Analysis of “Birches”: By Robert Frost

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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.

Robert Frost reveals the craving for freedom through his poem “Birches”

‘Birches’ is a poem that describes the desire for freedom, especially the childhood freedom. Swinging trees were such experiences that the speaker has lost. He compares the movement of the birches down and up again as the way life should be. One should always be able to return to an experience that is better preferred at given times.

He started by saying that he liked to think that the birches which were not standing straight were bent by boys who played on them, but he found that it were not only children that bent birches. Snow does also, except that snow makes them stay permanently bent.  The ice stick to the stems until it becomes heavy enough to cause the stem to bend even when after a while the heavy ice breaks off (… “once they are bowed so long, they never right themselves”). Because the ice remains stuck to the tree for a long time, the trees eventually remain bent. For many years, the stems of birches remain bent and their leaves touch the ground looking like girls crawling and their hair hanging low.

The speaker is very interested in the bending of the birches, but it should not be ice doing it. it should young boys who may be out to grace the cows in a rural setting where there are only little opportunity to play; where there are no games like baseball for them to play. So the common play available is swinging trees which after a while remain bent. They could bend all the trees in the area until there is scarcely any tree standing straight (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). The speaker says he was at some point involved in swinging birches, and he dreams of doing it again.

He compares the bending of birches with the situation of life. When he climbs up the birch, he goes up; and as he approaches the top, the birch bends and brings him back down. He wishes life is just like that; that one could die and come back to life and die and come back again, on and on. This is because he feels that life is not always pleasant. Going and coming in that manner will reduce the regret experienced in life (and life is too much like a pathless wood… I’d like to get away from earth awhile and then come back to it and begin over).

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.

But then he would rather remain on earth, if he will not be able to return after death. To him, “earth is the right place for love”. That is, inasmuch as life has a lot of huddles, it is still better than to be dead.

I’d like to get away from earth awhile

And then come back to it and begin over.

May no fate wilfully misunderstand me

And half grant what I wish and snatch me away

Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:

Robert Frost captures the desire of man to be free of restriction. One should be able to get what he wants whenever he wants it. One should be in control of his life and desires.

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