Last Updated on August 14, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 395
Story and Situation: “Mending Wall” takes place on the border between two neighboring properties. Passing hunters and winter weather have destroyed sections of the border wall, and now that it is springtime, the two landowners come together to mend it. The two men—the speaker of the poem and his neighbor—walk along the wall on their respective sides, replacing the toppled stones. The speaker questions the wall’s purpose and remarks to his neighbor that there is no real need for it. The speaker has only apple orchards, the neighbor only pine trees. The neighbor, however, cannot be swayed from his traditional stance. His repeated response is a saying of his father’s: “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Form and Structure: “Mending Wall” consists of forty-six lines of blank verse without stanza breaks. Frost occasionally uses enjambment, but typically he sculpts his phrases to fit within the pentametric line. Though the iambic rhythms are largely precise, Frost sometimes uses metrical substitutions for effect. For example, the first line begins with a trochaic substitution that emphasizes the first syllable of “Something.” The poem combines the rhythmic precision of blank verse with the plainspokenness of colloquial speech, producing a peculiar tone—at once common and cultivated—found in much of Frost’s lyric poetry.
The Dramatic Monologue: In several ways “Mending Wall” resembles a dramatic monologue, a poetic form popularized by Victorian poets such as Robert Browning and favored by modernists such as T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. A dramatic monologue is a poem written from the projected perspective of a fictitious speaker. This speaker describes a situation in a way that inadvertently reveals aspects of her own character. By some definitions, the speaker of a dramatic monologue must be distinct from the poet. “Mending Wall” is, by most of these standards, a dramatic monologue. The speaker’s account of his dealings with his neighbor subtly reveals his own attitudes and proclivities. Readers come to understand that the speaker embraces the dissolution of the wall, just as his neighbor wishes to sustain the wall and the boundary it represents. Whereas the neighbor respects the tradition of the wall, the speaker has a skeptical, mischievous mind that questions the arbitrary structure. Whether the poem’s speaker diverges from Frost’s own character—arguably a key element of the dramatic monologue form—is up for debate.