Mending Wall – Robert Frost – Analysis

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,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour 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.
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.
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.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? 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 offence.
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 savage armed.
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 neighbours.”

Robert Frost
This poem looks like a response to something that happened to RF when farming his land.

You could say this poem is all about challenging entrenched thought in order to explore possible change, in this case a farmer honours his father’s saying without employing his own mind to the situation. An ‘old stone savage armed’ and moving in ‘darkness’ gives strong negative emphasis to this way of non-thinking.

On the other hand in defence of the attitude taken the farmer could have given plenty of thought into his father’s saying and made similar choice after much consideration. After all it is nice to have your own defined space and control. And there may be good reasons unknown to RF that he does not want to talk about – future use of land, RF having an annoying dog that wanders …

However, the farmer does not want discussion – his mind is made up so even if he has his own well thought-through reasoning he is not willing to share this with RF. Perhaps all that RF is trying to do is to look for better communication with a neighbour who he finds difficulty to relate to –

And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.

… so perhaps all RF might be doing is trying to bridge that gap, at the same time doing a bit of stirring.

An interesting aspect from this poem is the proposition that nature is against walls – typified by the opening line – ‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall’. So perhaps the world is naturally working towards becoming more and more ‘wall free’.

Of course there are ‘good walls’ and ‘bad walls’ depending on which side of the fence you are standing and fear always makes bad mortar. It is nice to see that some of the ‘bad walls’ eventually fall for the benefit of a more inclusive world (The Berlin Wall, Apartheid in South Africa, the ‘White Australia Policy’ … and when will the North Korean barrier crumble).

But how much do we live by sayings, how much do they influence our lives, how much do the words of others hold catch to our free thinking?

And how much do we challenge those around us to explore better communication (without saying Elves)? It is only through open communication that we can attempt to explore a better world for all and to start to break down barriers – beginning with our neighbours. Perhaps time to invite one in for a cup of tea!

Footnote …

Apparently ‘Mending Wall’ is indeed autobiographical: 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”).

Above italics taken from this Website …

Your word in my ear ...

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