In the poem "Mending Wall" by Robert Frost what do lines 18 to 25 mean?

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jseligmann | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted on

We have to use a spell to make them balance: 
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!' 
We wear our fingers rough with handling them. 
Oh, just another kind of out-door game, 
One on a side. It comes to little more: 
There where it is we do not need the wall: 
He is all pine and I am apple orchard. 
My apple trees will never get across 
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

I've included line 26 because it finishes the thought. I have always seen these lines as containing the best argument for the speaker's side. There is  a genuine and sweetly humorous interaction between the two men. Here they are, doing what they do every year, and they are, rough as the work is, having a little bit of boyish fun together. It's this feeling of brief camaraderie that prompts the speaker to suggest this about walls, mischievously:

'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it

Where there are cows?

But here there are no cows.

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 offence.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,

That wants it down.'

Unfortunately, the neighbor is not convinced by the arument nor the little fun they've shared and would prefer to keep things just as they've always been.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

To me, out of the lines you mention, the following lines are expressing one idea while the rest of them are on a different topic altogether.

We have to use a spell to make them balance: “Stay where you are until our backs are turned!” We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side.

 

Those lines are showing the wall mending as a game.  They are looking at the work in a humorous way, saying that it is difficult to make the stones stay up -- they need to use magic.

But then in the rest of the lines you mention, the speaker moves to the theme of his argument with the neighbor.  The speaker thinks the wall is unnecessary, but the neighbor wants it anyway.

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