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.
In the poem “Mending Wall,” the speaker reveals his neighbor’s character as he contemplates the practice of wall-building. Here, the speaker first describes his neighbor as he explains how they meet each spring to repair the stone wall that extends between their properties. The speaker includes that the men “keep the wall between” them as they walk along, further highlighting how this wall separates the two men, both physically and emotionally. In addition, each only picks up the stones “that have fallen to each,” implying that neither man really wants to hear of the other’s troubles or burdens.
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. He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
In this section of “Mending Wall,” the speaker continues to describe his relationship with his neighbor. He explains how the neighbor grows a different type of tree than he does, making the wall unnecessary. The speaker’s apple trees pose no threat to the neighbor’s pines. However, the neighbor makes a strong statement in support of maintaining the wall-building practice. The neighbor clearly believes that a well-defined wall makes their relationship more harmonious. Readers may infer that the wall the neighbor speaks of exists in the heart and mind as well.
I see him there, Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed. He moves in darkness as it seems to me, Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
Toward the end of “Mending Wall,” the speaker realizes that the neighbor cannot let go of old customs. He describes how the neighbor grasps strongly onto the stones as he repositions them just as he grasps strongly onto the dark-age mentality of staying separate and isolated. As the speaker struggles between being a wall-builder and a wall-breaker, the neighbor “moves in darkness” because he cannot remove himself from this old practice.
He will not go behind his father’s saying, And he likes having thought of it so well He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
As the poem “Mending Wall,” concludes, the speaker identifies the neighbor’s inability to stray from the neighbor’s father’s tradition of maintaining separation between neighbors. The neighbor likes the safety in the isolation created by such a wall, and he believes that less conflict will occur if they keep this wall between them. The neighbor emphasizes this belief when he repeats his statement “Good fences make good neighbors.”