What is the form and style of Robert Frost's "Mending Wall"?

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"Mending Wall" is one of Robert Frost's most famous poems. When you are asked about the form of something, you need to start with the very basics. At root, the form is "poetry." Delving more deeply, we consider what type of poetic form Frost has chosen. In this instance, we can see that the lines do not rhyme with each other, so it isn't a traditional poetic form like a sonnet or a ballad. However, at the same time, if you sound out the lines, you can hear that they fall into a distinct rhythm and pattern. This regular meter—known as iambic pentameter, because there are five stressed beats, or feet, per line—means that this is not a free verse poem. Although it does not rhyme, these metrical verse features mean that we refer to it as blank verse.

The question of style is a different one. Consider how the poet is addressing the reader. There are language features in the lines, such as when the speaker corrects or clarifies himself ("I mean") which give the feeling that the speaker is talking directly to us as readers. In this sense, then, the style could be said to be conversational. The use of interjections like "oh" and the fact that the poem is written in the first person give further weight to this impression.

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"Mending Wall" is in blank verse, which is unrhymed iambic pentameter. This is the verse form generally used for Shakespeare's plays (alongside prose and some rhymed verse), as well as for epic poetry such as Milton's Paradise Lost. In the nineteenth century, Tennyson began to use the form in dramatic monologues like "Ulysses" and "Tithonus", which this poem somewhat resembles.

The style of the poem varies between a conversational mesolect and a more formal, slightly archaic style, which is often achieved by variations in syntax. For instance, the opening line, which is repeated later in the poem:

Something there is that doesn't love a wall...

The vocabulary here is perfectly ordinary. It is the word order that gives the line its arresting formal quality. If Frost had written "There's something that doesn't love a wall," the line would have been prosaic. Milton, who had considerable influence on Frost, uses the same technique, which ultimately derives from Latin, an inflected language in which word order has less effect on meaning than it does in English, meaning that syntax is often arranged primarily for dramatic effect. However, Frost employs this effect sparingly. The next few lines feature quite simple, prosaic syntax, as do most lines in the poem, so that the occasional more highly-wrought phrases stand out in sharp relief.

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The form of "Mending Wall" by Robert Frost is stichic rather than stanzaic. The term "stichic" means that the poem consists of lines of equal length printed continuously rather than divided up into separate stanzas. The meter of the poem is blank verse. The term "blank verse" means "unrhymed iambic pentameter." In other words, each line consists of five feet (hence "pentameter," since "penta-" means five), and each foot consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable (a type of foot known as an iamb, thus "iambic").

The lines are often but not always enjambed, meaning that syntactically coherent sentences run over from one line to the next, something that works in concert with the simple language to give the poem a conversational style. This is enhanced by the way the narrator seems to be speaking to the reader as if chatting with a friend.

The metrical scheme is illustrated below, with stressed syllables marked in boldface and feet separated by a "|".

And spills | the up|per bould|ers in| the sun|;

And makes| gaps ev|en two| can pass| abreast|.

The work| of hunt|ers is an|other thing|:

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Robert Frost is a poet renowned for his ability to write elegant blank verse. Sound and syllabic stresses are critical components of a poem's musical intonations: how a line may read on the page or out loud. Blank verse consists of unrhymed iambic pentameter, which is a meter consisting of five "iambs." An "iamb" is a type of "foot" (again, a measurement of meter) which consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. Thus, a line of iambic pentameter consists of ten syllables in a pattern of unstressed, stressed, unstressed, stressed, etc. Let's examine a few lines from "Mending Walls." I will mark the unstressed syllable in italics and the stressed syllable in bold:

And on a day we meet to walk the line

And set the wall between us once again.

In these two lines, there are no errors in meter or other types of feet (like a trochee, which consists of a stressed syllable followed by an unfollowed syllable). Sustaining that kind of meter through an entire poem—not to mention a lifetime of work—is an incredible achievement.

Since all this technical information can get a bit complicated, just remember this: iambic pentameter sounds like the "lub-DUB" of a heartbeat. Try placing your hand over your heart and reading the above lines out loud, and you will find yourself getting a sense of this inherent metering.

Stylistically, this poem is much easier to describe. It is a narrative poem which employs dialogue to characterize the speaker's thoughts, as well as the attitudes of his neighbor.

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Hi, Anurudha!

Robert Frost's "Mending Wall" is written in blank verse, which is unrhymed lines in iambic pentameter. The scheme is five pairs of syllables per line, unstressed followed by stressed. Say the first  part of the poem aloud:

Something there is that doesn't love a wall, 
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, 
And spills the upper boulders in the sun, 
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast. 
The work of hunters is another thing

The poem is a metaphorical dramatic narrative in style.

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