Mending Wall By Robert Frost
About the Poem
The image at the heart of “Mending Wall” is arresting: two men meeting on terms of civility and neighborliness to build a barrier between them. They do so out of tradition, out of habit. Yet the very earth conspires against them and makes their task Sisyphean. Sisyphus you is a figure in Greek mythology condemned perpetually to push a boulder up a hill, only to have the boulder roll down again. These men push boulders back on top of the wall; yet just as inevitably, whether at the hand of hunters or sprites, or the frost and thaw of nature’s invisible hand, the boulders tumble down again. Still, the neighbours persist. The poem, thus, seems to meditate conventionally on three grand themes: barrier-building (segregation, in the broadest sense of the word), the doomed nature of this enterprise, and our persistence in this activity.
But, as we so often see when we look closely at Frost’s best poems, what begins in folksy straightforwardness ends in complex ambiguity. The speaker would have us believe that there are two types of people: those who stubbornly insist on building superfluous walls (with clichés as their justification) and those who would dispense with this practice — wall-builders and wall-breakers. But are these impulses so easily separable? And what does the poem really say about the necessity of boundaries? The speaker may scorn his neighbor’s obstinate wall-building, may observe the activity with humorous detachment, but he himself goes to the wall at all times of the year to mend the damage done by hunters; it is the speaker who contacts the neighbour at wallmending time to set the annual appointment. Who is the real wall-builder? The speaker says he sees no need for a wall here, but this implies that there may be a need for a wall elsewhere– “where there are cows,” for example. Yet the speaker must derive something, some use, some satisfaction, out of the exercise of wall-building, or why would he initiate it here? There is something in him that does love a wall, or at least the act of making a wall.
Many of Frost’s poems can be reasonably interpreted as commenting on the creative process; “Mending Wall” is no exception. On the basic level, we can find here a discussion of the construction-disruption duality of creativity. Creation is a positive act–mending or building. Even the most destructive-seeming creativity results in a change, the building of some new state of being: If you tear down an edifice, you create a new view for the folks living in the house across the way. Yet creation is also disruptive: If nothing else, it disrupts the status quo. Stated another way, disruption is creative: It is the impetus that leads directly, mysteriously (as with the groundwells), to creation. Does the stone wall embody this duality? In any case, there is something about “walking the line”–and building it, mending it, balancing each stone with equal parts skill and spell–that evokes the mysterious and laborious act of making poetry. On a level more specific to the author, the question of boundaries and their worth is directly applicable to Frost’s poetry. Barriers confine, but for some people they also encourage freedom and productivity by offering challenging frameworks within which to work. On principle, Frost did not write free verse. His creative process involved engaging poetic form (the rules, tradition, and boundaries–the walls–of the poetic world) and making it distinctly his own. By maintaining the tradition of formal poetry in unique ways, he was simultaneously a mender and breaker of walls.
Blank verse is the baseline meter of this poem, but few of the lines march along in blank verse’s characteristic lock-step iambs, five abreast. Frost maintains five stressed syllables per line, but he varies the feet extensively to sustain the natural speech-like quality of the verse. There are no stanza breaks, obvious end-rhymes, or rhyming patterns, but many of the end-words share an assonance (e.g., wall, hill, balls, wall, and well; sun, thing, stone, mean, line, and again; or game, them, and him twice). Internal rhymes, too, are subtle, slanted, and conceivably coincidental.
Summary of the Poem
‘Mending Wall’ is perhaps one of the most widely quoted poems of Frost. It, like most of Frost’s poem, is an incident poem- A poem with a theme emerging from an anecdote.
The poem narrates his annual experience with his neighbour whose farm of pine trees adjoins the poet’s apple orchard. These two farms are divided by a wall. Every year portions of wall fall. The Poet feels that there is something, perhaps some mysterious power in nature, that does not like a wall. This power makes the frozen ground swell under the wall. Due to this some upper stones of the wall fall down on the ground and create a large gap through which two persons can pass. The Poet says that sometimes the cause of falling wall is known. For example, hunters chasing a rabbit; create a wide gap by demolishing a part of the wall to let their dogs go in pursuit of rabbits. No one has seen those gaps being made. But at the onset of spring, when we come here to mend the wall, we fined them. The Poet says that he informed his neighbour about these gaps. They fixed a day to repair it. At the, fixed time they meet and both of them pick up the stones fallen to their sides. The Poet says that it is very difficult to balance the stones on each other because they are of uneven shapes. The Poet says that they make their fingers rough when they pick up stones. He says that this process of mending wall is repeated in a never ending manner. The Poet says that this process of mending wall is just like a outdoor game. The only difference is that there is only one player on each side. According to him, there is no need of a wall between his farm and that of his neighbour. One has pines on his side and the other has apple orchard. Trees can not intrude. He says that his apple trees will never get across and eat the cones under his pines. At this the neighbour says, “Good fences make good neighbours”. The Poet says that spring bring mischief in his mind. He does not know whether he could be able to make him understand his point of view. He wants to know why good fences make good neighbours. Fences are necessary where there are cows but neither of them has any cows. Before building a wall, the poet wants to ask his neighbour what they are protecting by building a wall. And no one will be offended if they do not build a wall. The Poet thinks that it is perhaps elves, but exactly it is not elves. The Poet wishes that his neighbour could say all these things himself. At this point, he sees his neighbour grasping a stone firmly by the top. He looks like a savage of Stone Age. The Poet’s neighbour believes in raising a wall. His darkness is not of woods and shades of trees. It is the darkness of heart. He does not follow the saying of his father. He thinks that he has thought over it. In the end the poet repeats that good fences make good neighbours.
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