The Theme of Boundaries in the Poetry of Robert Frost

Seminar Paper, 2004

10 Pages, Grade: 65%


Table of Contents:

1. Introduction

2. The Theme of Boundaries in the Poetry of Robert Frost
2.1. The Mending Wall
2.2. Trespass

3. Conclusion

4. Bibliography

1. Introduction

“There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down”

- Matthew 24:2 -

Robert Lee Frost belongs to one of the most popular and influential writers of the 20th century. Although his career started only at the age of forty, he made his mark as a poet, becoming more and more widely known until at the end he was the United States’ de facto poet laureate.[1] He was a four-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and received an unprecedented number and range of literary, academic, and public honours. His career hit its peak with reciting his poem The Gift Outright at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961.

The first thirty-eight years of his life were determined by his own insecurity and vulnerability. Only the influences of his mother, whose devoutness and mysticism, loving sensitivity and courage, and her idealistic refinement did much to shape Frost’s basic nature.[2] Later on, Frost also felt the influence of his high school comrade, Carl Burrell who encouraged his interest in wildflowers, philosophy and writing poetry. The last and longest influential relationship was that with Elinor White, whom Frost married in 1895.

The clarity of Frost’s diction, the colloquial rhythms, the simplicity of his images and above all the folksy speaker- these are intended to make the poems look natural, unplanned. By investing in the New England terrain he revitalised the tradition of New England regionalism. Readers who accepted Frost’s persona and his setting as typically American accepted the powerful myth that this rural part of the country was the heart of America. Most of his poems fall into a few types. Nature lyrics describing and commenting on a scene or event- like Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Birches and After Apple-Picking,- are probably the best known and the most popular. There are also dramatic narrative poems about the lives of country people, like Mending Wall, and poems of commentary or generalisation, like The Gift Outright. He also could be humorous or sardonic, as in Fire and Ice.

Among the major concerns that appear in Frost’s poetry are the fragility of life, the consequences of rejecting or accepting the conditions of one’s life, the passion of

inconsolable grief, the difficulty of sustaining intimacy, the fear of loneliness and isolation, the tensions between the individual and society, and the place of tradition and custom.[3] The tensions between the individual and society become apparent in Frost’s examination and metaphorical use of geographical boundaries. In this respect, I am going to focus on one of Frost’s most popular poems Mending Wall from the volume of poems called North of Boston (1914) and a more less known poem Trespass from A Witness Tree (1942).

2. The Theme of Boundaries in the Poetry of Robert Frost

2.1. Mending Wall

M ending Wall is the opening poem of Frost's second volume, North of Boston. Its imagery represents quintessentially New England, his adopted home where Frost and his family moved to after his father’s death. In Mending Wall, Frost personifies the individualism of American culture, including the nuances of xenophobia and the New England restraint.

The poem deals with two neighbours, who built up a new wall at every year, although, as the narrator suggests, this would not be necessary. Before describing the mending of the wall, the narrator opens with reflections on forces that don’t love walls: frost which makes the stones in walls spill in a pleasant tumble, and the crude disregard of hunters who run with nasty dogs. The gaps with which he is concerned are the kind caused by frost and lead to the engaging task of restoration that he shares with the neighbour.

Something there is that 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.

The work of hunters do another thing:

I have come after them and made repair

Where they have left not a stone on a stone,

Both do not know exactly why they build this wall every winter again. When the narrator asks his neighbour for the reason of building the wall he plainly responds “Good fences make good neighbors.” In fact that the neighbour does not give any distinguished reason for his motivation, the reader has, after a first reading of the poem, the impression that the neighbour is limited in his thinking and does not want to avoid the construction of the wall. He also refers to his father whose tradition he adopted and says that he “will not go beyond his father’s saying.”


[1] Potter, James L. Robert Frost Handbook. The Pennsylvania State University Press. University Park, 1980. 3.

[2] URL: [9 February 2005]

[3] URL: [8 February 2005]

Excerpt out of 10 pages


The Theme of Boundaries in the Poetry of Robert Frost
University of Reading  (Department of English and American Literature)
Writing America 2
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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The essay was written in the seminar "Writing America 2" during my year at the University of Reading, GB.
Theme, Boundaries, Poetry, Robert, Frost, Writing, America
Quote paper
Katrin Gischler (Author), 2004, The Theme of Boundaries in the Poetry of Robert Frost, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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