Study Guide

Mending Wall Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay

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Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay

Welcome to the land of symbols, imagery, and wordplay. Before you travel any further, please know that there may be some thorny academic terminology ahead. Never fear, Shmoop is here. Check out our "How to Read a Poem" section for a glossary of terms.

The Wall/Fences

The wall is the shining star of this poem. It unites our speaker and his neighbor, but separates them as well. As we hear the neighbor speak the proverb twice ("Good fences make good neighbors"), we start to consider all of the wall-like structures in our life: fences, gates, boundaries, lines, etc. The wall serves as a canvas upon which a lot of complex ideas about the ways in which people, and their relationships with others, are painted and discussed.

  • Line 13: The wall is ironic because, even though it separates the speaker from his neighbor, it also brings them together every year.
  • Line 14: "The wall" is present throughout the poem as an extended metaphor for the division that exists between the speaker and his neighbor.
  • Line 16: "To each" is a parallelism, as its repetition emphasizes the fact that the speaker and his neighbor are on opposite side of the wall.
  • Line 21: "Another kind of out-door game" becomes a metaphor for the wall-mending process
  • Line: 27: The proverb "Good fences make good neighbors" is also a cliché; we hear it all the time.
  • Line 27: The proverb "Good fences make good neighbors" is a paradox when you contrast it with the first words of the poem, "Something there is that doesn’t love a wall." In the first case, barriers are good things; in the second, they are not.
  • Line 35: "Offence" is a pun – it sounds like "a fence."

Nature and Tradition

Nature seems to act as the third wheel in this poem – the silent character swirling around the speaker and his neighbor. Although he doesn’t explicitly describe the landscape, we see it very clearly, and we seem to know what the seasons are like in this part of the world. Similarly, tradition seems to be the silent subject over which the speaker and his neighbor wrestle. The neighbor upholds his ancestors’ way of life, while our speaker questions this philosophy.

  • Line 5: "Hunters" are a metaphor both for the speaker and for us (the readers), all of whom try to get at something (even if we don’t know exactly what that something is).
  • Line 25: The apple trees are momentarily personified, as the speaker claims that they will never wander across and eat the pine cones on his neighbor’s property.
  • Line 51: The speaker uses a simile and likens his neighbor to "an old-stone savage armed," or a caveman ready for battle.

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