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Mending Wall -- Robert Frost

Guest poem sent in by Suchitra Kumar
(Poem #730) 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 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 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.
 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 outdoor game,
 One on a side. It comes to little more:
 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 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 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 neighbors."
-- Robert Frost
        (From the"North of Boston" collection)

[Background]

The Robert Frost Farm is in Derry, NH about an hour from Boston. It was here
that Frost used to repair an old wall with his neighbor Napoleon Guay, who
liked to say, "Good fences make good neighbors."

[Comments]

Am sending in this poem after being astonished that there are only four
poems of Robert Frost on minstrels!

Robert Frost is a favourite of mine for the air of mystery and
(almost) melancholy that surrounds his poetry. I read "Mending Wall" when I
was at school and did not understand most of it. But I liked the line
"Something there is that does not love a wall" - it sounded so strange and
beautiful.

Now I like the poem for its "mischievous" manner - its as if Frost is making
fun of both his neighbour and the reader. His neighbour is shown to be a
conservative (ignorant?) farmer who does things in a certain way *because
they have always been done that way*. The lines "If I could put a notion in
his head", and the reference to "elves" show the playful thoughts of Frost.
At the same time he seems to be saying that the same wall that keeps them
apart also brings them together. Though he mocks his neighbour ("he moves
in darkness"), I also think Frost has a deep affection for him. Similarly
all of Frost's poems show a love for us readers, as if he likes to indulge
us our tendency to discover what a poem *really means*.

Critiques of "Mending Wall" abound on the Internet. Some suggest that the
poem represents man's quest to connect with nature, and mankind itself - the
walls that separate people,etc. But I think all Frost's poems are best
enjoyed without interpretation. I like the simple language and the way it
can be read on a surface level with hints of deeper, perhaps darker meanings
hiding around the corner. It seems so much more fun that way.

{Favourite, chuckle-worthy lines]

"To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls"

"My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him."

[Critique]

There's are lengthy critiques of "Mending Wall" at
http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/a_f/frost/wall.htm

[Biographies]
http://www.bartleby.com/65/fr/Frost-Ro.html
http://www.britannica.com/bcom/eb/article/8/0,5716,,00.html

- Suchitra

29 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Kimbol Soques said...

my favorite lines come just after the "some are loaves and
some so nearly balls" line --

We have to use a spell to make them balance:
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"

doesn't everyone do that with piles of stuff?
 
but metaphysically speaking 

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.

i use not only in handling relationships but even in doing
systems administration security :D.
------------------------------------------------------------
-
Kimbol Soques                     Net:

TRACY SIZEMORE said...

I enjoy this Frost poem. I mostly think of his poems as delving too deep into nature and thinking too hard. Departmental and The Road Not Taken are two examples of this. You can see his analysis, his thoughts slowing him down in life, he compares man and nature too much, and personally, I think Frost as a man was too meloncholy.

Mendind Wall I can relate too. It is a good poem, one that in my view is not too meloncohly and isn't dwelling on some simple issue. My favorite line in Mending Wall is the "Good fences make good neighbors."
since I can relate to it. A have good neighbors, we have good fences, it brings people together, yet seperates them. I see Frost putting into words a simple feeling of neighbors and slight thoughts or questions on fences.

Jenber24 said...

Thank you for your help on finding criticisms on this poem. It isnt one of
Frost's most popular so it helped that you specifically had the link. Keep up
the good work.

conrad josephs said...

what a lovely idea, this site.
Along with "Birches", this must be one of Frost's better poems, being
metaphysical and yet evocative of a task I have done myself more than
once. Spring is definitely the mischief in me, and I wonder, sometimes,
who is right? Given my background I must side with the speaker, and I
hope I have avoided building walls without knowing "What I was walling
in or walling out," -- my own weak preceptions and prejudices on the
inside and the whole magic of the universe on the outside."There are
only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle."- Albert Einstein.
Nonetheless, does that stone age neighbour have a point? Can we be
ourselves without barriers? After all, as Frost said in another poem,
"Men work together, I told him from the heart/Whether they work together
or apart."

Jennifer Toal said...

I have recently sought the words of this poem in its entirity. I learned
it at school but couldn't remember all of the poem. I live in N.Ireland
and one of my favourite places is the Mourne mountains, not far from where
I live. Each time I visit and marvel at the old stone walls, still built
and repaired with rocks and boulders, this poem comes to mind. I can
visualise Frost's two characters building together with their different
thoughts. This poem holds a s[ecial place in my heart. I studied English
for my B.A (hons) degree at the University of Ulster and pondered over
many poems and authors. This must be my favourite!

HeartBreakerHuN said...

When i first read this poem a couple months ago in the beginning of my
senior year in high school i felt an instant connection to it. My english
teacher, Mr. Griffin, asked the students of my AO English class to write an
assignment on Mending Wall. One of the questions that we needed to answer was "What is
that 'something' that Frost writes about?"
I came back the following day, volunteered to share my answer with
everyone in my class, and stood in front of my class while reading the poem and
describing what i thought the meaning of the poem was. At the end, i realized that
"something" is a person's emotions. Nobody likes getting hurt and even though
people know that it is inevitable in life they still keep building walls
around themselves and their hearts to protect themselves from emotional harm.
Emotions on the other hand do not like our self-constructed walls and try their
best to tear them down because like everything and everyone else emotions just
want to be free.
I fell in love with this poem because every time i read it i could relate
to it. My teacher was impressed by my analyzation and i was extremely proud
of myself as well.

~Anna S.

Pat.McVerry said...

I recall "Mending Wall" being very popular in the 1950-60's as directed at the Berlin Wall. While the theme was not consistent with restrictions on freedom many of the passages were relevant out of context. My favorite line is "That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it" as it points to Nature's inclination to disorder (entropy).

Rimrocker1120 said...

this poem isnt one of his best...although they all suck and are hard to
understand im glad he isnt around to write anymore stupid poems

Zhang Qin said...

this poem is so lovely.its like decyphering a code.but with such emotions
and words that are so beautiful, so delicate.Every word is set there with a
purpose , and carefully chosen .What does the line about hunters and rabbits
do? Does it represent something? i'm doing a presentation about Mending
Walls. i'd like to share thoughts more.its a perfect idea to make this web
site.

Downey Paul said...

On the internet I saw your comments about Robert Frost's "something there
is... a wall"
Was your English teacher named Jon Griffin? If so, I'd like to be put in
touch with him.
Thanks

Paul V. Downey
Sr. Internal Auditor
AK Steelphonefax)

Anonymous said...

Sorry to burst all your metaphysical bubbles, the poem was written about the Berlin Wall.

April said...

I see conservative as wise and logical and not "ignorant." How interesting!

Anonymous said...

anonymous, when was the Berlin Wall built and when was this poem written? I believe you are wrong

Elf said...

the first anonymous poster is the "ignorant" one haha

Kirbicide said...

I believe this poem relates to the 'ancient' feelings some people still insist on having, which is racial segregation.

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