The poems ?Mending Wall’ and ?Home Burial’ are about division, both on a physical level and on a mental level.
?Mending Wall’ on first reading is a very simplistic poem about the annual repairing of a wall but after closer reading we can see it has a darker meaning.
The poem begins with a disjointed sentence, which immediately attracts the reader’s eye.
?Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,’
The use of the word ?Something’ arouses the reader’s curious nature to read on to find out what this ?Something’ is. The tone of this is casual and unimposing. The author proceeds in a conversational tone speaking of the reasons to explain the breaking down of the wall. The reasons given are all quite practical but yet through these reasons we get a glimpse of the message, which the author desperately wants us to find.
?And make gaps even two can pass abreast.’
Even though the poem is about division and separation we have a theme of unity in this line creeping through.
The speaker expresses an awe of nature and a deep-rooted respect this is displayed in the way he talks about the breaking of the wall by nature.
?That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,’
The use of the alliteration of the s’s is very calming and the sounds create a flowing movement.
?And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.’
The author uses the words ?meet’ and ?between us’ in close proximity to each other to give the impression that although the two men work together for the same reason they are actually working alone. The wall is a barrier that both separates them and yet unifies them in the fixing of it.
?We have to use a spell to make them balance;’
The use of the word spell hints at magically overtones by the author lets the reader know that all things are possible.
The words ?game’ and ?one on a side’ further emphasize the theme of division
There is never any direct speech between the two men but yet through the speaker we learn about what the other man thinks about the wall.
?Good fences make good neighbours.’
The speaker does not think the wall is necessary
?There where it is we do not need the wall.’
The suggestion is always implied by the speaker but yet never spoken out loud.
The author has a playful nature and through the poem it is displayed,
?Spring is the mischief in me,….’
The author uses the word ?offense’ as an appropriate play on words a symbol of the poem’s spirit of play and freedom.
The author repeats the opening line as if to reawaken the thoughts he had left behind.
The speaker in the poem makes a lighthearted attempt at a suggestion for the walls breaking,
?….I could say ?Elves’ to him,’
even though this is humorous thought the neighbour would never think of it. It is only through the speaker’s imagination that he thought of elves; the other man’s thoughts are confined to reality.
The speaker sees the man in a different light. He is a serious man with little time for ?flights of fantasy’ the speaker describes him as an ?old-stone savage armed.’ The speaker is not referring to his physically appearance but to his mind and its workings. The other man in the poem is concerned with rituals any diversion from his normal thinking is a bad thing. The creative and imaginative side of his brain lies dormant.
?He will not go behind his father’s saying.
And he likes having thought of it so well’
The other man in the poem is trapped by work and possibly his own past as it comes to him in the words his father said. He is tied down by these words not just physically by the mending of the wall but also mentally when he takes everything on a rational level no form of escapism is applied in his life.
The poem highlights two types of people in today’s world. The first is represented by the speaker a man who lives by no mental boundaries. The second is represented by the second man in the poem who is totally oblivious to the gift of imagination. The wall is more a mental thing that shields him from the uncivilized world beyond it but also stops any side of himself being revealed.
The poem ?Home Burial’ has a more sombre tone to it. The tone of the poem is very tense. The poem begins with the man looking at his wife yet she appears to be staring somewhere else. This is one of the main images of the poem where he is looking at her and she is looking over her shoulder at the past. She is apprehensive about moving from this stance as shown by her hesitant steps on the stairs.
?Looking back over her shoulder at some fear.’
She took a doubtful step and then undid it’
The stairs are a symbol of time, her husband is at the bottom and represents the future, yet she is ever more reluctant to go to him and prefers to remain in the past where she feels most comfortable.
The woman is the weaker minded of the two and shows this throughout the course of the poem. Her husband finds it hard to relate to her without soundings harsh.
?…..-for I want to know.’
The man takes a stronger stance and is physically bigger than her. He towers over her as she sinks down into the stairs. He takes a dominant position thus emphasizing the fact that she is the weaker.
?Mounting until she cowered under him.’
He loves her yet she is so very defensive towards him. They way in which she speaks to him is foreboding and she is resilient to him.
?With the least stiffening of her neck and silence.
She let him look, sure that he wouldn’t see,
The use of the words ? blind creature’ are very effective because it shows she thinks of him as less than a human because he can not see what she sees.
The woman finds it easier to express her pain through hot tears rather than through words. She lashes out at her husband with anger but yet has no reason to hate him.
?But I understand: it is not the stones,
But the child’s mound-‘
The use of the word ?understand’ indicates that he does know what is going on but feels it hard to talk about his pain.
She feels disgusted by him because he can not express his feelings on the subject but yet when he does she reels in pain and backs off.
?She withdrew, shrinking from beneath his arm.’
When he pleads with her to listen to him talk about his feelings she snaps at him abruptly.
The use of the exclamation shows her anger. Her replies to him are monosyllabic which further enhance the feelings of division between them. When confronted with the vulnerable side of her husband she runs away.
?I must get out of here…..’
It’s clear from her husband’s response that she runs away from him when she needs him the most. The balance in her life has shifted and she feels consumed with anger and feels herself drowning in emotions. She puts up a mental barrier as a knee-jerk reaction to the death of her child. The barrier is the division between them.
He tries to explain what he feels in the only way he knows how.
?My words are nearly always an offence.’
He has tried everything humanly possible to be there for her yet she repels any effort made on his behalf. She does not know how to cope.
?A man must partly give up being a man
He is referring to the social attitude to women and their emotions. In today’s society women are pigeon holed seen as the emotional sex and need men to hold their lives together with support.
?Tell me about it if it’s something human,
Let me into your grief. I’m not so much
Unlike other folks as your standing there’
The man is totally at a loss as what to do. He wants to help her cope with the tragedy but she is still unapproachable.
?What was it brought you up to think it the thing
To take your mother-loss of a first child
So inconsolably – in the face of love.’
Her childhood was such that she has imprinted in her mind that only the women mourn the loss of children so she feels resentful that he wants to mourn the loss of their child as well.
She has pushed her husband so far away that he feels totally isolated from the situation. He feels annoyed with her that she is so consumed with emotions and yet pushes him away.
?If you had any feelings,…’
She sums up what she thinks by saying he is emotionally numb. The hatred for her husband has erupted because she saw him dig the child’s grave.
? I saw you from that very window there,
Making the gravel leap and leap in air,’
The use of the word ?leap’ is very significant because it is usually a word that conveys joy. Her hostility stems from the fact that when he dug the grave he seemed happy not racked with pain like her.
?You could sit there with the stains on you shoes
Of fresh earth from your own baby’s grave.’
She feels so disgusted by him and has seeming complacency about the child’s death. She uses his very words to try and prove that she is right, that he is emotionally deadened. The words he spoke to take his mind off the death are thrown back in his face as ammunition for her fiery hatred.
?You couldn’t care!’
The exclamation mark here is even more prevalent than the previous one to convey utter loathing.
?One is alone, and he dies more alone.’
This is the stance she takes on life and on eventually death.
?But the world’s evil. I won’t have grief so
If I can change it. Oh, I won’t, I won’t!’
The repetition of ?I won’t’ proves the determination she puts behind it she hates the world, herself and her husband for their child’s death.
?There, you have said it all and you feel better.
You won’t go now….’
Finally she has truly expressed her feelings on everything. They are mixed and confused and bitter but at least she said exactly what was on her mind.
She has to run from everything and just as she was beginning to open up to her husband. There are great communication problems in their relationship. She feels compelled to run away when there trouble.
?…. First tell me that.
I’ll follow and bring you back by force. I will! -‘
He feels that they have just reached a turning point and yet she still runs away.
The husband represents the typical male in society that has been shaped as the rock in any relationship. The wife is the typical female who is ruled by emotion. The wife in this situation has no where to run to in your mind. She is backed up into a corner and can not cope with all these emotions. She probably feels guilty over her child’s death and so turns this guilt into hatred and lashes out at her husband who is only trying to be supportive but yet everything he does is wrong in her eyes. She hurts him to let him know how she feels, she attacks the person she needs the most and who loves her the most.
As with ?Mending Wall’ the themes of division are apparent. In ?Home Burial’ the wife like the other man is confined to a prison within her mind. She wants to break free from the claustrophobic atmosphere within herself. The emotion for her is so overpowering that she can no longer separate the good from the bad; there is no difference for her.
The mind is the only thing we have yet to destroy in our world. For some it can be a haven of imagination and excitement like the speaker in ?Mending Wall’ a sort of practical tool as a from of escapism. For others it can become a personal hell like that of confinement