” Birches ” is a poem by American poet Robert Frost (1874-1963). It was collected in Frost’s third collection of poetry Mountain Interval that was published in 1916. Consisting of 59 lines, it is one of Robert Frost’s most anthologized poems. The poem “Birches”, along with other poems that deal with rural landscape and wildlife, shows Frost as a nature poet.
Frost’s writing of this poem was inspired by another similar poem “Swinging on a Birch-tree” by American poet Lucy Larcom and his own experience of swinging birch trees at his childhood. Frost once told “it was almost sacrilegious climbing a birch tree till it bent, till it gave and swooped to the ground, but that’s what boys did in those days”. Written in 1913-1914, “Birches” first appeared in Atlantic Monthly in the August issue of 1915, and was later collected in Frost’s third book Mountain Interval (1916).
When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father’s trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
When the speaker (the poet himself) sees the birches being bent to left and right sides in contrast to straight trees, he likes to think that some boys have been swinging them. He then realizes that it is not the boys, rather the ice storms that bend the birches. On a winter morning, freezing rain covers the branches with ice, which then cracks and falls to the snow covered ground. The sunlight refracts on the ice crystals, making a brilliant display. When the Truth again strikes the speaker, he still prefers his imagination of the boys swinging and bending the birches. In his imagination, the boy plays with the birches. The speaker says he also was a swinger of birches when he was a boy, and wishes to be so now. When he becomes weary of this world, and life
becomes confused, he likes to go toward heaven by climbing a birch tree and then come back again because earth is the right place for love.
This poem is written in blank verse with a particular emphasis on the “sound of sense.” For example, when Frost describes the cracking of the ice on the branches, his selections of syllables create a visceral sense of the action taking place: “Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells / Shattering and avalanching on the snow crust — / Such heaps of broken glass
to sweep away…” Originally, this poem was called “Swinging Birches,” a title that perhaps provides a more accurate depiction of the subject. In writing this poem, Frost was inspired by his childhood experience with swinging on birches, which was a popular game for children in rural areas of New England during the time. Frost’s own children were avid “birch swingers,” as demonstrated by a selection from his daughter Lesley’s journal: “On the way home, i
climbed up a high birch and came down with it and i stopped in the air about three feet and pap cout me.” In the poem, the act of swinging on birches is presented as a way to escape the hard rationality or “Truth” of the adult world, if only for a moment. As the boy climbs up the tree, he is climbing toward “heaven” and a place where his imagination can be free.
The narrator explains that climbing a birch is an opportunity to “get away from earth awhile / And then come back to it and begin over.” A swinger is still grounded in the earth through the roots of the tree as he climbs, but he is able to reach beyond his normal life on the earth and reach for a higher plane of existence.
Frost highlights the narrator’s regret that he can no longer find this peace of mind from swinging on birches. Because he is AN ADULT, he is unable to leave his responsibilities behind and climb toward heaven until he can start fresh on the earth. In fact, the narrator is not even able to enjoy the imagined view of a boy swinging in the birches. In the fourth line of the poem, he is forced to acknowledge the “Truth” of the birches: the bends are caused by winter storms, not by a boy swinging on them.
Significantly, the narrator’s desire to escape from the rational world is inconclusive. He wants to escape as a boy climbing toward heaven, but he also wants to return to the earth: both “going and coming back.” The freedom of imagination is appealing and wondrous, but the narrator still cannot avoid returning to “Truth” and his responsibilities on the ground; the escape is only a temporary one. The poem is full of ambiguity and it has got a very aesthetic sense to it.
THE THEMES OF IMAGINATION VS THE REAL WORLD
One important theme of “Birches” is how Frost uses his poetic imagination to transcend the limits of the real world. He rejects the true reason the birches have been bent over in favor of his own fanciful explanation. On some level, he is claiming that this act of the imagination embodies a larger “truth” and is a worthy task, one that must be made with great care and diligence.
THE THEMES OF YOUTH.
Youth, like death, is a constant backdrop for many of Frost’s poems. The speaker of “Birches” never sees a boy or comes across one. He only imagines one, and the boy that he does imagine is himself at a younger age. The boy seems to be similar to William Wordsworth and Walt Whitman’s portrayals of boys. These boys have their own rules and wisdom that they can pass on to the older men and women around them. They are ready for adventures in nature and represent the wild, untamed state of “man” that remains good and moral even though no one is there to govern him.
THE THE OF SPIITUALITY
Robert Frost is not the kind of poet to insert religious imagery into his poems. A subtle Christian allusion is rare. However, the poet writes a lot of meditations on life and death, so that
always brings in spiritual questions. In “Birches,” Frost mentions “heaven” twice. Notice how it is always with a lower- case h and is more suggestive of the sky than paradise. The poem could be read as an allegory, but it’s a little too skeptical for that.
THE THEMES OF ISOLATION.
As with much of Frost’s poetry, “Birches” creates a mood of loneliness and isolation. Some factors that contribute to the,mood include the winter weather, which seems to cut the speaker off from other people, and the speaker’s discussion of the boy growing up on an isolated farm. The speaker’s loneliness may be the result of adult concerns. and considerations.
ASSIGNMENT :DISCUSS “BIRCHES” AS A POEM CELEBRATING THE BEAUTY AND VITALITY OF NATURE.