An Analysis of Robert Frost’s Mending Wall
In his poem, “Mending Wall”, Robert Frost presents two gentlemen and their annual effort to repair a wall that separates their property. Frost uses the wall as a metaphor to portray the idea of barriers between people, and the repairing of the wall to demonstrate repairing a friendship and coming together. Frost uses metaphoric symbolism in the poem, using the process of repairing an actual wall, as a representation of the barriers that separate two neighbors. Behind the literal representation of repairing this wall, there is a much deeper meaning, which reflects coming together, overcoming obstacles, and resolving social barriers. While the belief is that barriers offer a source of protection and privacy, in this case, they are used to bring friends together. Clearly, the process of mending the wall is a metaphor that Frost uses to exemplify an idea about borders as a representation of barriers but also as a vehicle for demonstrating the mending of a relationship.
As for his interpretation of “Mending Wall”, Craig Dworkin dissects the poem with an idea that the entire poem is based on figurative words, meanings, and implications. He states, “When Frost wrote “Mending Wall”, the figurative use of a ‘spell’ would still have carried the meaning of guessing something secret or discovering something hidden, and the words would have explicitly denoted decipherment.” Dworkin claims that just as the speaker in the poem has to use a spell to make the stones balance, “we have to use a spell to make the poem balance with its matrix” (Dworkin). Here he alludes to the idea that Frost has used inventive play on words along with leading the reader to a summary, which is hidden deep within the lines of the poem. He goes on to call the encryption of “the matrix a “hypogram” (hypo “under” + gram “writing”); the hypogram is quite literally the subtext of the poem, underwriting the text on the page without actually appearing as part of that text. (Dworkin)” Essentially, he is implying that there is a much deeper message hidden within Frost’s poem, one that requires a great deal of analogy and dissecting to be able to understand.
Though his article never does state his opinion of the actual translation of the poem, he clearly states, “In fact, we must undertake the effort of those letter-by letter readings in order to better access the complexity of references woven into a poetic text” (Dworkin). While his actual critique is never revealed, he explains that one would have to dissect the poem in the most critical manner to uncover the hidden message, which Frost has buried within the text. With an opposing opinion, Frank Lentricchia’s analysis supports the theory that Frost is writing about the ‘process’, rather the literal task. He starts by saying, “It does not take more than one reading of the poem to understand that the speaker is not intending to instill great importance upon the wall” (Lentricchia). He identifies what he feels is the true objective, which is identifying two kinds of people. He goes on to say, It is a poem that celebrates a process, not the thing itself. It is a poem, furthermore, that distinguishes between two kinds of people: one who seizes the particular occasion of mending as fuel for the imagination and therefore as a release from the dull ritual of work each spring and one who is trapped by work and by the past as it comes down to him in the form of his father’s cliché. Lentricchia’s analogy of Frost poem is that this ‘action’ is one man’s break from actual tasks while it remains another mans necessity to maintain his own father’s philosophy about personal space.
He suggests that this poem is about coming together each spring, replacing the pieces of the wall, and socializing between two neighbors. While the narrator enjoys the engaging activity, his neighbor does this out of necessity to maintain a culture that his father instilled within him, though it is apparent that he too, enjoys the process. While Dworkin argues that the true meaning is so complex that it is not easily identifiable, Lentricchia claims that the meaning of “Mending Wall” is symbolic of a process. Though both are fair interpretations, it is clear that Frost intended the reader to uncover a conflict between the neighbors and their attempt to come together to mend the obstacle (or wall) that has come between them in the friendship. Frost’s description of each detail within the poem is easy to read and lends itself to intentional interpretation. Some of the techniques used in his poem, “Mending Wall” are irony, imagery, and use of metaphors. Though he leaves the reader to decide which interpretation they take from this poem, it is clearly about a conflict and each of the farmers individual needs to repair it. On one
hand, Frost makes literal implications about what the two men are doing. On the contrary however; is the underlying tone that these men are also working to build upon and repair their friendship. While the reader can easily identify that these men are completing a task, Frost suggests that they are also building or mending some type of relationship.
Another of the techniques that Frost uses in “Mending Wall” to convey these ideas is imagery. Frost uses the first eleven lines to describe the poor condition of the wall, therefore creating a lifelike characterization for the reader. Here, he is illustrating a pictorial of the deterioration of the wall, which is representative of their deteriorating friendship, also in need of repair. In lines twelve through fifteen Frost uses metaphors, (“I let me neighbor know beyond the hill and on a day we meet to walk the line”), as he talks about the coming together, or the reuniting of friends. Lines sixteen and seventeen represent the conflict within their friendship, (“To each the boulders have fallen to each”), suggesting that each man has done wrong and (“some are loaves and some are nearly balls”) though some of the struggles large and some are small. Nevertheless, it is this conflict that requires repair. The narrator is clearly ready to forgive and overcome the disagreement between them. He openly argues that he does not understand the need to ‘wall in’ or ‘wall out’ anything or anyone, suggesting to his desire to give and accept forgiveness.
For the neighbor with the pine trees, the wall is of great significance, as it provides a sense of security and privacy, suggesting that he still requires distance and man not easily overcome this obstacle within the friendship. When they meet to repair the wall, it could further be metaphorically interpreted as repairing their friendship and resolving disputes. While one might suppose at the onset that this wall is only a literal barrier, it is also representative of bonding or coming together, which is Frost’s play on irony. Modestly speaking, walls keep people apart. Conversely, this one has clearly brought them together. Beyond the laborious task of actually repairing and the social aspect of coming together, the men are distant which implies that there is a personal matter between them that also requires repair. This demonstrates the narrators desire to be close, yet the neighbors desire to maintain distance, suggesting that they each are working through the conflict in their own way. Both men exhibit combined effort to overcome the underlying issue, which is obviously in support of reunion and coming together. Overall this poem is very effective in delivering it’s message of how obstacles within a friendship can be repaired, however it requires dedication and effort from all sides
20 July 2011
Works Cited and Annotation
Dworkin, Craig. “Critical Essay on ‘Mending Wall’.” Poetry for Students. Ed. Mary K. Ruby. Vol. 5. Detroit: Gale Group, 1999. Literature Resource Center. Web. 15 July 2011. Craig Dworkin’s analogy of ‘Mending Wall’ does not dissect the actual content of the poem, nor does he offer his opinion of the real meaning to this poem. Dworkin does, however, claim that the poem is to grand to be analyzed simply. He feels that there is a far deeper message within the poem, one that requires great literary technique to unveil. This contrasting opinion is a viable argument because poems are intended to be interpreted many different ways.
Lentricchia, Frank. “Experience as Meaning: Robert Frosts’s ‘Mending Wall,’.” The CEA Critic 34.4 (May 1972): 9-11. Rpt. in Poetry for Students. Ed. Mary K. Ruby. Vol. 5. Detroit: Gale Group, 1999. Literature Resource Center. Web. 15 July 2011. Frank Lentricchia’s interpretation of this poem supports my initial reaction that the poem is about barriers, friendships, struggles, and socializing rather than segregating. His analogy will strengthen my argument that this is the only interpretation based on the line-by-line dissection of the poem.
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"Mending Wall" by Robert Frost is a poem in which the characteristics of vocabulary, rhythm and other aspects of poetic technique combine in a fashion that articulates, in detail, the experience and the opposing convictions that the poem describes and discusses. The ordinariness of the rural activity is presented in specific description, and as so often is found in Frost"s poems, the unprepossessing undertaking has much larger implications. Yet his consideration of these does not disturb the qualities of accessible language and technique, which give the poem its unique flavor and persuasiveness. The poem works on two levels of realism and metaphor, with a balance as poised as the act of mending the all itself.
(themes) Perhaps one of the reasons that Frost remains one the best known and best loved American poets is that his themes are universal and attractive. They offer the reader affirmative resolutions for the conflicts dramatized in his life and his poetry. Readers, whether young or old, waging their own struggles against the constant threat of chaos in their life, find comfort and encouragement in many of Frost"s lines which are so cherished that they have become familiar quotations: "Good fences make good neighbors", "Miles to go before I sleep."
(theme) "Mending Wall" is about boundaries. Frost, in a personal evaluation of this poem stated, "Nationality is something I couldn"t live without. I played exactly fair in it. Twice I say "Good fences", twice I say "Something there isâ”". While giving a reading of his poetry in Santa Fe, Frost called the "Mending Wall" "too New Englandish" and that mending wall is an occupation he used to follow. The neighbor in the poem is not a Yankee as represented, but is actually A French-Canadian who was very particular every spring about setting up the wall.
(theme/subject) Frost often stated that he felt "spoken to" by nature. He called these incidents "nature favors" and these favors served as inceptors of his poems. Many people refer to him as a nature poet, however there is always a person, a character in his nature poetry.
(subject/setting) Frost always claimed he wasn"t a nature poet and that there is almost always a person in the poem and that the poem is about the person, not about nature, which is usually beautifully described. Nature seemed to be Frost"s furniture.
(language/tone) Frost makes much of tone and depends upon the sound of the voice-tone to communicate the emphasis of the poem, such as the "oh" and the hyphen in "old-stone savage". If you"ve ever heard a reading by Frost of Mending Wall you would notice that he stresses these lines, as well as "I"d rather he said it for himself". The tone of Mending Wall is an important factor in understanding the poem. Within these simple, yet complex lines Frost has incorporated the tone of remininces, reflection, sarcasm and irony.
(lang./tone) The living part of the poem is the intonation for it is only here for those who have heard it before. It is the most volatile and at the same time important part of any poem.
(lang/tone) Much of the appeal of Mending Wall can be attributed to Frost"s use of language as it is spoken with a vocabulary which is natural and which includes the texture of the tongues from which it comes.
(lang/tone) Those who read it could readily sense the personalities and emotions that exist within the dialogue.
(lang/style) Frost"s style in Mending Wall is plain, direct, conversational. It is simple on the surface but there"s an obscurity and a depth that the reader can"t quite get inside of.
(lang/style) Frost"s poetry is deceptively simple but there is a deep mysterious underside which is very interesting. His craftsmanship, understanding of meter and form, his use of imagery, metaphor, psychology, religious connection, and understanding of man/woman and man/universe are what set his works apart.
(tone/language) Words in themselves do not convey meaning. Take for example two people who are speaking on opposite sides of a wall, whose voices can be heard but whose words cannot be distinquished. Even though the words do not carry, the sound of them does and the listener can catch the meaning of the conversation. This is because every meaning has a particular sound-posture, or to think of it in another way, the sense of meaning has a particular sound which each individual is instinctively familiar with and without at all being conscious of the exact words that are being used is able to understand the thought, idea or emotion that is being conveyed. Each sentence in the Mending Wall is not interesting merely in conveying a meaning of words, it does much more by conveying a meaning by its tone. If we were to go back far enough in history we would discover that the sound of sense (tone) existed before words, that there was something in
the voice or vocal gesture made by primitive man that conveyed a meaning to his companions before man developed a more elaborate method of communication. Native Americans have been said to have possessed a picture-language, a means of communicating by the sound of sense. This sound of sense, or the voice Frost gives to the personae of his characters is the most important, distinquishing and conspicuously insistent feature of not only Mending Wall but his other poetry
(style) Frost has provided to the common reader poems and writings that allow each of us to ponder the questions for which we must look to our morals and beliefs to find the answers, or to consider the ones he sometimes offers. It is this introspection that gives us comfort, regardless of subject or the answer.
(style) Mending Wall demonstrates Frost"s simultaneous command of lyrical verse, dramatic conversation and ironic commentary.
(imagery, style, structure) The poetry of Forst stimulates brief, pungent reactions in the reader. These reactions create interest for they whet not only the reader"s interest in Frost as a poet, but also in his poetry. (Go with "Self" here â“ the imagery he"s created for the characters â“ their personalities, etc. (use sheet as guideline) (Self/personae) Frost poses as the literate, philosophical farmer â“ a man of the earth, a hard boiled, yet reflective Yankee.
(SELF) Frost is the teller of the poem giving himself the "self" of the (insert farmer here). He is the one that initiates the spring mending (insert line) and he also says that he has come alone and made repairs (insert hunting)â¦..expand on "to have the rabbit out of hiding to please the yelping dogs". Yet, we also get the impression that he wants the wall down when he scoffs at his neighbors saying "good fences make good neighbors" (and also (I"d rather he said it himself). Throughout these lines Frost allies himself with both the wall builder and the wall destroyer, thus playing both sides of the fence.
(images) two old farmers â“ one who sees the fence only for what it is (stones, work, a separating of physical boundaries); one who see the fence for what they represent â“ the space, the distance, the walling in and walling out, the darkness inside each of us â“ and who struggles with wanting the walls to stay down, while at the same time working to keep them up.
Style: Mending Wall is written in blank verse with a varying meter. Note how regular and tight the lines (insert 12-15 here) when the meaning is about tightness. Note the pun in line 34, "And to whom I was like to give offence." A-fence. Throughout the poem the form remains one long series of lines, without a break, like the wall itself.
(style) I believe that readers are drawn to Frost by the ability of his work to stimulate in them the ability to see the conflicts, the drama, the humor or the horror of reality in a way that makes sense based on their ability to clearly understand and share in the emotions the author intended.
(style/structure) Form is one of the most important characteristics in Frost"s poetry. He utilizes a variety of stanzaic forms, with formal relationships of rhyme to rhyme, line to line, and words that seem to talk back and forth to each other. To Frost it is apparent that form meant structure.
(End) What is it about Frost that makes him so universally appealing? As we read his poetry we only need look out our own window or look within ourselves to realize how familiary his thoughts seem to be to our own. Michigan Professor Morris P. Tilley in a February 1918 article on Frost stated, "Frost cannot write unless he can hear in him the voices carrying on the conversation that he records". It is the realism and richness of detail in Mending Wall that allows anyone, anywhere to see the very images, to experience the emotions that inspired the poem. The words are easy to read and on the surface, easy to understand. The interplay that goes on beyond the characters is genuine and familiar to anyone who has experienced the slight awkwardness between people who have never ventured beyond being casual acquaintances. To his readers, Frost appears to be a poet who knows about trees, farms, fences and still has managed to get an individualistic, fairly optimistic and American philosophy out of what he knows and writes about. Readers can sense that both his monologues, reflective thoughts or dramatic scenes come from his knowledge of people and each of these is written in a verse that uses, sometimes with absolute mastery, the rhythms of actual speech. Frost once said that he wanted to put down a few good poems that would be hard to get rid of. (check quote). I think he succeeded..
(something) An interesting side note is that when Frost spoke about his poetry, when asked to define poetry, he used metaphors such as "a way out of something". A word he would use 52 times in his poetry.
(something) Most references to God, heaven or ultimate seem to be superficial on their own and when looked at in context to their place in the work seem to raise more questions about belief and anything else.
(metaphor) Every poem is an epitome of the great predictment; a figure of the will braving alien entanglements. (walls, fences, boundaries)
The poem is about our natural tendency to build walls, to wall out neighbors, to defend ourselves from others, to want privacy and our "space". And then nation to nation we do the same by creating boundaries. We create imaginary borders to identify our tribe and we defend it. "But something there is that doesn"t love a wall" that wants it down. We do that. For brief moments in time we take down the walls we"ve built around ourselves, we work, not at defending ourselves, but at allowing others to get close to us, to see inside of us only to start building the walls again. Mending Wall has all three levels: it is about a particular thing â“ a wall. It is about Frost"s feeling about walls and its universal because it speaks to the way we all think and behave. (Frost"s quote about boundaries and nationality)
(Something) Note the use of the word "something". "Something there is that doesn"t love a wall. (Frost"s use of this word in other writings). Something refers to a big, unknown unspeakable force â“ God? (expand on this). Or it could refer to the fact that in New England the frost heaves the ground in the winter, much as ice cubes swell up. Anything made of stone or brick suffers because of the upward pressure. Also: In actuality, stone walls were never built between properties. As farmers would plow their fields the stone were unearthed and carried to the property line and dumped. I"m sure Frost was aware of these facts but didn"t really care about how the physical wall came about, for he uses this wall only in the metaphoric sense to describe the way we wall ourselves in, while not knowing what we might be walling out. In Mending Wall Frost has recognized the existence of a force that sends a powerful emotion, a groundswell under the barriers that human beings create around themselves in an attempt to break these barriers down.
Mending Wall has a man who both builds and repairs the wall, as well as works to topple the wall. He makes boundaries while at the same time trying to break them. That"s part of what makes this poem universally acceptable and enjoyable. Frost has described all of mankind.
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