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Robert Frost

Mending Wall

More challenging questions

Keith Tankard
Updated: 20 January 2014
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Every year in spring, the poet and his neighbour walk along the stone wall which separates their two farms and they repair the wall -- putting back the stones which have rolled off.

The poet asks questions about how the wall might have fallen down in the first place -- making a game of it by suggesting such things as the elves having done it.

The two men, however, have very different ideas about the purpose of the wall: the poet sees no need for it because it acts as a barrier between them, while the neighbour believes that the wall keeps the good relationship going between the owners of the separate farms.


Robert Frost was born in San Francisco in 1874. At the age of 11, he moved to New England, and it would be there that he would attain his rural poetic flair. He attended Harvard University, where he married Elinor White. His grandfather bought them a farm where they would stay for some nine years and where he would work early in the mornings writing many of the poems which made him famous. In 1912, Frost moved to England where he would flesh out his poetic ability and come under the influence of several English poets -- and also of the American, Ezra Pound. In 1915, soon after the Great War began, Frost and his wife returned to America and bought a farm in New Hampshire. There the poet spent much of his time writing and teaching. From 1916 through to 1938 he lectured English at Amherst College. Frost was already 86 when John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as President of the United States of America. The poet was invited to attend and to speak at the function. It was the final moment of an illustrious life. Two years later -- in January 1963 -- he died from blood clots to his lungs. "Mending Wall" was written in 1916 and describes an incident on his farm in New Hampshire. He would use the expression, "Good fences made good neighbours", an idea which he himself clearly despised -- and yet the quote has gone on to be used ever since in a most positive light.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

"Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it."
  • When the poet speaks about "Something" that doesn't love a wall, he is having a great deal of fun playing with words. Explain why this would be so. (4)

[Need help?]

  • Why does the poet say "Something there is" instead of explaining clearly what it is that destroys the walls? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Why would "frozen-ground-swell" be written as a hyphenated word? (2)

[Need help?]

"The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs."
  • The clause "I have come after them" can be ambiguous. Explain two possible interpretations. (4)

[Need help?]

  • Is the main purpose of the hunting to catch and kill the rabbits? Think carefully about this one and explain your answer. (4)

[Need help?]

"I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance."
  • When the speaker and his neighbour mend the wall, is there a friendly spirit between them? Explain carefully. (4)

[Need help?]

  • The neighbour grows pine trees whereas the poet has an apple orchard. Why then is there a wall between the two farms? (4)

[Need help?]

  • The poet says of the rocks, "And some are loaves". Explain this figure of speech. (4)

[Need help?]

"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side."
  • Why does the poet describe mending the wall as "just another kind of outdoor game"? (4)

[Need help?]

"Something there is that doesn't love a wall."
  • Why does the poet repeat this expression? (4)

[Need help?]

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