Study Guide

Mending Wall Tradition and Customs

By Robert Frost

Tradition and Customs

But spring mending-time we find them there. (line 11)

This broken wall thing happens like clockwork. Every spring, the speaker realizes that the wall needs mending. Why spring? Is this because the speaker doesn’t really get out much in the cold New England winter, and, so, the first time he’s able to inspect the wall is when the weather gets nicer? If this is your wall, would you put up with needing to mend it every spring, or would you take some preventative measures to try to keep it intact?

I let my neighbor know beyond the hill; (line 12)

Does this mean that there is a hill between our speaker’s property and his neighbor’s house? In that case, between the wall and the hill there are two barriers. As part of the annual mending wall custom, we think it’s downright fascinating that the speaker is the one who starts up the "Hey, neighbor, let’s go mend that wall" conversation. But, he doesn’t like the wall, right? Or, maybe he does like the wall? Perhaps, he likes the opportunity to hang out with someone else every year, even if they are on separate sides of the wall?

He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’ (line 27)

This neighbor is one quiet dude. We think it’s a little creepy that the only thing he says for himself (ever) is this proverb. Not only that, but it’s not a proverb that he stumbles upon himself – his father passes it down to him. We have a very hard time visualizing this neighbor because he only speaks in clichéd, proverb form. He seems like a very generalize-able man, as compared with our mischievous speaker.

[…] I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed. (lines 39-41)

Why is it important to know that the neighbor grasps a stone firmly from the top? What does this gesture look like? The word "armed’ is kind of a violent word, and we realize that the neighbor looks like a caveman ready to attack. In this way, the neighbor represents a physically threatening tradition.

He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well (lines 44-45)

But, if the proverb is his father’s saying, why is the neighbor so smug about it? It’s not like he comes up with the proverb. The speaker here paints the portrait of a man very intent on living, talking, and existing like those who have come before him. This man strives to replicate, rather than create, it seems.