Birches

Robert Frost

‘Birches’ is one of the most famous, admired, and thoughtful Robert Frost poems. The poem profoundly describes something simple, an ordinary incident, in elevated terms.

Cite

Robert Frost

Nationality: American

Robert Frost is one of the most popular American poets of all time.

His highly accessible work made him famous in his lifetime.

From the description of an ordinary incident, it proceeds to convey a profound thought in a simple manner. It is, like most of Frost’s poems, simple in form and style but complex and deep in thought. Frost has written it in blank verse which moves rhythmically and is highly suitable for the conveyance of its deep thought.

Birches
Robert Frost

When I see birches bend to left and rightAcross the lines of straighter darker trees,I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stayAs ice-storms do. Often you must have seen themLoaded with ice a sunny winter morningAfter a rain. They click upon themselvesAs the breeze rises, and turn many-coloredAs the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shellsShattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—Such heaps of broken glass to sweep awayYou'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 bowedSo low for long, they never right themselves:You may see their trunks arching in the woodsYears afterwards, trailing their leaves on the groundLike girls on hands and knees that throw their hairBefore them over their heads to dry in the sun.But I was going to say when Truth broke inWith all her matter-of-fact about the ice-stormI should prefer to have some boy bend themAs 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 treesBy riding them down over and over againUntil he took the stiffness out of them,And not one but hung limp, not one was leftFor him to conquer. He learned all there wasTo learn about not launching out too soonAnd so not carrying the tree awayClear to the ground. He always kept his poiseTo the top branches, climbing carefullyWith the same pains you use to fill a cupUp 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 woodWhere your face burns and tickles with the cobwebsBroken across it, and one eye is weepingFrom a twig’s having lashed across it open.I'd like to get away from earth awhileAnd then come back to it and begin over.May no fate willfully misunderstand meAnd half grant what I wish and snatch me awayNot 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 trunkToward 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.
Birches by Robert Frost


Birches Analysis

Lines 1-5

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

The poet has himself being a swinger of birches, and as such he has been able to watch their behavior including bending. Now, when he sees birches bending to the left and the right, beyond the rows of erectly standing trees, he tends to imagine that they have been bent by some boy’s swinging on them. But then he thinks that birches cannot be bent down so permanently by the swinging of boys as they can be by ice-storms.

Lines 6-9

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.

The poet who is a speaker in this poem says to the readers or listeners that the latter might have seen birches loaded with ice on a sunny winter morning after it has stopped raining. When the wind blows, they produce a sound like that of iron, by clicking against themselves, and become many-colored because of the cracks in their enamel caused by their movement in the wind.

Lines 10-13

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.

The warmth of the sun makes the fragments snow that look like ‘crystal shells’, fall down from the birches like such big heaps of broken glass that one thinks that the inner dome of the heaven has been broken into pieces and has fallen down in the shape of shattered fragments of its broken glass.

Lines 14-20

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.

The birches are bowed down to the dry fern growing on the earth, because of a load of snow on them; but they are not broken. However, they are bowed down so much for such a long time that they cannot straighten themselves. Their trunks lie arched or bent down in the woods even several years later, and keep their leaves trailing on the ground, like the girls who sit on their hands and knees, spreading their hair over their heads to dry in the sun.

Lines 21-27

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.

While the poet was describing the phenomenon of ice-storm bending the birches, he thought that he would prefer to think that some boy who was looking after his cows, and who had lived too far away from the town to learn and play urban games like base-ball, had found game-swinging birches – which he could play all alone.

Lines 28-32

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. (…)

The boy played the only game he had found, i.e. swinging birches. He had climbed all the birches owned by his father and bent them by swinging up and down till they all become limb and none of them could stand erect. All their stiffness was gone, and not a single tree was left unconquered and unbent by the boy.

Lines 32-41

(…) 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.

The boy learned not to swoop down from a point high up in the air towards the earth swiftly and thus causing the tree to fall down on the ground. He used to climb its top branches in a poised manner or carefully balancing himself with the same pain and care that one bestows while filling cup to the brim, or even above the brim. Then he used to fling himself forward with his feet stretched forward, and passed gently through the air to touch the ground.

Lines 42-49

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.

The poet himself was a swinger of birches in his boyhood; and now he dreams of becoming birch swinger once again. When he is troubled by the worries of the earth and when he is tired of ‘considerations’, when life becomes unbearingly painful to him, when some twig pinches his eye, and the cobwebs burn and tickle his face, he likes to find an escape from this earth for some time, and the to come back to it again and begin his life afresh.

Lines 50-59

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.

The poet wishes that nobody including his fate should misunderstand his desire to escape from this earth, or think that he wants to get away from here never to return. In his opinion, the earth is the right place for love, and he does not know of a better place in this respect. He would like to go towards heaven by swinging upon a birch-tree, and brings him down and sets him on the earth again. It would be, he believes, good for him both to go from, and come back to, the earth as one does while swinging. If a man does not like to be a swinger of birches and live in the two worlds of fact and fancy, he may be a worse man than a swinger of birches.

Critical Appreciation

The poem conveys a lofty and noble message in the line ‘earth is the right place for love’. The life of the poem never stopped until the end and carries the voice through a series of upward and downward swings re-enacting the movement of thought.

The poem, ‘Birches’, turns on an episode: what it means, in several modes, to be a small boy swinger of birches. But before the poem is finished it has become a meditation on the best way to leave earth for heaven. However, leaving the earth is not the only desire of the poet. He wants to come back to it, after some time, because of his love for it. He wants to escape from the troubles of the earth, only to return to it to enjoy the beauty and pleasure it affords, like Keats.

Frost seems to believe in and express the view that the poetry of earth is never dead. Thus, the poem contains deep thought and a noble message in its simple form. Moreover, the poet makes use of a number of objects and actions as symbols to convey his world-view.

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Dharmender Kumar Poetry Expert
About
Dharmender is a writer by passion, and a lawyer by profession. He has has a degree in English literature from Delhi University, and Mass Communication from Bhartiya Vidhya Bhavan, Delhi, as well as holding a law degree. Dharmender is awesomely passionate about Indian and English literature.

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