What are some of  the metaphors used in Robert Frost's "Mending Wall"?

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jmj616 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A metaphor is a comparison that does notuse the words "like" or "as."  For example, if I say that a little girl "is a doll," I don't mean that she is actually a doll; rather, I am comparingher beauty and cuteness to the beauty and cuteness of a doll.

In "Mending Wall," Robert Frost uses several metaphors:

a. "To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls"

The poet is describing stones that have fallen from a stone wall.  The poet describes the shapes of the stones by saying that some are shaped like loaves of bread and some are almost the shape of a ball.

b. "Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side"

The poet says that the activity of collecting the fallen stones is like a "kind of outdoor game."

The central  metaphor in the poem is expressed by the narrator's neighbor, who says, "Good fences make good neighbors."  The neighbor seems to be saying that fences are like a line that maintains good relationships between neighbors by showing each neighbor where he belongs.  The narrator questions whether this is true:

Why do they make good neighbors?...

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.



thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A metaphor is defined as a comparison that does not use explicit comparison words such as "like" or "as." So if you said "my love is a red, red rose" you would be using a metaphor, but the statement "my love is like a red, red rose" would be a simile because it uses the word "like," an explicit term of comparison. Critics describe metaphor as consisting of a tenor, the main subject of the comparison, and a vehicle, the thing being compared to the tenor. Thus in comparing one's beloved to a rose (as in Burns' poem), the rose would be the vehicle and the beloved the tenor. In general, metaphor tries to explain the unfamiliar or hard-to-describe in terms of something simpler or easier to describe.

Frost uses several metaphors in "Mending Wall." The phrase "some are loaves and some so nearly balls" compares rocks to loaves of bread and balls implicitly without using words such as like and as. Similarly, the description of wall building as an "outdoor game" is also a metaphor comparing the wall repair to a form of sport or entertainment.

davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The wall itself is an extended metaphor. Frost wants to convey the idea that, as human beings, we often construct artificial boundaries between one another. What's more, we tend not to think about why we even do this. This unreflective attitude is expressed by the neighbor's homespun-cliché: "Good fences make good neighbors." But the narrator slyly suggests that good neighbors shouldn't need to make fences in the first place.

The wall doesn't simply separate the neighbor from the narrator; it separates him from himself. He has become estranged from his fundamental humanity by his insistence on the need to keep things and other people away from his property. Instead of looking upon the natural world as something to be cherished, venerated, and preserved, he sees it as an object to be controlled, divided, and exploited.