Summary and analysis of Robert Frost’s Mending Wall, a poem with delightful wisdom at its core.
Mending Wall is a true Robert Frost poem which analyses the nature of human relationships. Reading the poem feels exactly like peeling an onion. The reader analyses, philosophizes and goes deep inside in search of a definite conclusion which he fails to find. Yet the quest is more rewarding and thrilling than the holy grail itself. The reader awakens to a new understanding of life which defies all definitions.
The poem begins in an arresting dramatic way, taking the reader to the nature of things. The narrator says that there is something in nature that doesn’t love a wall. All man-made walls get destroyed, either by nature or by the work of hunters. So when the spring season comes, he informs his neighbor and they begin to mend the wall that separates their properties.
During this mending, the narrator thinks of the utter foolishness of this activity. In fact there is no need of a wall between them. He has only apple trees and his neighbor has pine. His apple trees would never cross the border and eat up the pine cones. Moreover, they do not have cows. So there is no possibility of causing offence to the other.
The narrator wants to put this notion to his neighbor’s head. But like a stone-headed savage, he only repeats his father’s saying, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Analysis of major themes in Robert Frost’s ‘Mending Wall’
Mending wall opens with a delightful New England rural experience in the spring season. But irony is at the core of this experience just as the wall which is meant to separate brings the two neighbors together. The title itself suggests what the poem is all about. On the one hand it is about the experience of mending the wall. But on the other, it is also about ‘the mending wall’ – a wall that mends human relationships. Throughout the poem, the wall functions as a metaphor, indicating the need for simultaneous connection and separation between human beings.
Frost employs a kind of deliberate playfulness in this poem. The narrator speaks of mending the wall as ‘just another kind of outdoor game.’ It is true because they are playing the grown up version of building blocks with loaves and balls. But, with the same playfulness he catapults the reader to the land of doubt regarding the meaning of the poem. For instance, whose side is the narrator in this game? Is he playing for himself, or is he on his neighbor’s side?
The speaker seems to make fun of the foolish obstinacy of the neighbor. But again, the irony is that the ‘wall’ in the title of the poem becomes a ‘fence’ in the words of the neighbor. Differences in perception and a lack of understanding are central themes in this poem. The narrator wonders whether he can put a notion in the neighbor’s head. But from the neighbor’s point of view, the narrator may seem obstinate as well, because he always misinterprets a fence as a wall. What one person thinks of as a wall may be just a fence to the other person. Perhaps there should be a wall to demarcate where the fence ends and the wall begins so that one may know his limits in human relationships.
In the end, it seems that the ultimate paradox lies between ‘something there is that doesn’t love a wall’ and ‘good fences make good neighbors’ – both contrasting, both true. As human beings we all want to stay connected. At the same time we need our own worlds, detached from others. Disputes occur because one man’s food is another man’s poison and one man’s fence is another man’s wall. Let’s only hope for a day when the walls of nationality, race, and religion will fall down, leaving humanity in peace for ever. At least we may be able to reduce these walls to mere fences through which constructive communication is possible.