Introduction

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Last Updated on September 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 672

So you’re going to teach Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall.” Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, “Mending Wall” has been a mainstay of English classrooms for generations. While it has its challenges—ambiguity and an unconventional style—teaching this text to your class will be rewarding for you and your students. Studying “Mending Wall” will give them unique insight into human nature and society as well as experience analyzing symbolism, tone, and common poetic devices. This guide highlights some of the most salient aspects of the text before you begin teaching.

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Facts at a Glance 

  • Publication Date: 1914
  • Recommended Grade Level: 8-12
  • Word Count: 380
  • Author: Robert Frost
  • Country of Origin: England and United States
  • Genre: Poetry
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Conflict: Person vs. Person, Person vs. Society
  • Narration: First-Person
  • Setting: New England, Springtime
  • Structure: Blank Verse, Dramatic Monologue
  • Tone: Thoughtful, Inquisitive, Mischievous


Texts that Go Well with “Mending Wall”

“Birches” was published in Robert Frost’s third verse collection, Mountain Interval, in 1916. The poem is about the rural practice of birch-swinging, and its speaker traces in the activity’s rising and falling motions the spiritual contours of his own existence. Like “Mending Wall,” the poem offers an example of Frost’s blank verse, which combines the strictures of a defined form with the informal tone of spoken language. Unlike “Mending Wall,” the poem is a lyric in a solitary mode. The speaker reflects on his own experiences without the mediation of dialogue and external interaction.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915) is T. S. Eliot’s first major poem, a 140-line dramatic monologue written in a mixture of forms and styles. In it, the titular Prufrock wanders the streets of London in a forlorn state, fretting about the passage of time and the seeming insignificance of his life. The poem marks an early crystallization of many of Eliot’s tendencies, including his stylistic eclecticism and effusive allusiveness. Like “Mending Wall,” Eliot’s poem is a dramatic monologue that combines colloquial and formal tones. Unlike “Mending Wall,” it conveys an isolated, urban sensibility.

The Outsiders (1967), by S. E. Hinton, is a much-loved novel that follows a gang from the wrong side of the tracks in mid-century America. Ponyboy and his best friend Johnny find themselves on the run when they accidentally kill a bully who had been harassing them. Throughout the ordeal, the two boys take solace in Frost’s poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” Their discussion of the poem provides an excellent example of how readers across time can find meaning in poetry.

Trilogy (1946), by H.D., was written in the wake of the London bombings during World War II. Like Frost, Hilda Doolittle refused to be defined by a specific literary movement. Her writing often considers the destruction of the modern world and draws allusions to classical history and literary works. Though taught less frequently than her contemporaries, H.D.’s life and writing was influential to both British and American writers during the latter half of the 20th century.

“Ulysses,” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, is a seventy-line poem written in 1833 and published in 1842. Its speaker is the Greek hero Ulysses, who, having returned to Ithaca and now approaching old age, desires to set forth on further journeys. Like “Mending Wall,” it is a dramatic monologue rendered in blank verse. Unlike “Mending Wall,” its tone is formal and lyrical, an embodiment of the high Victorian style that set the stage for Frost and his contemporaries. 

“The Waste Land,” by T. S. Eliot, is an iconic work of modernist poetry. Published in 1922, the poem extends over four hundred lines and is modeled in structure after the legend of the Holy Grail. Its lines contain a composite of British colloquialisms, cultural allusions, and even Eastern religious texts. “The Waste Land” offers students a poem that exemplifies many of the aesthetic values and characteristics of modernism, thereby shedding light on the literary landscape in which Frost wrote his poetry.

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History of the Text