Experience as Meaning: Robert Frosts's "Me nding Wall"
Critic: Frank Lentricchia
Cr iticism about: Robert (Lee) Frost (1874-1963), also known as: Rob ert Lee Frost, Robert (Lee) Frost
Genre(s): Dramatic monologues; Sonnets; Lyric poetry; Essays
"Mending Wall" is the opening poem of Frost's second volume, North of Boston. One of the dominating moods of this volume, forcefully established in such important poems as "The Death of the Hired Man," "Home Burial," "The Black Cottage," and "A Servant to Servants," and carried through some of the minor pieces, flows from lives lived grimly, from the tension of having to maintain balance at the precipitous edge of hysteria. "Mending Wall" stands opposed to such visions of human existence -- or, more precisely put, to existences that are fashioned by the neurotic visions of central characters like the wife in "Home Burial," the servant in "A Servant to Servants." "Mending Wall" dramatizes the playfully imaginative man who has his world under full control, who in his inner serenity is riding his realities, not being shocked by them into traumatic response.
The opening lines evoke the coy posture of the shrewed, imaginative man who understands the words of the farmer in "The Mountain": "All the fun's in how you say a thing."
Something there is that doesn't love a wall, That sends a frozen-ground-swell under it, And spills the upper boulders in the sun, And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
It does not take more than one reading of the poem to understand that the speaker is not a country primitive who is easily spooked by the normal processes of nature. He knows very well what it is "that doesn't love a wall." His fun lies in not naming it, and in not naming the scientific truth he is able to manipulate intransigent fact into the world of the mind where all things are pliable. The artful vagueness of the phrase "Something there is" is enchanting and magical, suggesting even the hushed tones of reverence before...