Mending Wall by Robert Frost: Summary and AnalysisMending Wall is a dramatic narrative poem in forty-five lines of blank verse composed by the 20th century modern poet Robert Frost. The title is conspicuously vague, in that "mending" can refer to either as a verb or an adjective. Considering "mending" as a verb, the title refers to the activity that the poem's speaker and his neighbor perform in repairing the wall in every spring.
If "mending" is taken as an adjective, it suggests that the wall serves a more subtle function: as a "mending" wall, it keeps the relationship between the two neighbors in good condition.
Every year a tradition of mending wall is followed by two neighbors that divides their property. The narrator of the poem feels there is no need to mend the wall as there is no cattle but only pine and apple trees. He is a little bit skeptical of the tradition and does not understand what the necessity of the wall is. He notices that even the natural world does not like the wall as the stones fall down from the wall without any reason. The narrator tries to convince his neighbor, but no vain. He accuses him of being so old fashioned and rigid in valueless tradition. The neighbor on the contrary insists on the importance of the wall and its mending. He asserts that the wall crucial in maintaining their healthy relationship. He states "Good fences make good neighbors." The neighbor does not leave his ground and repeatedly says "Good fences make good neighbors."
Characteristic details often repeated in the New England landscape is stone fences; laboriously kept in neat repair by their owners. In this poem, which tells of the springtime ritual of mending such a wall, two kinds of Yankees-or men-- are dramatically contrasted. The 'I' of the poem is unconventional in his thinking and in his discourse; his neighbor is a person who stubbornly takes for granted that anything which his father has thought and said must be a final fact. The narrator opens with some of his reflections, about the way nature seems to battle, in its mysterious way, against a wall. He then tells of an annual arrangement he has with his neighbor to repair winter damages- "to set the wall between us once again." There is irony, of course, in the fact that those who live near one another, thus cooperate to set themselves apart, an irony which is heightened by the fact that this particular wall has no real purpose. In the brief argument which follows, the narrator teases his neighbor about this situation; but the neighbor repeats an old motto which he has thoughtlessly accepted.
Like many other poems, 'Mending Wall' is about a social a situation. The distinctive use of symbols enhances the significance and deeper meaning of the poem. The fence suggests national, racial, religious, political and economic clashes and discrimination which disperses man from man and hampers the ways of cultivating good relationships. The argument between the two neighbors signifies the conflict between tradition and modernity. The young generation wants to demolish the old tradition and replace it with modernity while the old wants to stick on to the existing tradition and beliefs. It is a symbolic interpretation of modern situation where national boundaries are fast disintegrating, promoting an international understanding. Though no wall, no barrier is required to maintain harmony and peace between people and nations, yet some kind of self-exercised limitation is inevitable to avoid confrontation. The poem, thus, grows through contrasts and contra-dictions.
Mending Wall is a character-study. It has the intensity of feeling as in drama. Apart from the poet-speaker, the presence of the second person in it is suggested by quoting his words, "Good fences make good neighbors". In the process of arguing and counter-arguing, Frost reveals himself and his neighbor.
The poem is rich in idea; it is rich in artistic excellences. As Jennings points out, "Frost solemnly indulges at length in the pathetic fallacy even though, somewhat paradoxically perhaps, he often writes about inanimate objects as if they were alive". And in the words of Thompson, the poem is a beautiful illustration of the poet's efforts to bring about the reconciliation of three separate planes of sound; "The first of these is the basic and theoretically rigid meter which Frost is willing to reduce "virtually" to "strict iambic" and "loose iambic". These basic accents, fitted into the variable structure of the line and of the stanza, offer an underlying foundation for words and phrases. The second plane of sound is derived from the words and phrases they might be pronounced without regard to meaning, without regard to context. The third plane of sound is derived from the tones of the voice which give particularly intended shades of meaning to the words when they are spoken as units in their context of phrases and sentences". The poem provides Frostian matrix through his poetic representation of thought, in various forms of inner and outer dialogue. In its final evaluation, the poem exemplifies "counterbalanced ways of looking at one and the same thing".
Every year, two neighbors meet to repair the stone wall that divides their property. The narrator is skeptical of this tradition, unable to understand the need for a wall when there is no livestock to be contained on the property, only apples and pine trees. He does not believe that a wall should exist simply for the sake of existing. Moreover, he cannot help but notice that the natural world seems to dislike the wall as much as he does: mysterious gaps appear, boulders fall for no reason. The neighbor, on the other hand, asserts that the wall is crucial to maintaining their relationship, asserting, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Over the course of the mending, the narrator attempts to convince his neighbor otherwise and accuses him of being old-fashioned for maintaining the tradition so strictly. No matter what the narrator says, though, the neighbor stands his ground, repeating only: “Good fences make good neighbors.”
This poem is the first work in Frost's second book of poetry, “North of Boston,” which was published upon his return from England in 1915. While living in England with his family, Frost was exceptionally homesick for the farm in New Hampshire where he had lived with his wife from 1900 to 1909. Despite the eventual failure of the farm, Frost associated his time in New Hampshire with a peaceful, rural sensibility that he instilled in the majority of his subsequent poems. “Mending Wall” is autobiographical on an even more specific level: a French-Canadian named Napoleon Guay had been Frost’s neighbor in New Hampshire, and the two had often walked along their property line and repaired the wall that separated their land. Ironically, the most famous line of the poem (“Good fences make good neighbors”) was not invented by Frost himself, but was rather a phrase that Guay frequently declared to Frost during their walks. This particular adage was a popular colonial proverb in the middle of the 17th century, but variations of it also appeared in Norway (“There must be a fence between good neighbors”), Germany (“Between neighbor’s gardens a fence is good”), Japan (“Build a fence even between intimate friends”), and even India (“Love your neighbor, but do not throw down the dividing wall”).
In terms of form, “Mending Wall” is not structured with stanzas; it is a simple forty-five lines of first-person narrative. Frost does maintain iambic stresses, but he is flexible with the form in order to maintain the conversational feel of the poem. He also shies away from any obvious rhyme patterns and instead relies upon the occasional internal rhyme and the use of assonance in certain ending terms (such as “wall,” “hill,” “balls,” “well”).
In the poem itself, Frost creates two distinct characters who have different ideas about what exactly makes a person a good neighbor. The narrator deplores his neighbor’s preoccupation with repairing the wall; he views it as old-fashioned and even archaic. After all, he quips, his apples are not going to invade the property of his neighbor’s pinecones. Moreover, within a land of such of such freedom and discovery, the narrator asks, are such borders necessary to maintain relationships between people? Despite the narrator’s skeptical view of the wall, the neighbor maintains his seemingly “old-fashioned” mentality, responding to each of the narrator’s disgruntled questions and rationalizations with nothing more than the adage: “Good fences make good neighbors.”
As the narrator points out, the very act of mending the wall seems to be in opposition to nature. Every year, stones are dislodged and gaps suddenly appear, all without explanation. Every year, the two neighbors fill the gaps and replace the fallen boulders, only to have parts of the wall fall over again in the coming months. It seems as if nature is attempting to destroy the barriers that man has created on the land, even as man continues to repair the barriers, simply out of habit and tradition.
Ironically, while the narrator seems to begrudge the annual repairing of the wall, Frost subtley points out that the narrator is actually more active than the neighbor. It is the narrator who selects the day for mending and informs his neighbor across the property. Moreover, the narrator himself walks along the wall at other points during the year in order to repair the damage that has been done by local hunters. Despite his skeptical attitude, it seems that the narrator is even more tied to the tradition of wall-mending than his neighbor. Perhaps his skeptical questions and quips can then be read as an attempt to justify his own behavior to himself. While he chooses to present himself as a modern man, far beyond old-fashioned traditions, the narrator is really no different from his neighbor: he too clings to the concept of property and division, of ownership and individuality.
Ultimately, the presence of the wall between the properties does ensure a quality relationship between the two neighbors. By maintaining the division between the properties, the narrator and his neighbor are able to maintain their individuality and personal identity as farmers: one of apple trees, and one of pine trees. Moreover, the annual act of mending the wall also provides an opportunity for the two men to interact and communicate with each other, an event that might not otherwise occur in an isolated rural environment. The act of meeting to repair the wall allows the two men to develop their relationship and the overall community far more than if each maintained their isolation on separate properties.