Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” demonstrates intimate knowledge of ranching life both in the workings of a ranch and in the psychology of being a ranch owner. According to Biography.com, “In 1900, Frost moved with his wife and children to a farm in New Hampshire […] During that time, Frost and Elinor attempted several endeavors, including poultry farming, all of which were fairly unsuccessful” (Robert Frost Biography). Frost’s poem demonstrates the personal interactions of land owners engaged in the menial labor of fixing a wall. This is the type of labor that a rich land owner would have likely hired out to local laborers. Due to Frost’s unsuccessful farming attempts, the depiction of two land owners working their own land could easily have been a poetic reinterpretation of one of Frost’s duties on his ranch.
While the two ranchers are mending the wall they engage in a mostly one sided conversation about the necessities of having a wall between the two ranches. The speaker comes up with imaginative arguments against having the wall and the other rancher simply repeats an old aphorism. Frost writes, “He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’” (27), and he writes, “He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’” (45). This doubling down on the repetition of this common saying characterizes the typical poor rancher from New Hampshire in the early 1900s as at least unimaginative and likely uneducated. This lack of imagination on the part of the neighboring rancher seems to be Frost’s explanation for the other rancher to be doing his own manual labor, but it does not explain why the speaker cannot afford to hire a laborer.
Throughout the entire poem, the speaker comes up with imaginative examples of a grand conspiracy against the wall. Frost begins his poem with this line: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” (1). He blames the holes in the wall first on nature—“the frozen ground swell” (2)—then on hunters and their dogs—“I have come after them and made repair […]/But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,/To please the yelping dogs” (6, 8-9). Finally, the speaker blames the failing wall on magical beings. Frost writes, “I could say ‘Elves’ to him,/But it is not elves exactly […]” (36-37). The imaginative conspiracy against the wall characterizes the speaker as someone who, if not lazy, is unprepared for all the work that is entailed in owning a ranch. And the imagination required to come up with such this type of magical conspiracy shows someone who is able to think in abstract terms. The speaker shows the imagination of a poet and the ability for abstract thought of an educated individual. Therefore, the speaker’s imagination and lack of preparation for the ranching lifestyle mirrors Frost’s time as a failed rancher.
Frost, Robert. “Mending Wall.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation.
“Robert Frost Biography.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 9 Sept. 2019.