“Mending Wall” by Robert Frost (a short discussion on theme)

“Mending Wall”

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,  10 
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor 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.                  15 
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
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.      20
Oh, just another kind of outdoor 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.
My apple trees will never get across                       25 
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
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,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,             35 
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 savage armed.       40
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.”  45

 

          In the first line of “Mending Wall” we are told implicitly that there is “something” that doesn’t like walls. As we read further we see that the speaker makes this statement because every year the wall between his and his neighbor’s lands must be mended, and no matter how much mending the wall receives, parts of it still collapse. Every year at spring time, the speaker is the one that makes the appointment with his neighbor to mend the wall, and as they go about “walking the line” the speaker tries to convince his neighbor that they do not need to have a wall. The wall is not being used to wall anything in or out. As the speaker points out, “here there are no cows” (31). The speaker’s land is all apple orchards and his neighbor’s is all pine groves. The speaker astutely points out that neither the apple trees or the pine trees are likely to cross the boundary. Nonetheless, the neighbor simply repeats an old proverb spoken to him by his father: “Good fences make good neighbors” (27, 45). The speaker asks “why” fences make good neighbors, but he gets no concrete answer. This poem by Frost is one of the only poems he has ever written in free verse. There is no structure or separation in this poem. There is no detectable rhyme scheme or rhythm. Robert Frost is known for his use of poetic structure, having written a number of sonnets and villanelles. In contrast, this poem seems to break those boundaries. This creative choice, compliments the theme of the poem perfectly, as we are lead to question the need for boundaries. In some instances, boundaries, or “walls” may actually be superfluous, and they are only maintained out of tradition or old school mindsets without any other plausible reasoning to back them up.   

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