“Mending Wall” by Robert Frost

Mending wall was written in blank verse by Robert Frost as a form of metaphorical poem. Like most of Frost’s poems it is set in the countryside of New England. The principle theme of the poem is the persona’s question why he and his neighbor must constantly labor to rebuild a fence dividing their farms in spring knowing that the winter will destroy it anyway. This essay shall deal with two quotes from the poem and analyze them for the meaning of mending wall.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out

From a superficial stand point, the poem can be taken literally to say that the persona is building a wall in the spring. However, a deeper analysis will reveal new meaning. Here we see that the persona is questioning the reason behind making the wall. He knows not whether he was trying to wall something in or if he was trying to try to wall something out. On the surface this can mean that he simply doesn’t know whether he is building a wall to keep his goods, perhaps his livestock, from escaping his land. Perhaps he is trying to keep wild animals, children and other disturbances from entering his property. On second reading it appears he questions why he must build meta-physical walls between himself and others. He doesn’t know why he should even be building such walls in the first place. People are meant to be open and relational social creates. Hence trying to isolate oneself from others is a offence against the nature of people. Here we have the attitude that walls are of questionable value. Because walls will cut off people, walls become burdensome and unnecessary. Hence the persona has a negative attitude towards walls.

He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

The phrase “Good fences make good neighbors” was repeated twice in the poem first in the middle then at the very end. It would seem that this is the prevailing attitude in the poem about barriers. This line comes from an old English idiom. That idiom recommends that we should respect the privacy of others and not butt into other peoples business. Hence the wall referred to also means a meta-physical barrier that prevent others from prying into a persons inner thoughts.

Here is the answer to the persona’s questioning of what he was trying to keep in and what he was trying to keep out. This poem was written in the days before the paparazzi became a daily sight. In those days privacy was very important and gossip was the sole province of idle women with wagging tongues. It was highly improper to discuss the business of others especially if they were not public persons like Politicians or Celebrities. In fact laws against slander and libel were still heavily enforced. Although the practice of dueling was already illegal by the early 20th century it was still very common to get into fights because of matters of honor. More often than not matters of honor refer to people gossiping or slandering against a person or his family. Hence the importance of keeping walls as noted in the poem. It was important to wall the self in so that nothing unseemly is said or done by the person. Likewise it was important for the wall to keep interlopers and gossip out. Therefore, the prevailing attitude of the poem can be summarized in those last lines. “Good fences make good neighbors’ ‘ despite the personas protests this remains true.

Work Cited

Mending Wall by Robert Frost.

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