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The Complex Interpretation of the Mending Wall
Out of all the poems written by Frost, “Mending Wall” best illustrates his poetic manner and his intentions as a storyteller. “Mending Wall,” among other things, appears to be built about the tone of mischief which creates an oral barrier among the neighbors. Yet this mischief is defensively countered by the weaker neighbor, for “he reaches into the past for help and comes up with his father’s proverb–“Good fences make good neighbors” ( Kearns 176).
The two neighbors in “Mending Wall” look to be concerned with practically nothing much more than territory, but in reality the argument is much far more philosophical in nature, i.e. the wall serves as a boundary among divergent outlooks on life, such as clashes primarily based on conservatism vs. liberalism, urbanism vs. agrarianism and religious dogma set against secular humanism. The context of “Mending Wall” suggest that 1 neighbor is dominant more than the other as shown in the line “I let my neighbor know beyond a hill,” which illustrates that “the passive neighbor has been informed that he is like a serf in some Medieval society” (Van Egmond 56). Another symbol that recommend a kind of non-dominance on the component of the neighbor is the way “beyond a hill” is applied, “a mark of distance which foretells a lack of communication” (Montiero 174).
Nonetheless, as is the case with numerous poems by Frost, “Mending Wall” can also be viewed as the antithesis of political allegory, becoming that the narrator is not some broad-minded liberal and that the neighbor is not a submissive secondary. As Frank Lentricchia points out, “Mending Wall” “has nothing to do with 1-planet political ideals. . . very good or bad neighbor policies” (251). Hence, this poem distinguishes between two very different varieties of persons–one who sees mending as an escape from the rituals of everyday life and a supply for imaginative explorations, and one more who is trapped by the traditions of his forebearers and old New England societal structures.
Many essential lines in “Mending Wall” assist to illuminate the accurate character of the narrator as to his views on his neighbor. “I see him there/Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the leading/In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed,” an indication that “the dominant neighbor wishes to be permanently separated from his secondary self” (Kearns 217), but it also presents the idea of primitivism as in the separation of Cro Magnon man from his “neighbor” the Neanderthal, the thick-browed savage from ancient Europe who preferred the wilds of the forest more than the domesticity of a sheltered society.
In addition, the narrator says that his neighbor “moves in darkness as it seems to me/Not of woods only and the shade of trees” which suggests that the poet no longer sees any plausible explanation for repairing the “Mending Wall” year after year and has now retrograded into the psychology of human darkness. As Van Egmond so eloquently puts it, this is evidence that “even on New England farms in the twentieth century, the ways of the savage (the “old-stone savage armed”) continues no matter how transformed the society of Robert Frost” (148).
Inside the text of “Mending Wall,” there are numerous references to the cycle of the seasons as symbols of change and repetition, such as “spring mending-time,” “frozen ground-swell” and “spring is the mischief in me.” According to George Montiero, this theme of seasonality refers to “an ancient ritual predating the Romans. . . an annual reaffirming of boundaries” (169) which can be understood as a metaphor for the rebuilding of the wall, due to the ever-altering atmosphere brought about by wind, rain and snow.
However throughout “Mending Wall,” many underlying themes aside from that linked with the seasons can be located within the narrative, namely sarcasm, superstition and mystery. The narrator/farmer puts forth numerous sarcastic references about his “conservative” neighbor, such as “My apple tree will by no means get across/And eat the cones beneath his pines” which indicates that the wall itself is redundant and stands as a symbol of anything far far more complicated than a mere boundary marker. This sarcasm is replicated when the narrator/farmer states that walls are only required as a barrier to preserve the farm animals from straying, however neither neighbor apparently owns farm animals.
The theme of superstition is very best represented by the narrator/farmer, for he states that “We have to use a spell to make them (the stones) balance” which conjures up images of witchcraft, specifically considering that Frost spent his early years not as well distant from Salem, Massachusetts, the website of the famous Salem witch trials in the seventeenth century.
As to the mysterious components of “Mending Wall,” the “conservative” neighbor/farmer speaks couple of words and constantly reiterates his belief that “Good fences make excellent neighbors.” It seems as if he is letting the narrator/farmer know that isolation and distance is what he desires. Therefore, the wall “keeps the neighbors on friendly terms by limiting their interactions that makes it achievable for the conservative farmer to keep to himself” (Lentricchia 247).
In conclusion, 4 particular lines from “Mending Wall” announces the true symbolic which means of the stone wall–“I let my neighbor know beyond the hill/And on a day we meet to walk the line/And set the wall between us as soon as again/We hold the wall among us as we go.” Right after all, why does Frost use the term “mending” to describe this structure? What exactly does it “mend”? Naturally, the wall serves as a physical boundary between the two properties of the neighbors, but in reality the wall is a metaphorical paradigm that defines the societal differences among the narrator/farmer and his neighbor “beyond the hill”–one is primitive/pastoral, the other contemporary/urban. However the wall also serves to “mend” the organic landscape, for when viewed from a high elevation, it would seem as a “scar” zigzagging across the terrain as if the land itself had being “mended.”
Kearns, Katherine. Robert Frost and the Poetics of Appetite. Fantastic Britain: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Lentricchia, Frank. Robert Frost: Modern Poetics and the Landscape of Self. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1975.
Montiero, George. Robert Frost and the New England Renaissance. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1988.
Van Egmond, Peter. Robert Frost: A Reference Guide 1974-1990. Boston: G.K. Hall, Inc., 1991.
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