Mending Wall by Robert Frost
"Mending Wall" is vintage Robert Frost. Vintage to the degree that Frost has often referred to the work as his second favorite poem. Within its lines are the simplicity of language and subject, realism and imagery, humor and cynicism that combine to reveal the meditative insight that marks the poetry of Robert Frost. An annual ritual of mending a stone wall that divides the adjoining property of two New England neighbors is the setting for a sharp contrast in perceptions. As in most Frost poems, as the ordinariness of the activity is specifically described one quickly perceives that the undertaking has much larger implications. It becomes the setting for Frost, through his speaker, to reflect on the ambivalent nature of walls both physical and psychological. One is then led to explore a deeper question of whether such walls are meant to exist and prevail in nature - whether in the physical or the better angels of our own.
The speaker's neighbor views the activity as an annual duty performed of necessity with dutiful and prideful regard to inherited custom. He labors as heir to a mindset that must define boundaries in order to avoid conflict. He goes about his task apparently not analyzing the genesis of the walls disrepair, without introspection or internal debate of the pragmatic need for the division. He is motivated by his father's admonition of traditional rural wisdom that continues unquestioned but has seemingly outlived its application. "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 neighbors.' "
In contrast, the speaker goes about the same mending of the wall supposing those things both
ethereal and of human origin which seem to assault the permanence and might question the very purpose of the wall. Through the process he muses the ambivalent nature of walls and divisions; that which defines also inhibits. That which protects also isolates. That which keeps in - will also keep out. Is there indeed need to define and thereby isolate that which requires or desires neither option? "Before I built a wall I'd ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out, / And to whom I was like to give offense." Frost, in recognizing the paradoxical nature of a wall, expresses that one should be cautious before construction and thoughtful in its perpetuation.
But one should be cautious not only due to the innate characteristics of a wall, but also because evidence seems to indicate that such duplicitous barriers may be contrary to a larger and more significant natural order of things. "Something there is that...