Discussion Topic

Critical analysis and appreciation of Robert Frost's "Mending Wall" with a focus on thematic elements


Robert Frost's "Mending Wall" explores themes of boundaries, tradition, and human interaction. The poem juxtaposes the speaker's skepticism about the necessity of walls with the neighbor's adherence to the adage "Good fences make good neighbors." Through this, Frost questions whether such barriers are beneficial or if they hinder genuine communication and connection between people.

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What is your critical appreciation of Frost's "Mending Wall"?

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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What is your critical appreciation of Frost's "Mending Wall"?

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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What is your critical appreciation of Frost's "Mending Wall"?

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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Can you give me criticism about this poem "Mending Wall" which was written by Frost?

Robert Frost's "Mending Wall" is about two different outlooks on life and relationships. The neighbors, one of whom is the speaker, meet each spring to mend the stone wall between their properties. The speaker wonders about why this ritual exists, since there is nothing that either of them has that could stray onto the other's land. There is no livestock on the one side that could damage the other's property. The speaker remarks only that “He is all pine and I am apple orchard."  The neighbor, however, never questions the need for the fence. He has learned from his father that "Good fences make good neighbors."

The poem is a commentary on the artificial constructs that people build between themselves and the rest of the world. Even neighbors, those with whom we should be most comfortable and friendly, set themselves apart from one another. Though he has heard the neighbor's claim about good fences and good neighbors, the speaker doubts the truth of that sentiment. In lines 32-36 the speaker reveals his thoughts about fence building:

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 offense.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down."

These lines clearly show that the speaker believes that something, likely nature itself, "wants [the fence] down, that fences are unnatural. Note how the speaker wonders about how walling in or out could "give offense." This pun is important. The word "offense" when spoken sounds almost exactly like the phrase "a fence." The speaker would think long and hard before intentionally creating either.

Yet, despite his reservations, he helps construct this wall between himself and his neighbor each spring. This act shows that even the speaker, who doesn't like offending fences, still is to blame, at least in part, for the division between him and his neighbor.

The last five lines of the poem show how the speakers share in building the wall has affected his view of his neighbor:

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,

Not of woods only and the shade of trees.

He will not go behind his father's saying,

And he likes having thought of it so well

He says again, "Good fences make good neighbours."

The neighbors repeated comment shows that these attitudes are learned, not natural. This social construct was built by his father, and he will keep the barrier in place. The speaker sees his neighbor as one who "moves in darkness." Darkness metaphorically can mean either lack of understanding or even something sinister. Either way the speaker means it, he is judging his neighbor. Either the neighbor is less wise or enlightened or he his more bound, by tradition or coldness, or both. Regardless of how the speaker means this thought, the very act of helping to mend the wall has affected him. He unwittingly becomes a part of the problem. His hesitance to speak helps to build the fence, and the offense.

For more information about the poem "Mending Wall," see the links below:

This is a truly genius poem. Each time I re-read it I see more. That is the mark of great poetry.

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Provide a critical analysis of lines 27 to 34 in Frost's "Mending Wall", considering the theme.

These lines are fairly straightforward. The narrator is puzzled by his neighbors claim that "good fences make good neighbors." He understands how this works if the had livestock. If they had cows or horses getting into each others' pastures or sheep mixing with a neighbor's cows, that could be a problem. But there is no obvious reason why orchards need to be fenced.

There are two metaphorical levels on which this operates. First, the farmer is referring to personal boundaries -- what in 21st century slang would be "giving each other space" or not being overly familiar. This reduces potential friction.

Second, the main activity and interest the narrator shares with his neighbor is repairing the wall -- and so mending the wall, and maintaining the fence, does, in fact, make them good neighbors.

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