Jun 2007, Volume 4, No.6 (Serial No.


Sino-US English Teaching, ISSN1539-8072, USA

Interpretation of Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall”
ZHAO Xin-li
(School of Foreign Languages, Langfang Teachers College, Langfang 065000, China)

Abstract: Robert Frost is skillful at adopting symbolism and images in his poems. “Mending Wall”, one of Frost’s well-known poems, had been analyzed in different approaches, such as psychoanalytical approach, social approach and structural approaches, etc. By exploring the symbol and images applied in “Mending Wall”, it draws the conclusion that “the wall”, symbolizing convention, is set as a barrier in human communication. Key words: symbol; image; “Mending Wall”; convention

1. Introduction
Robert Frost is adept at applying symbolism and images in his poetry. One aspect of Frost’s theory is “his understanding of symbolism and how it functions in a poem” (Parini, 1993, p. 265). He classified himself as a poet who was a synecdochist and stated that he preferred synecdoche in poetry—that figure of speech we use a part for the whole. In his poetry, one image after another is unfolded gradually. It is rather easy for readers to catch the surface meaning of his poetry. However, the ulterior meaning, which is the value of his poetry, worths our life time of contemplation. In “Mending Wall,” Robert Frost depicts a commonplace occurrence that a wall separating a farmer’s land from that of his neighbor’s has crumbled down and awaits repairs. Such is a scene typical in Robert Frost’s poems, which always take on an easy-understood appearance and is imbued with profound significance. “It would be a mistake to imagine that Frost is easy to understand because he is easy to read” (Elliott, 1988, p. 944). You “begin in delight, end in wisdom.” As we may mend a stone wall, pick up apples, watch a spider, and mow the lawn in his poems, we also acquire enlightenment and inspiration towards life. As it explores in “Mending Wall” that the wall—the symbol of convention—sometimes is set as a barrier in human communication.

2. The Wall as the Symbol of Convention
The poem starts with the crumbling down of the wall.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, And spill the upper boulder in the sun, That makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

As soon as “I” find the toppling wall, “I let the neighbor know beyond the hill” and prepare to mend the wall. To the speaker, erecting a wall is a conventional concept, deeply ingrained in the mind. It is out of instinct that the speaker acknowledges the neighbor to repair the wall together. The wall standing between the lands of two

ZHAO Xin-li (1980- ), female, B.A., teaching assistant of School of Foreign Languages, Langfang Teachers College; research field: British and American literature. 71

When “I try to put a notion in his head. if any. “The spring mending time” each year is a regular activity of farmers in New England. / not of woods only and the shade of trees. inherited from ancestors. And eat the cones under his pines.” It reflects a revision in the speaker as he imagines the neighbor and acknowledges how far from him—how other from him—the neighbor is. a slowing down and steadying of rhythm. dwelling in the shade of convention. hold a suspicious opinion towards others and refuse to conduct genuine communication with each other. which has been lasting ever since the primitive age and has an irresistible dominance on people. a seemingly apparent evolvement of human beings turns out to be the lack of communication. Another influence of convention on people is the “darkness” shrouding the neighbor as is depicted in the poem. is considered backward and uncivilized. I see him there Bring a stone grasped firmly by the top In each hand. he regards the proverb as an unquestionable universal truth.Interpretation of Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” families has become a tradition. The shift in voice. the contemplativeness previously absent. is also aware that the distance is not transgressible and nor is genuine reciprocity possible. he is the representative of convention. full of coldness and obstinacy. Residing in the convention-dominated world.” The response towards the crumbling wall and the process of “Mending Wall” implies that convention has exerted a tremendous dominance on people’s mind and behavior. Without meditating on its rationality of existence. and what such an act might take. They.” The speaker.” his mere utterance is the proverb. The speaker insists that there is no need to build a wall. 255). 72 . “He moved in darkness as it seems to me. however. he would want down. The neighbor likened to the old-stone savage. “As he confronts that darkness and distance. because He is all pine and I am apple orchard. like an old-stone savage armed. With the economic development. Furthermore. As time goes by. does not simply mime the slow actions of the neighbor. p.” The neighbor. people alienate one from another by installing walls in between. There is nothing left in their psychological world except the tremendous power of convention. revealing the powerful predominance of tradition on people’s mind. The neighbor’s repetition of “Good fences make good neighbors” manifests that he is a convention upholder. His response is short. My apple trees will never get across. 1976. Only under the harbor of those physically existing walls can they develop a sense of security and safety. he can consider what barriers. they are confined to their own world. who realizes the darkness surrounding the neighbor and others. represented by the neighbor in the poem. The neighbor’s mind is also exemplified in his behavior. separates others from him by enclosing himself in his “solid fortress. a distance which is metaphorical and rendered here and temporally through “like an old savage. He asserts it with such a blind determination towards the existence of the wall in between that an invisible wall has been installed between them. There arises a conflict between the neighbor and the speaker on whether there is a need to mend the wall. Without pondering on whether or not there is the necessity to build a wall. people observe it as a strict rule. he sticks to dogged rules of convention and refuses to any kind of change. The image is also a hint of convention. what barriers he simply cannot cross. “Frost himself realized that such neighbors on nearby farms were increasing in number” (Averev. To some degree.

Frost leaves a spacious room for the readers to exert the imagination to the utmost. forged by convention. he winces and retreats to his own world. The poem ends with the proverb “Good fences make good neighbors. which serves as an invisible wall. Maybe it is “Elves”. His thought flashes in the darkness of convention. And there is no such livestock in the speaker’s land as “cows” that the neighbor’s land will not suffer from any possible destruction. an invisible wall erects there separating one from another. As we all know. the proverb is the authoritarian truth.” showing the predominance of the speaker’s voice and that of the convention. 3. to shut oneself off in one’s own little world. In his mind. The conflict is about what is conventional and what is unconventional. it dawns on the speaker that there is no necessity to keep a wall in between at this time. Later. is a notion quite alien to the people” (Averev. foregrounding the prominence of the “something”. The third image is “spring”. but also the speaker takes an ambivalent attitude toward the wall. Lacking enthusiasm for the speaker. Standing in between the speaker and his neighbor is a solid wall of convention. Frost employs several images in “Mending Wall” to reveal his tendency toward the problem of “Mending Wall”. have influenced him so much that his mind is restricted and becomes a mere spokesman of convention. in a teasing and childlike way. The farmers in New 73 . the speaker and his neighbor wear their fingers rough to mend the wall and the speaker enjoys the activity by regarding it as “another kind of outdoor game. the neighbor refuses to talk with the speaker on that issue. puts forward his doubt about traditional concept that a wall should be there in between. 255). p. The speaker’s meditation on the wall—“Before I built a wall. 1976. On the other hand. The speaker. The real purpose of the poem is not to provide a solution to the human problem. the speaker doubts the necessity of a wall and tries to persuade the neighbor from keeping a wall there. I’d ask to know what’s I was walling in or what’s out”—indicates the real essence of a wall.” The poem begins with the line—“something there is that doesn’t love a wall”. The answer is left for readers to contemplate our daily life. which dislikes the wall separating human beings from one another and crumbles down the wall mischievously. however. A wall may protect one’s dignity and property. “Elves” and “spring” to convey his attitude. but hinders communication at the same time. Set ideas and habits. It is something unknown to us. is convinced that the wall should be mended by citing the old saying. “The desire to fence oneself off from others. He is unconscious that he is taking side with unconventional ideas. He adopts the images of “something”. but very soon it is devoured by the endless latter and disappears. With everyone enclosed in their own world. something mysterious to all of us. he is a little confused and hesitant.” He is not determined with his own conviction and sways from side to side. The great significance of Frost’s poem lies in its awareness and exposition of human problem. spring is the time of rebirth and the symbol of a new beginning. barring the communication among people. Confronted with awful power of convention. When the speaker’s sobriety of the issue is ignored by the neighbor. On the one hand. People shut themselves in their own world and shut others out under the disguise of convention. “Frost discovers a completely different aspect in the motif-something there is that does not love a wall. Other Images Nevertheless. Without pointing out what kind of thing this “something” is. The issue whether or not to mend the wall is left there unsolved. The neighbor. he emphasizes this image by repeating the same line. Not only does the neighbor hold firmly the idea that a wall should be installed. the speaker is with no exception. After the wall has been built and the concept has been set up in people’s mind.Interpretation of Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” Influenced by the conventional ideas as well.

visible and invisible among people. New York: Columbia University Press. 847). Frost may imply that an invisible wall is standing in the way of people’s genuine reciprocity. trans. Frost indicates something suggestive and something more than the surface meaning of a stone wall. A lover’s quarrel with the world: Robert Frost. Perkins. Emory. 1988. Knowing it is a formidable task to persuade people to break down the wall and conduct genuine communication. Conclusion “Frost was temperamentally a poet of meditative sobriety. The American tradition in literature. Brett C.” Frost depicts the annual activity of “Mending Wall”.” It is not a mere coincidence that Frost selects “spring” in the poem. He is fully conscious of the denotation of “spring” and adopts it to highlight the theme that it is high time to eliminate all the barriers. Moscow: Progress Publishers. Poetry once was defined as “the best words in the best order. Instead of mending the wall. The Columbia history of American poetry. mend the walls in between to protect their property. the poem implies that not only human beings. hinders communication among people. 4. 2002. (Edited by Hanna and Stella) 74 . but also natural and supernatural power (“something”. 1976. In “Mending Wall. 20th century American literature: A Soviet view. the relationship is not mended but distanced farther instead. “Elves”. Barbara. Above all. Zverev. p. Frost tends to arouse people’s awareness of their isolation from one another. people are supposed to transcend their conventional restraints and tear down the wall in between. Spring is the time for people to break through the confinement of archaic convention and develop new ideas. “spring”) show strong wishes and desire of tearing down the wall. In: Ronald Vroon. symbolizing convention—the habitual way of people’s mind and behavior. nonetheless. The wall. Jay & Millier. The truth he sought were innate in heart of humanity and in common objects” (Perkins. 2002. 1993. A. represented by the speaker. By presenting a conflict over the wall. Columbia literary history of the United States. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education. With the wall being strengthened. New York: Columbia University Press. References: Elliott. By adopting the symbol of wall. George and Perkins. 2.Interpretation of Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” England in the very season. Parini.