Mending Wall is the opening poem of Robert Frost’s second volume, North of Boston. The poem circles around a stone wall that separates the speaker’s property from his neighbour’s. During the springtime the two meet by the wall and jointly make repairs. The speaker does not see any reason to keep the wall – there are no cows to be restricted, only apple and pine trees around. The speaker does not believe in maintaining a wall just for the sake of it. He requests his neighbour to do away with the wall, but his neighbour resorts to an old proverb which says ‘good fences make good neighbours’. But the axiom does not change the thinking capacity of the speaker and he remains unimpressed and even humorously presses the neighbour to look beyond the old fashioned idiocy of such insensitive interpretation. But his neighbour is not persuaded at all. The conflict develops as the speaker reveals more and more of himself while portraying the native Yankee and responding to the regional spirit he represents. He visualizes his neighbour as a deferred citizen from a rightly outdated epoch, an existing instance of dark-age mindset. But the neighbour would not yield to the speaker’s justifications and held on to his maxim.
Throughout the first half of the poem the speaker contemplates the weakening and mending of walls, reinforcing the awareness of his two cultural traits – his capricious imagination and his fine understanding of detail. He diverges to portray those hunters who enthusiastically split walls apart in search of rabbits and then he returns to his own concern in a more mystifying, unobserved, and disparaging power. Once the conflict between the farmer and the observer is made obvious, the last section of the poem gradually develops and further clarifies the differences between the two characters and reveals how little cooperation is there between them. At the final stage of the poem the address of the observer is quite striking – ‘an old-stone savage’ and naturally the term ‘neighbour’ seems increasingly ironic. He is not regarded as any associate or a co-worker, but as a complete alien who is observed and criticised by the speaker, maintaining distance and detachment.
The image built in the poem is very catchy – two men meeting on terms of courtesy and only because they are neighbours and they need to mend the barrier that stands in between them. They carry out their work out of habit – mending the wall now and then which again collapses because of some investable forces of nature. Thus the poem revolves around three central ideas – barrier-building that indicates separation, the condemned nature of work that generates a sense of despise and the persistent activity regardless of any kind of restraint indicating a loathsome monotonous life.
Though Frost’s poem directly divides the two sets – one who obstinately persists on building superfluous walls and the other who would not like to adhere to such a practise – the question is – are the two sets separable? The speaker is critical of his neighbour’s wall building and might even watch this activity with amusing detachment; but why is it that he goes to the wall every time to mend the damage done by the hunters? Like many of Frost’s poems, Mending Wall can also be labelled as a poem absorbed in the creative process – the positive act of creation involving the mending of a wall. This mending can only take place when there is an act of destruction. Thus it is very obvious that the requirement of a creative activity happens only after devastation. It is the mending of the wall that brings the neighbours in each others’ company and it is actually the wall in between that helps in maintaining good relations, justifying the assertion of the neighbour that ‘good fences make good neighbours’.
This is another of Frost’s pastoral poems; full of trees, animals and colloquialisms. He again uses an easy reading rhythm – the iambic pentameter fits perfectly with the rise and flow of human voice. And he also uses again the otherwise ordinary activity to contemplate a greater idea, the questions related to walls – are they good, are they bad, what are their purpose? Though the speaker sees no sense or need for the wall that he has to rebuild it year after year, but he does it anyway. The relationships of community continue to play a large role in many of Frost’s works, and Mending Wall is one of them. The style of writing is also is also different as there is a dramatic dialogue that runs in the poem.