elves, in folklore, are often seen as mischief-makers who would likely play such tricks. This whimsical thought underscores the speaker’s humor and his subtly rebellious attitude toward the tradition of maintaining the wall.

But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. 

While the speaker toyed with the idea of attributing the wall’s damage to elves, he acknowledges this isn’t the truth. He would prefer his neighbor to realize and acknowledge the futility of the wall himself.

It shows the speaker’s desire for his neighbor to think critically about their tradition rather than blindly following it.

I see him there Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savag armed.

The speaker observes his neighbour carrying a stone in each hand He describes it in a way that likens him to an archaic figure.

This could be a metaphor for the neighbour’s adherence to an outdated tradition (the maintenance of the wall).

The neighbour’s determination in this “battle” to preserve the wall could be seen as a critique of stubbornly clinging to old ways despite their lack of relevance or usefulness in modern times.

Line 41-45

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.’

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.

The phrase “moves in darkness” doesn’t imply that the neighbour is moving at night but is a metaphor for ignorance or a lack of enlightenment. The speaker perceives his neighbour as stuck in old ways of thinking and unwilling to question them.

The “darkness” isn’t just the physical darkness of the woods or the shade of trees. It is a metaphorical darkness of ignorance and unquestioning adherence to tradition.

He will not go behind his father’s saying, 

This line shows the neighbour’s unwillingness to question the traditional saying he inherited from his father. His refusal to go ‘behind’ the saying implies his refusal to examine its basis, relevance, or utility. This line accentuates the theme of tradition versus change.

And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

These lines underscore the neighbor’s comfort with the old saying and his satisfaction with his understanding of it.

Despite the speaker’s attempts to provoke deeper thought, the neighbor repeats the adage. It indicates his satisfaction with the status quo and his reluctance to question or change it.

In “Mending Wall,” the speaker reflects on the tradition of building walls between neighbors, symbolizing the human tendency to create barriers. Similarly, in “The Road Not Taken,” Frost contemplates the choices we make in life and the consequences that arise from them.

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