Study Guide

Mending Wall Man and the Natural World

By Robert Frost

Man and the Natural World

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall (line 1)

Doesn’t this first line sound like a riddle, or like a sentence flipped upside down? To us, this "something" sounds pretty darn mysterious and big, and the sentence construction makes us feel like this "something" lurks very near. How would the effect differ if the first line is, "there is something that doesn’t love a wall" or even, "someone doesn’t love a wall?"

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast. (lines 2-4)

Wow, this "something" sure is something. Here, we understand that this entity can make frost appear, and, thus, disturb the rock wall. We think it’s interesting that there are three monosyllabic verbs stacked neatly on top of each other in these lines: "that sends," "and spills," "and makes." Such verbs make us feel the momentum that they describe, and we start to think that the "something" is kind of all-powerful and cool.

Oh, just another kind of out-door game (line 21)

Because the rock wall is man-made, the business of sticking little, round stones back into the wall is the work of maintaining this artificial, man-made thing-a-ma-bob. The speaker’s nonchalant attitude toward the mending process contrasts with the more serious, ominous attitude that he possesses in the beginning of the poem when he says, "Something there is that doesn’t love a wall" (line 1).

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him. (lines 25-26)

We know what the speaker means when he says that his neighbor is "all pine," and he is "apple orchard," but, at this moment, we can’t help but imagine (just for a split second), our speaker in the form of a talking, walking apple tree, and his neighbor in the form of a pine tree (like those giant tree-things in The Lord of the Rings). We also then can’t help but imagine how slightly carnivorous and threatening it would seem for our speaker, the apple tree, to eat the pinecones of his neighbor. What would be the worst-case scenario you can imagine if one of the neighbors owned cows, and if there were no wall between the properties? What damage can cows do?

He moves in darkness as it seems to me
Not of woods only and the shade of trees. (lines 42-43)

Here we see nature blend with some other force? The treetops shade the neighbor, but there’s another darkness about him that the speaker can’t quite pin down. Are there any other moments in the poem where we see nature blended with other, more supernatural forces or ideas?