Traditions have always had a substantial effect on the lives of human beings, and always will. Robert Frost uses many unique poetic devices in his poem “Mending Wall,” as well as many shifts in the speaker’s tone to develop his thoughts on traditions. The three predominant tones used are those of questioning, irony and humor.
The speaker questions many things in relation to the wall that is being rebuilt. For example, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” (ll. 1, 35), is used to question what despises the wall’s presence. The speaker goes on to discuss the earth’s swells that make gaps in the wall (l. 2), as well as the hunters, (l. 5) “not leaving a stone on a stone,” (l. 7) merely to please the yelping dogs with a rabbit. In line thirty, the speaker questions, “Why do they make good neighbors” because he believes that the wall is interfering with a possible relationship with his neighbor. Another key question asked is “What I was walling in or walling out,” (l. 33) to show that there is no difference when the wall is construct or not, both neighbor’s tasks are completed and no harm is done.
Frost develops irony through his shifts in tone within the “Mending Wall.” The irony is most dramatic in lines fourteen and fifteen, “And set the wall between us once again / We keep the wall between us as we go.” The speaker now realizes that the wall separates the neighbors, but also unites them at mending time, for the purpose of placing themselves apart once again. Other ironical situations are developed by the speaker’s tone of questioning and his/her ability to initiate thoughts. It is rather apparent that in the early stages of the poem, the speaker does not comprehend the wall’s existence; eventually, the speaker begins to think for himself and express his feelings about the wall.
The use of humor is used in many situations in the poem, not only to tell the truth, but also to express that the speaker believes that the wall is pointless. “We have to use a spell to make them balance / Stay where you are until our backs are turned” (ll. 19,20), clearly shows that the speaker does not really care about the wall; he thinks of the mending time as a joke. The speaker also shows his disbelief in the wall by asking about cows (l. 31), and then by blaming elves (l. 36) for the destruction of the wall. “My apple… across / And eat the cones… pines” (ll. 25,26), might be the most humorous, but truthful statement in the entire poem.
These three key uses of tone are all brought together to represent Frost’s view of traditions. The poem brilliantly depicts two neighbors, one who questions and finds flaws with the tradition of mending, and another who believes strongly in the tradition and is appreciative of the wall’s presence without really looking at the pointless effect. The contrasting neighbor’s thoughts can be related to society during Frost’s time of writing as well as during the modern society of today in that many people would believe in the speaker’s perception of traditions while others would support traditions.