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Mending Wall
Biography

Robert Frost was inspired to write Mending Wall after talking with one of his farming friend Napoleon Guay. He learned from talking with his neighbor that writing in the tones of real life is an important factor in his poetic form (Liu,Tam). Henry David Thoreau once stated that, “A true account of the actual is the purest poetry.” Another factor that might have played a role in inspiring Frost to write this poem was his experience of living on a farm as a small boy. Mending Wall was published in 1915 along with a collection of Frost’s poems in North of Boston.

Theme Statements

Nature dissolves the barriers that humanity erects.

The purpose of the wall in this poem was to isolate one’s personality and privacy. In line one and thirty-five, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” reveals that nature has no boundaries, and because it, “doesn’t love the wall,” nature attempts destroy that boundary to bring humanity and the environment together in a harmonious bond. Nature has made, “… gaps even two can pass abreast,” shows how nature has made a hole big enough for one person to walk across, and towards another person’s property to talk. But, it also shows how humans are still unknowingly walling one another out from each other’s lives.

Tradition undermines the desire for change.

As the poem progresses it gradually changes from young ideals to old tradition. The old man in the end, is presenting what he learned from his father through tradition. In line 43, “He will not go behind his father’s saying,” it clearly states that he will not stray from his father’s teachings and the tradition set by his antecedents. Why change something they isn’t broken? Even though the youth has his points as in lines 24-26, “He is all pine and I am apple orchard. / My apple trees will never get across/ And eat the cones under his pines,” the youth will never affect the old man’s tradition. Apples come and go with the seasons, but pines are forever and never out of season.

Change instinctively challenges and questions the ideals of tradition.

In order to change, one must first break tradition. But, in the poem the old man does not want to change and break tradition. The person who is willing to question tradition and confront the problem is the young man. He uses those “w” words to ask the question, “There where it is we do not need the wall,” and “Why do they make good neighbors...Where are the cows?” The youth is asking logical questions, but is rebutted with the answer that, “Good fences make good neighbors”. The youth challenges the old man to say what is on his mind, but the old man is an, “old-stone savage armed,” who, has no ideas of his own and, “moves in the darkness,” of the traditions he follows.

Tone

Narrative and explanations (lines 1-22)

In these lines, Frost is introducing the setting, characters, and the conflicts to the reader. We also get an explanation about how, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” and how the wall has been damaged to the point where, “gaps even two can pass abreast.” The reader is also introduced to the attitudes of the characters, and how they feel towards the wall. The youth is curious and jolly in the beginning, thinking it as a game. But, the old man is a complete opposite, he doesn’t say much and gets right to work without a simply hello or gesture.

Inquisitions and curious (lines 23-36)

The youth wishes to understand the purpose of the wall, and uses question words to support his curiosity. For instance, when the word “why,” is italicized in line 30 it emphasizes his questioning of the importance of the wall. He challenges the neighbor to give a better answer then, “Good fences make good neighbors,” but he doesn’t receive one. Instead he accepts this to an extent and is still contemplating ways to how he can, “If I could put a notion in his head…(line 29)”

Frustration (lines 36 and 40)

Within the youth there is an internal conflict because he does not want to go along with the old man’s tradition. However, he respects the old man enough, he does not say anything to his face but contemplates his ideas in his mind. As you know, silence is golden and a true sign of respect, even though the youth is frustrated and calling the old man names inside his head; he does not say it a load and make the old man uncomfortable in front of him.

Wise Resignation (lines 43-45)

The youth is getting smarter as time goes on because he knows it is a useless cause. It will be a waste of breath to the youth because he will not be able to change the old man’s senile attitude. The old man is set in his ways and will not break tradition when the youth says, “He will not go behind his father’s saying. (line 43)” This line states even though there is no meaning behind, “Good fences make good neighbors,” it is like an unwritten rule and he expects to go through this ritual every year during “spring-mending time.”

Paradoxical (Carson Gibbs, 1962)

This poem can be seen as being negative, but it can also be viewed as a positive to many reader’s eyes. Even though the wall divides the neighbors, it also unites them once a year. In lines 13-14, “And on a day we meet to walk the line/ And set the wall between us once again,” we notice that this is the only reason they see each other- to mend the wall that keeps them apart. This is ironic because without a wall, both neighbors would be separated naturally because one lives, “beyond the hill,” and “in the darkness…not of woods only.”(Liu,Tam)

Argumentative

Throughout the entirety of the poem seven reasons were presented by the youth in order to explain how the wall was superfluous. Those reasons included nature, the hunters and their dogs, the youth himself, the pine trees vs. apple orchards, the scarcity of cows, and the elves. There is no concrete reason for why there should be a wall, except for the old man’s father’s cliché, which belittles the purpose of the wall.

Language:

Vocabulary

Some of the vocabulary that pertained to this poem was abreast, savage, mending and loaves. Each vocabulary word that was written has a special meaning to the poem, abreast means side by side. Nature wanted both the youth and the old man to walk side by side with one another through the wall. But the savage, meaning belonging to a primitive society, is too stubborn to do that; which is very primitive of him since he learned it from his father and will not change his attitude. The youth feels that mending the wall is only repairing the wall physically but not the wall between them emotionally, he feels they are loafing there time there, or wasting, and shouldn’t bother with the wall at all.

Personification

There are two inanimate objects in the poems that are given human characteristics. The first is nature, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, / that send the frozen ground-swell under it/ and spills the upper-boulder in the sun (line1-3).” That “something” the youth is referring to is nature, and it is trying to bring down the wall because like nature, the wall is gradually destroying something too. That something is the relationship between the two characters, because before the wall was being put together, the youth in lines 1-22 refers to himself and the old man as “we” and “us.” But, as the wall takes it’s shape once more, it destroys the bond formed earlier in the poem and the youth is now getting frustrated and referring to the old man as an, “old-stone savage armed.”

Alliteration

Frost utilizes two letters repeatedly in his poem. The letter “s” in lines seven and 40, “stone one a stone,” and,“Old-stone savage,” is used because of its soothing effect on the reader and the calmness it brings when the youth is so frustrated with his search of answers. The second letter Frost utilizes is “w” repeatedly throughout his poem in order to manifest the monotonous work that goes into building the wall.

Onomatopoeia

Like an auditory sound in the poem, it gives the reader a reason to why the wall is in its ruinous state. It helps the reader picture some, “yelping dogs (line 9),” chasing some rabbits and running into the wall, and knocking some bricks off.

Assonance

The most noticeable assonance Frost uses is through the youth. He uses the words, “why,” “where,” “for whom,” and “what” to ask the questions that are bothering him. These words are of a curious tone, but they never get answered in till the end; which was a superficial one anyway. Other assonance Frost uses in the poem is his use for them when he needs to separate language i.e. “Gaps-wall,” “walling in or walling out,” “never get across,” and “one on a side,” are perfect examples of how he utilizes assonance in the poem.

Repetition

Repetition in the poem was found to be mostly concentrated to one part of the poem. The first part lines1-22 had the words “we,” used five times, “them,” six times, and “us,” twice. This showed the unity before the wall was being mended as stated earlier, but, after the wall was in the process of being restored the words: “I,” “he,” “him,” “his,” and “me,” were repeated throughout the poem to show that the speaker and the neighbor are being selfish and parochial in their own ideas. The most important repetition of all however, is found in lines 27 and 45. The, “Good fences make good neighbors,” line is the most powerful line in the sentence because that is the line the youth is questioning throughout the poem, and the last answer he receives from the old man; letting the old man have the last word in their conversation and the poem.

Simile

The only simile is the poem is referring to the old man. In line 38-40 the youth comments, “I see him there…like an old-savage armed,” with this quote, we see that the old man is being compared to an old, primitive being who cannot accept change. What we also see is the old man holding onto his last shred of tradition he learned from his father and not letting it go without a fight.

Metaphor

The metaphors in this poem are very abstract because the reader has to look very hard in order to get them. In line 17, the youth is talking about how the wall has dropped bricks the shape of, “loaves and balls.” What the youth is actually commenting on indirectly is how the loaf is like the old man: square, and doesn’t change or move very much. And the ball is himself, always moving around and rolling into situations where he gets trapped by a square object. Another metaphor in the poem was the youth saying that mending that wall was, “Oh, just another outdoor game.” The youth doesn’t think much of the wall and is playing along with the old man since it is the only time of the year they meet one another.

Symbols/opposites

In order for the reader to better understand the poem, he/she must recognize the symbols that are in the poem. The first word we see in the poem was a symbol. The “something,” the narrator is talking about stands for the unknown and a higher being in life. The hunters and dogs symbolized nature and its different ways of tearing the wall apart. The two men we are introduced to are complete opposites; one is a young man who represents youth, and the other an older man who is traditional. Another opposite in the poem is the use of the word pine trees and apple orchards. The pine trees are solid, steady, and cointinueuesly grows and matures with time every day of the season, and represents the traditional side. While the apple trees only grow apples once a year, and are radical because of their different shapes, colors and sizes. These apples represent new ideas and change while the pine is the opposite. The poem starts out in the morning with the sun, but ends in darkness. The sun represented the first half of the poem, the youth being enlightened with questions, but ends in darkness when the wall is nearly complete and the questioning was subsided.

The wall itself is a symbol; it represents the conflict between tradition and change. The holes in the wall, big enough so that two can pass abreast, symbolizes how nature wants the wall torn down so that we can walk to each other’s side. But, how we don’t take advantage of this and instead try to patch it up. Mending the wall itself, is also a symbol, to be exact it has two meanings, a double entondra. The first meaning is the physical one, a barrier between the youth and the older man, the second the relationship the youth and the older man make as they’re mending the wall. As the more they mend the closer they get together, and the more the youth understands the older man’s traditional saying.

Parallel construction

In the poem there contained three parallel construction, each pertaining to the wall. Lines 10, “seen them made or heard them made,” corresponds to one another because you could not see or hear how the wall broke. And in lines16-17 where the “boulders that have fallen,” look like, “loaves and balls,” show what the broken wall pieces look like on the ground. The most noticeable one in the poem was in lines 14 and 15 because deals with two walls as mentioned in symbols. They are setting down the wall (physical) to keep the wall (emotional) between them. These lines demonstrate how the neighbors “mend their wall, but they actually grow apart.

Imagery

The reader can vividly imagine the two neighbors working simitanously, side by side, and without saying a word to one another. We know how badly the walls have been damaged to the point that, “…gaps even two can pass abreast (line 4),” and need bricks that are the size of, “… loaves and some so nearly balls (line 17).” The reader also imagines each neighbor, “One on a side (line22),” with an, “old-stone savage” on one side and an, “apple orchard” on the other. Each having wore their, “fingers rough with handling them,” while all this is happening during “spring mending-time.”

Allusion

The only allusion in the poem was that of Napoleon Guy, who was the farming neighbor of Frost. He was the person who inspired Frost after building a wall to separate their properties, and is alluded to twice in the poem when the older man says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Conflicts

In this poem, there contained three main conflicts. Change vs. Tradition, nature vs. the wall, and the individual vs. individual. In the poem the young man is constantly wondering what is so important about why, “Good fences make good neighbors,” and the youth is constantly pondering questions to ask the man, but never really ask them because he knows that tradition will prevail. Individual vs. individual plays in the same kind of role as the other because it is again the youth questioning the old man’s ways. The first conflict in the poem is given in the first line, “Something there that doesn’t like the wall,” and that something is nature and it wants the wall down.

Style

The poem is written in first person narrative, and with a series of arguments (refer to Tone). The poem is written with 45 lines and separated into two parts, with line twenty-three represents that wall that is discussed in the poem. In the first part of the poem (lines 1-22), the youth tells the story from his point of view, which is an internal monologue. He uses the world “we” five times, and the word “us” twice to show both are working on the wall and being connected to each other; the most they have been throughout the year. The middle line of the poem is, “There where it is we do not need the wall…”, which represents the dividing point of the poem, a barrier of sorts. But in lines 24-45, there is frustration in the youth’s tone as the wall is taking its original shape back again, and he begins to isolate himself more from the old man when he uses the words “he” seven times and “him” or “his” once. Frustration led to sarcasm in the youth’s arguments, but in the end the poem ended in wisdom. It started out with a silly question about why there was a need for a wall, but ended with an enlightened remark by the old man.

The poem contained four colons, which shifted the youth’s thought to one argument to another; the colon was a transitional tool Frost used very well in this poem. Like most of Frost’s other poems, the majority of this poem was thought up in the narrator’s head. And like his other poems, their contained dialogue, a setting, characters, a conflict and an ending.

Form

This poem was written in blank verse and not a free verse because it was written in an iambic pentameter without rhyme. It went stressed-unstressed for 5 meters. All 45 five lines were written in iambic pentameter, and voiced narratively.
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