Birches by Robert Frost

The poem “Birches” by Robert Frost dates back to 1916, where the poet uses birches as a symbol of peace and serenity, giving him a chance to go back to his childhood days. But the poet is also forced to acknowledge the harsh realities of life that stops to the poet from going to a world without the “Truth” of the adult life.



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.

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Analysis of Frost’s “Birches”

Originally coined “Swinging Birches”, this great poem by Robert Frost is written in blank verse with a particular emphasis on the “sound of sense.” His syllable usage in portraying the sounds creates a visceral sense of the action that takes place in front of him, or even in his imagination.

In writing the poem, Frost illustrates his childhood experiences in swinging on birches, which was very popular among the kids in rural areas of New England during the time. Even Frost’s kids were avid birch swingers, which can be seen from his daughter Lesley’s journal, which states her experience of climbing a high birch tree, swinging on it, and eventually stopping in the air about three feet high when her “pap” caught her.

In the poem, swinging on the birch is an excuse to escape from the everyday reality of life, where we often forget who we are, and live in the moment escaping hard rationality of the adult world. The narrator describes that although the birch is grounded in the soil of the earth through the roots and stems of the trees he climbs, he still goes to a place which deviates from the flow of normal life; a place of higher existence.

Frost sincerely highlights that the narrator feels utter regret for not being able to find peace of mind from swinging on the birches. Because he is an adult, he is now being unable to leave all his responsibilities and climb the hypothetical “heaven” and has been searching for to restart his life on earth.

In the fourth line of the poem, the narrator is forced to acknowledge the cold, harsh reality of life: the birch swings are not bent because of the children swinging there, but because of the winter storms. This shows the narrator’s darkest and deepest fears of how peace of minds is a temporary illusion.

The poem shows us a dilemma that the narrator consistently goes through, about going to and coming back from a world free from the “Truth” of this life.

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