What is one example of a simile in the poem "Mending Wall"?

There is one example of a simile in "Mending Wall." It relates the speaker's neighbor to a "old-stone savage" and runs through the whole poem. The speaker sees his neighbor as a stodgy, irrational traditionalist. However, his neighbor wants to continue a community bond. They are at an impasse over whether or not to continue their tradition.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A simile is a comparison that uses the words 'like' or 'as.' As other answers have noted, there is but one simile in this poem:

I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed
In this simile, the speaker likens his neighbor to a stone-age savage. This is appropriate for the poem and expresses the speaker's mindset. He is drawing a sharp distinction between his own enlightened thought and the traditional, unenlightened thought of his neighbor.
The speaker, a rationalist, sees no point in the annual ritual of mending the stone wall between his and his neighbor's property every year. There is no need for a wall, the speaker thinks, because neither of them raises livestock that could wander onto the other person's property and cause damage. However, the neighbor doggedly insists that they continue with this tradition because his father's wisdom is that good fences make good neighbors.
Since the speaker is trying to favorably contrast his rationalist point of view against the traditionalism of his neighbor, he compares the neighbor to a savage. This helps bolster the speaker as "right" and more sophisticated in his viewpoint. The speaker extends the metaphor (a simile is a subset of metaphor, as a metaphor is a comparison between two objects) of the neighbor as a savage when he says the man walks in "darkness." The speaker clarifies that this is not only a darkness of trees and woods, but of his neighbor's way of thinking.
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

While there is only one simile in "Mending Wall"—in which the speaker says that his neighbor is "like an old-stone savage armed"—there are examples of metaphorical or other comparative language. One example of this is when the speaker refers to the activity he and his neighbor are engaged in as "just another kind of out-door game." The context in which the language is used suggests that the speaker sees the activity as senseless and without purpose, much the same as a child's game would be. The neighbor, on the other hand, sees the activity as much more serious and necessary, backing his conviction up with the saying "Good fences make good neighbors."

The neighbor seems to believe that fences are important structures because they will solve potential arguments between neighbors before they happen and keep the peace. It's an adult interpretation and could be considered common sense. However, the narrator tries to suggest that there is no logic to the argument:

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.

There is nothing that might cross the boundary set by the wall, so what is the purpose of having the wall? The neighbor ignores the logic and clings to (and repeats) his saying, "Good fences make good neighbors." In this discourse, the two men are engaged in a looping conversation very similar in tone to the way children might quarrel.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

If they exist, you can find similes in the poem (or in any piece of text) by skimming for the words "like" or "as," or looking for places where the speaker is comparing one thing to another thing.

"Mending Wall," however, is certainly not brimming with similes like many other poems are. The speaker of this poem is very matter-of-fact, very realistic, and he describes images and actions as they truly are.

However, if we look toward the very end of the poem, we'll find one definite simile and one comparison that we might also label a simile:

"I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed."

Above, the speaker notices that his neighbor is working on the wall by holding tightly to the top of a stone with each hand. He compares his neighbor to a savage, perhaps a caveman, who also grasps a stone and uses that as a tool or a weapon. The simile between the real neighbor and the imagined savage expresses the speaker's slight distaste for his neighbor. 

We move a little farther down the poem and notice this observation, too:

"He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees."

Is this a simile? It has the word "as," right? And it's also a comparison between what's real and what the speaker imagines. But whether we call it a simile or not depends on how strictly you define the term. We could say, yes, this is a simile between the neighbor working in the shade and the savage working in darkness. Or we could say, no, this is simply an example of exaggeration or general figurative language.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial