What are the political implications of Robert Frost's poem "Mending Wall"?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The political implications of Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” can be variously interpreted.  For example, the very first line of the poem – “Something there is that doesn't love a wall” – might at first seem a subtle condemnation of private property. By the second line, however, the poem’s attention seems to shift from political reactions to the actions of nature. Yet by the fifth line, attention has returned to human beings, particularly to hunters who have damaged the speaker’s wall:

I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. (5-9)

Should we sympathize with the speaker, whose private property has been damaged? Or should we sympathize with the hunters, who ignore what might be considered illegitimate encroachments on common human rights, on property that should belong to everyone? Should we sympathize with the speaker, whose property has been vandalized and who has to work hard to repair the damage?  Or is he merely a self-interested landowner whom Marxists might condemn? In either case, it is surprising that he does not seem angrier about the vandalism.

The fact that the neighbor helps the speaker walk the wall to inspect the damage suggests an admirable cooperation between the two of them – a kind of political compact based on equality and shared concerns. But it seems, of course, in the mutual interests both of them that the wall be maintained. Still, although they own land, they hardly seem rich or greedy or interested in oppressing anyone else. They are not mere overseers of hired labor. Instead, they have to work hard themselves to replace the stones (“We wear our fingers rough with handling them” [20]).

Moreover, the two landowners are never likely to engage in any kind of angry power struggle, especially since

My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.” (25-27)

What should we make of the neighbor’s reply? Does it suggest that a respect for individual property rights is the basis of any truly civil society? When the speaker replies by saying,

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That wants it down,” (35-36)

is he suggesting some sort of socialistic ideal?  His own actions seem to contradict such an interpretation. Meanwhile, the neighbor’s view seems rooted in tradition – perhaps mere, irrational tradition: “He will not go behind his father’s saying” (43). Although the speaker has challenged that saying, he has also conceded that the relationship between him and his neighbor is a special case (30-31). The poem ends, then, by having raised political question without having offered any simple propagandistic answer to them.

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