At a Glance

Robert Frost poignantly explores the way people physically and emotionally isolate themselves by building barriers like fences. When the speaker of the poem voices his dislike for a wall at the edge of his property, his neighbor just insists, "Good fences make good neighbors."

  • The speaker of the poem describes how the stone wall between his own property and his neighbor's periodically needs mending.

  • He and his neighbor walk the line of this fence, fixing it stone by stone. The speaker sees no reason for this wall, because there are no cows to fence in here.

  • When the speaker voices his displeasure, his neighbor repeats, "Good fences make good neighbors," suggesting that it's necessary to keep some distance between them.

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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Mending Wall” is about two kinds of barriers—physical and emotional. More subtly, the poem explores an ironic underlying question: Is the speaker’s attitude toward those two kinds of walls any more enlightened than the neighbor’s?

Each character has a line summing up his philosophy about walls that is repeated in the poem. The speaker proclaims, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” He wants to believe that there is a “something,” a conscious force or entity in nature, that deliberately breaks down the stone wall on his property. He also wants to believe that a similar “something” exists in human nature, and he sees the spring season both as the source of the ground swells that unsettle the stone wall and as the justification for “the mischief in me” that he hopes will enable him to unsettle his neighbor’s stolid, stonelike personality. From the speaker’s perspective, however, when the neighbor shies away from discussing whether they need the wall, the speaker then sees him as a menacing “savage,” moving in moral “darkness,” who mindlessly repeats the cliché “Good fences make good neighbors.”

The speaker does not seem to realize that he is just as ominously territorial and walled in as his neighbor, if not more so. The speaker scorns the neighbor for repeating his maxim about “good fences” and for being unwilling to “go behind” and question it, yet the speaker also clings to a formulation that he repeats (“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall”) and seems unwilling to think clearly about his belief in it. For example, the speaker celebrates the way that spring ground swells topple sections of the stone wall. Why, then, does he resent the destruction that the hunters bring to it, and why does he bother to repair those man-made gaps? Similarly, if the speaker truly believes that there is no need for the wall, why is it he who contacts his neighbor and initiates the joint...

(The entire section is 554 words.)