“Mending Wall” by Robert Frost

“Mending Wall” by Robert Frost

Contents

1. Introduction
2. “Mending Wall” as a claim to build walls
3. Criticism of building walls
4. Conclusion
5. Bibliography
Introduction
Robert Frost is quite interesting modern poet who is characterized by works which are really thought provoking and discussable. In the same time, some of his works are quite arguable and often are interpreted in different ways. One of such works is his poem “Mending Wall”, where the author reveals how neighbours regularly rebuild the wall but, on reading the poem, an inevitable question arises whether the author supports the idea of building walls or he is against it. Different critics suggests different interpretation, for instance George Montiero is rather for building walls interpretation, but it is really quite a doubtful view since what the narrator says and what he implies basically contradicts to what he actually does.
“Mending Wall” as a claim to build walls
First of all it should be said that it is really quite difficult to definitely say what idea the author really wants to convey to a reader because some points are really controversial. Not surprisingly that some critics stands on the ground that the poet is rather for building walls. Among such critics may be named George Monteiro who argues that the author quite skilfully hints that walls are essential for human beings and it is quite natural for them to build and repair them.
Basically the critic develops his ideas on the analysis of the last lines, which really possess great potential and are very significant:
…I see him there,
Bringing a stone grasp firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours”
In fact he considers such a reference to the past very important and mainly he based his argument on the historical facts. According to Moneiro this farmer of a New England is a kind of continuation of a stone age savage. Moreover it even seems to be that in such interpretation there is a piece of such a savage, or to put it more precisely, some historical roots of this archetype, is present in every person.
Furthermore, Monteiro’s references to history are quite important and he goes further in his arguments indicating that even the narrator who is obviously belongs to a very intelligent sort of people also refers to the past, namely to the ancient Roman festival of the Terminalia. This festival was celebrated in Rome and in the country on the 23rd of February. The critic depicts it as follows: “the neighbours on either side of any boundary gathered around the landmark [the stones which marked boundaries], with their wives, children, and servants; and crowned it, each on his own side, with garlands, and offered cakes and bloodless sacrifices” (1974:98). Furthermore, the festival evolved and changed and eventually became deep-rooted in people’s consciousness but it is necessary to underline that this festival basically explains the idea of the narrator’s neighbour proverbially expresses as “Good fences make good neighbours”, which the author, by the way, repeats twice and probably he does it intentionally in order to underline its importance.
As a result, Moneiro treats the regular repair of walls by both neighbours as the continuation of old traditions as a kind of ritual that does not need any explanations since it symbolizes good relations between neighbours and probably is an essential part of their subconscious desires. Naturally that, on interpreting the poem, or to put it more precisely the poet’s message, the critic concludes that “for whatever reasons, men continue to need marked boundaries, even when they find it difficult to justify their existence” (Monteiro 1974:101).
In such a way, there is a kind of fatedness and predetermining in building walls. However, Monteiro’s views are quite arguable and not very persuasive since they do not possess strong background and even his conclusion bears some uncertainty since it is not fully supported with evidences but has rather vague basis.


Criticism of building walls
Obviously such a position of Monteiro and other critics who believes that Robert Frost intends to convey the idea of building walls is to a significant extent erroneous or at least quite arguable and there are a lot of critics who stands on the absolutely different ground believing that the author, on the contrary, wants to say that people should not build walls and, if they are not savage they are against any walls separating people.
However, such a statement is not so obvious as one may think. The reason is that the narrator, being quite intelligent person, still repairs the wall and helps to his neighbour. But, on analysing his words, way of thinking it becomes evident that repairing of the wall for him is just a kind of activity that unite him and his neighbour and in such a way the inner, spiritual wall between them tends to be destroyed, while the physical boundary gets to be insignificant.
At this respect quite noteworthy is the view of Frank Lentricchia who underlines that the narrator does not openly says that he against the building of the wall but he implies it, referring to ‘something’, creating some mysterious power that is against the repair of the wall that may be found in the first lines of the poem:
Something there is that does not love a wall,
That sends a frozen-ground-swell under it
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast
These words indicates that the narrator is a very intelligent person for creates a kind of mystery in order to make the argument against the building of the wall more persuasive instead of simply naming this ‘something’ that is just frost in fact. In such a way the author wants to show that even nature is against the walls and people, being a part of nature, should act respectively.
To a certain extent such view is quite contradicting and contrasting to the view of Monteiro for in this case Lentricchia draws ‘something’ that at first glance cannot be explained as a counterargument to Monteiro’s inexplicable trend of people to build walls. But unlike Monteiro Lentricchia underlines that this ‘something’ is quite explicable, understandable and what is more important quite natural.
Basically what Lentricchia wants to emphasize in the analysis of the poem is the fact that the narrator is against the walls but he cooperates with his neighbour out of ‘sheer work’, “the process itself which he sees as having non-utilitarian value” (1975:298) and explains Frost’s words that
There where it is we do not need the wall
At this respect, John C. Kemp is quite close to Lentricchia views, for he also treats the narrator assistance in repairing the wall as a kind of a game:
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on side, it comes to little more
In fact he argues with his opponents, who supports the idea of the building war as the main point of Frost’s message, and says “the allusion to an ‘outdoor game’ evokes rivalry and competition, not only in wall repair, but also in wall destruction” (1979:311).
Furthermore, in such interpretation, the image of a stone age worker is quite ironic for in such a situation the farmer looms not as an associate or co-worker, but as an alien being whom the speakers observes, criticizes, and reflects upon while maintaining his distance and objectivity” (Kemp 1979:319). In such a way the narrator again turns to be an intelligent person who is against the building of walls and he rather tends to help to a farmer who uses his father’s cliche in order to justify senseless and useless repair of the wall that quite contradicting to Monteiro’s views of repairing the wall as a tribute to an old tradition or some innate predisposition of every human being.
Conclusion
Thus, in conclusion it is possible to say that the views on “Mending Wall” and its interpretations may vary significantly but still this fact only underlines the importance and significance of the poem. In the same time, when one tends to interpret the poem as a claim to build walls he/she is erroneous since what the author really wanted to convey is the idea that people should destroy the walls that separate them.


Bibliography:
1. Frost, R. Selected works. New York: New Publishers, 1998.
2. Hadas, Rachel. Cycle, Infinity: Landscape Imagery in the Poetry of Robert Frost and George Seferis. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell UP, 1976.
3. Holland, Norman. The Brain of Robert Frost: A Cognitive Approach to Literature. LA: Routledge, 1988.
4. Kearns, Katherine. Robert Frost and a Poetics of Appetite. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
5. Kemp, John C. Robert Frost and New England: The Poet as Regionalist. Princeton UP, 1979.
6. Lentricchia, Frank Robert Frost: Modern Poetics and the Landscapes of Self. Duke University Press, 1975.
7. Montiero, George "Unlinked Myth in Frost's 'Mending Wall.'" Concerning Poetry 7:2, Fall 1974.
8. Montiero, George. Robert Frost and the New England Renaissance. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1988.
9. Raab, Lawrence. American Poets on a Favorite Poem. Ed. Robert Pack and Jay Parini. Hanover: University Press of New England, 1996.