In lines 8 and 9 of Robert Frost's poem "Mending Wall," what or whom do the yelping dogs and the rabbits symbolize?

Expert Answers
vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall,” the speaker describes how he has often repaired the stone wall separating his farm from his neighbor’s farm.  He notes that the wall needs to be repaired partly because of inevitable, natural deterioration caused by the movement of the ground and the effects of winter.  He then comments, however, that

The work of hunters is another thing:

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)

These lines highlight destruction caused by other persons – destruction that is therefore morally blameworthy. The hunters seem not to care about the damage they do to another person’s property, nor do they seem to care about the hard work that will be required to repair the damage they have caused. (It never even seems to occur to them to repair that damage themselves.) In this sense, then, the hunters are the symbolic opposites of the two farmers whose farms are separated (but also, in a sense, joined) by the wall.

The hunters are not good neighbors. They have no stake in maintaining the wall or the property the wall protects. They are self-centered and trespass on the property of other people to achieve their own objectives. They use numerous dogs (and, presumably, guns) to track down and kill relatively defenseless rabbits, and, when the rabbits do manage to find some temporary, desperate shelter in the walls, the hunters destroy their hiding places and, presumably, kill the rabbits.

The rabbits, in a sense, are also good neighbors to the two neighborly farmers. The farmers, apparently, do not hunt the rabbits – or at least they do not hunt rabbits in a way that destroys the property of others.  The two farmers and the rabbits live in peace with one another and with the wall the farmers have built (nothing suggests that the rabbits have any role in undermining the wall). The huntersand their dogs, in a small way, represent the forces of “unneighborliness” in a poem that is all about the idea of being good neighbors.

Interestingly, the speaker of the poem does not seem especially belligerent toward the hunters.  He does not openly condemn them or react with self-pity to the destruction they cause.  His attitude is stoic. The hunters almost seem like immature boys; the speaker comes across as a mature adult.