Robert Frost: Analysis of Mending Wall
Robert Frost: Analysis of Mending Wall
Robert Frost's poem Mending Wall is rich with subtle textures, which we will explore further here. The basic theme of the poem is about the necessity of boundaries and the deceptive arguments employed to destroy them.
The phrase "mending fences" was well known in Frost's time, as it now. The phrase means to repair relationships. Frost intentionally uses the title Mending Wall instead to show that the relationship here is not being repaired. Instead, it is being damaged by the narrator's actions. In the poem, the word "wall" is used by the narrator and the word "fences" is used by the neighbor. Like the words "stone" and "boulders," these words are one and two syllables and are used as singular and plural, respectively. Perhaps, Frost also preferred "wall" to something like "rock" because it contains the visual representation of the double "ll" and the word "all."
Back to the two main lines in the poem: "Something there is that doesn't love a wall" and "'Good fences make good neighbors.'" The first is the narrator's line, which begins with a stress on the first syllable of "Something." This reversal of the meter is used to indicate the break up of a wall. Likewise, the word "wall" at the end of the line is used to show that the wall is out of the way, as the narrator would like it to be. The second line is the neighbor's and contains seven syllables: unstressed, stressed, unstressed, stressed, unstressed, stressed, unstressed. The stresses represent the narrator and his neighbor on each side with the stress in the middle as the fence. Notice too that the meter symmetric, and the word "make" serves as the fence. Of course, we see the plural "fences" and "neighbors" here as well.
Frost uses sounds to demonstrate what is happening in the poem. For example, in the line "No one has seen them made or heard them made," Frost structures each pair of words so that the first word ends with the same letter that the second word begins with. This is meant to show that there are no gaps. The exception here, of course, is "or heard." Since Frost is talking about the sound at this point, the repeated "r" sound is used with the quiet "h" in between.
The line "And on a day we meet to walk the line" uses the two long "e" sounds in "we meet" to represent the neighbors coming together. Perhaps, the "m" is intended to look like a fence as well. This double "e" sound is maintained through the next couple of lines with the word "between." (Sometimes "between" is pronounced with a short "i" sound on the first syllable, but it seems Frost intends this to be a long "e" pronunciation.) Note also, that word "between" contains the word "we."
The line "To each the boulders that have fallen to each," uses the double stressed "to each" to represent boulders and the three unstressed syllables "-ers that have" to show the gap in the wall.
Further down, the line "'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'" begins with four equal stresses to represent the wall and then falls into iambic meter to indicate the boulders falling down.
In the exact middle of the poem, we have the line which defines most of the structure: "There where it is we do not need the wall:" Aside from what we already mentioned in the video, this line begins with double long "a" and double short "i" sounds to represent the even feel of the fence. Then the word "we" is the last use of the word in the poem. With the pattern that was established previously, with "we meet" we see that one side is no longer meeting. The next line "He is all pine and I am apple orchard" establishes that the neighbor is represented by the first part of the line. So, it is the narrator that is no longer meeting. Also, notice that the "wall" is moved over to one side here by the narrator.
With the first part of the line as the neighbor's land, we see some interesting things. First, "he" is always used at the very beginning of the left side, where the neighbor's property is. Furthermore, we can frame the poem into three sections: The lines between the first pair of lines "Something there is that doesn't love a wall," and "'Good fences make good neighbors.'" The lines between the second pair and the lines between these sections.
In the first section, the neighbor goes to get his neighbor with "I let my neighbor know beyond the hill" with "I" on the neighbor's side. Then, they construct the wall together until "There where it is we do not need the wall." After this, the sides are established again with "He is all pine and I am apple orchard." After which, the lines are blurred by the narrator with
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
Finally, the neighbor responds in the line "He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors.'" Here, the neighbor is on his side and "fences" stands firmly in the middle of the line.
In the middle section, lines like "If I could put a notion in his head:" show the narrator running all over the neighbor's land and trying to control what is in his head. In the line, "And to whom I was like to give offense" Frost shows the narrator trespassing again, but it contains a pun as well. It is the neighbor responding by giving him a fence (offense).
In the final section, "he" is always at the beginning of the line. The pronoun "him" is used in the second half of the line, but this is an object and not a subject. This third section is pretty dark because the narrator is no longer friendly. The line "He moves in darkness as it seems to me" epitomizes the situation with the two are at the extreme ends.
This overall structure in these three sections can be summarized like this: The narrator works with the neighbor. The narrator annoys the neighbor. The narrator has a bad relationship with the neighbor.
There are many subtler points in the poem, like the double long "o" sound in "old-stone" to represent the stones in the neighbor's hands. However, the central theme of the poem is that boundaries are necessary for good relationships and this is why real companionship only creates gaps, while the boundary remains largely intact.
Frost takes up the theme of boundaries in his poem Build Soil. There Frost seems to continue the theme, which was started here in Mending Wall. Here are a few relevant lines near the end of the poem:
Keep off each other and keep each other off.
We're too unseparate out among each other
With goods to sell and notions to impart.
We congregate embracing from distrust
As much as love . . .
Steal away and stay away.
With the phrase "notions to impart" Frost seems almost to be referring directly to these lines from Mending Wall:
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
One other point, the poem Mending Wall was originally published with the words "Mending Wall takes up the theme where The Tuft of Flowers in A Boy's Will laid it down." The book A Boy's Will was Frost's previous publication and The Tuft of Flowers is one of the poems in it.