Write a critical appreciation of Frost's poem "Mending Wall."

A critical appreciation of "Mending Wall" might encompass its meaning, context, structure, and use of language, among other things. For example, it is interesting to note that Frost's use of a single stanza of blank verse with lines of similar length creates the impression that the poem is a "wall" down the middle of the page. It separates the two sides of the page, just as the wall separates the neighbors in the poem.

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A critical appreciation of a poem is a reading that generally considers a poem's meaning, its rhythm and rhyme scheme, its tone, its use of language, and so on. You can discuss all of these elements, or some, or focus in on other things, like the poem's setting or context. Because it's a critical appreciation, it does focus on how you personally appreciate the poem, so your critical appreciation may have a very different focus to someone else's, even when looking at the same poem.

With "Mending Wall," we might start by considering the poem's structure and form. As an earlier Educator has noted, what's particularly interesting is that, while writing a poem about mending a wall and clearing up any gaps that have appeared in it, Frost declines to use stanzas or line breaks. Instead, he writes a poem in blank verse, in a single stanza, with similar line lengths. This creates an interesting block of text of regular size, with little deviation. Literally, it is like a wall running down the middle of the page.

This leads us on to the meaning of the poem. What is Frost trying to say about the wall? We recognize that, even as he builds the wall with his neighbor—so the pair are working together—the wall still seems to represent the distance between them. The neighbor believes that "good fences make good neighbors" or that there should be a firm dividing line between two people and their property. The speaker, on the contrary, builds this wall only because he feels he must. He doesn't know what he is "walling in or walling out," and indeed, the fact that the wall falls down every year seems symbolic to the speaker. He questions whether there might be "elves" or some other power which does not want a wall separating the neighbors. But the neighbor will only repeat his father's statement, refusing to deviate from it: "Good fences make good neighbors."

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A critical appreciation is a bit of an odd thing. It is more than simply saying that the poem is good or beautiful. You have to justify that statement by critically analyzing the poem or parts of the poem. There are a variety of ways to critically appreciate a poem. You can look at themes, word choice, rhythm, meter, imagery, rhyme, and so on.

One thing that I always like to focus on for a critical appreciation is rhythm and meter. I like focusing on this aspect of poetry because even if a student hates flowery, difficult poetry, that same student often finds it amazing that a poet can organize thoughts in a strict syllable pattern. This particular Frost poem does not rhyme, but it does have rhythm and meter. This makes the poem blank verse, and for the most part, Frost sticks with iambic pentameter. It is a beautiful thing to watch the narrator of this poem give most lines 10 syllables each in an alternating unstressed and stressed pattern. It gives the poem a really smooth and fun feel. However, Frost never really lets the reader settle in for very long. He intentionally breaks up the flow of the poem to make readers notice specific lines.

But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,

The above line throws off the flow because it has eleven syllables. It sticks out. This is exactly what the line is describing. A rabbit is being forcefully coaxed out of its hole.

There are other really cool structural things about this poem that I think a critical appreciation should highlight. The poem is one long stanza. This is important because the poem is about putting back together a single wall. If you have this poem on paper, turn it 90 degrees to the left. It looks like a long rock wall with certain "rocks" sticking up a little bit more than others in a somewhat regular pattern. That is cool. Finally, probably my favorite hidden gem of this poem is line 23. The poem is 46 lines long, so line 23 is the exact middle of the poem. It is the middle of the wall, and this particular line breaks the poem in half in terms of what is being discussed. Before this line, the narrator tells readers that he has to fix the wall for various reasons. After this line, we discover that the narrator really does not like the wall or see the reason for it.

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Mending Wall can be appreciated on several levels. The word "mending" can be a verb, making the poem a record of the repair process completed upon the broken stone barrier. "Mending" could also be read as an adjective, a descriptor of a wall that enables the neighbors to maintain a good relationship based on distance.

The speaker in the poem recognizes that sometimes stone walls are damaged due to changes in the seasons and sometimes they are deconstructed by hunters. He realizes that sometimes walls are needed to keep things contained within an area or to prevent intrusion by outside threats. But he questions the need for the wall he and his neighbor are repairing in some areas.

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.

In the end, the neighbor steadfastly holds to his belief that "good fences make good neighbors" and the wall is rebuilt. The reader and the speaker in the poem are left to make their own interpretation of why this is so.

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