Analysis Of Birches

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Analysis Of Birches

The poem Birches

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 5
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 10
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 15
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. 20
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, 25
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, 30
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 35
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. 40
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 45
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 not fate willfully misunderstand me 50
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 55
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.

Analysis Of Birches

The title is “Birches,” but the subject is birch “swinging.” And the theme of poem seems to be, more generally and more deeply, this motion of swinging. The force behind it comes from contrary pulls—truth and imagination, earth and heaven, concrete and spirit, control and abandon, flight and return. We have the earth below, we have the world of the treetops and above, and we have the motion between these two poles. The whole upward thrust of the poem is toward imagination, escape, and transcendence—and away from heavy Truth with a capital T. The downward pull is back to earth. Likely everyone understands the desire “to get away from the earth awhile.” The attraction of climbing trees is likewise universal. Who would not like to climb above the fray, to leave below the difficulties or drudgery of the everyday, particularly when one is “weary of considerations, / And life is too much like a pathless wood.” One way to navigate a pathless wood is to climb a tree. But this act of climbing is not necessarily so pragmatically motivated: For the boy, it is a form of play; for the man, it is a transcendent escape. In either case, climbing birches seems synonymous with imagination and the imaginative act, a push toward the ethereal, and even the contemplation of death. But the speaker does not leave it at that. He does not want his wish half- fulfilled—does not want to be left, so to speak, out on a limb. If climbing trees is a sort of push toward transcendence, then complete transcendence means never to come back down. But this speaker is not someone who puts much stock in the promise of an afterlife. He rejects the self-delusional extreme of imagination, and he reinforces his ties to the earth. He says, “Earth’s the right place for love,” however imperfect, though his “face burns” and “one eye is weeping.” He must escape to keep his sanity; yet he must return to keep going. He wants to push “toward heaven” to the limits of earthly possibility, but to go too far is to be lost. The upward motion requires a complement, a swing in the other direction to maintain a livable balance. And that is why the birch tree is the perfect vehicle. As a tree, it is rooted in the ground; in climbing it, one has not completely severed ties to the earth. Moreover, as the final leap back down takes skill, experience, and courage, it is not a mere retreat but a new trajectory. Thus, one’s path up and down the birch is one that is “good both going and coming back.” The “Truth” of the ice storm does not interfere for long; for the poet looks at bent trees and imagines another truth: nothing lessh than a recipe for how to live well.

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1]The theme 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.
2]The theme 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.
3] The theme of Spirituality
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.
4]The theme 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.
Lines 1 – 4
The first four lines of Birches are iambic pentameter, no doubt. The poet sets up the steady foundational beat as he starts to explore, ten syllables per line, five feet (/):
When I / see bir / ches 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
Note the heavy bold stressed syllables and normal unstressed. Simple, single syllable words are dominant in these opening lines.
In the following analysis, lines of pure iambic pentameter are shown in normal type, as are lines 2,3 and 4 above. Lines with metrical variants are marked.
Lines 5 – 9
Enjambment (carrying on a line without punctuation) leads us onto line 5; indeed enjambment takes the reader on to line 9, the ice-storm coming into focus as syntax changes and the line rhythms alter:
As ice- / storms do. / Often / you must /have seen them
Loaded / with ice / a sun / ny wint / er morning
After / a rain. / They click / upon / themselves
As the / breeze ri / ses, and / turn man / y-colored
As the / stir cracks / and cra / zes their / enamel.
As is obvious, pure iambic pentameter has suddenly departed! There are variations on a theme of altered rhythm with these five fascinating lines, four of which have eleven syllables, the same four ending with an unstressed (feminine) syllable. So, trochees and spondees are prevalent, as are pyrrhics and amphibrachs. These combine in a variety of ways to echo the ice-storms rise and fall.
The enjambment meanwhile urges the reader to continue straight on line to line, with little pause, which can sometimes change the way opening words are stressed.
Some critics and poets offer different scans for certain of these lines. One aspect that isn’t in dispute is the use of hard alliteration in line 9, with cracks and crazes.
Lines 10 – 13
Subtle alliteration, in contrast to the preceding line, adds sibilance and mystery to line 10, and the reader is invited to agree with the speaker as the ice crystals fall and reality is shattered:
Soon the / sun’s warmth / makes them / shed cry / stal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think / the in / ner dome / of heaven/ had fallen.
Note the use of onomatopoeia in shattering and the four syllable avalanching, quite dramatic use of the present participle. Again, the iambic pentameter is broken (except in line 12), with trochee and spondee. Line 13 is sometimes treated as a twelve syllable line but in this example heaven is taken to be a single syllable, not two.
Lines 14 – 20
There is a hint of rhyme in the following two lines (load/bowed) but this is more accident than design because this is blank verse and there are not supposed to be end rhymes, strictly speaking. Enjambment is used, allowing for sense to run on into the next line with no punctuation:
They are dragged / to the with / ered brack / en by / the load,
And they seem not to break; though oncethey are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may / see their / trunks arch / ing in / the woods
Years after / wards, trail / ing their / leaves on / the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before / them o / ver their heads / to dry /in the sun.
A mix of meters here: two lines present iambic pentameter, the rest are mixed. Line 14 is particularly stretched out with those opening anapaests reinforcing the assonance of dragged/bracken. The spondee in line 18 prolongs the time scale somewhat and the simile that follows creates a wonderful feminine image.
All in all this section is full of prepositions, note: to the, by the, in the, on the -signifying the end of the ice-storm and an attempt to get back on track with the real narrative.
Lines 21 – 27
The speaker returns to the idea of the boy swinging on the birches, from line 3, instead of the ice-storm. This section maintains the steady iambic undertones but peppers the lines with trochees now and then (inverted iambs), whilst anapaests occasionally intervene:
But I / was go / ing to say / when Truth /broke in
With all / her mat / ter-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 win / ter, and / could play /alone.
Note the alliteration here and there and the emphasis on ten syllable lines (23-27), suggesting that this is almost a return to the speaker’s idea of normality.
Lines 28 – 40
The next eleven lines concentrate on the boy’s actions and again are full of variations on a theme of iambic. Two of the lines are pure iambic pentameter, the rest reveal trochees, spondees, pyrrhics and anapaest, slowing down then speeding up proceedings, reflecting the action of the lone boy:
One by / one he / subdued / his fa / ther’s trees
By rid / ing them down / over / and o / ver again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not / one but / hung limp, / not one /was left
For him / to con / quer. He / learned all /there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so / not car / ry ing / the tree / away
Clear to / the ground. / He al / ways kept /his poise
To the / top branch / es, climb / ing care / fully
With the / same pains / you use / to fill / a cup
Up to / the brim, / and e / ven a bove / the brim.
Then he / flung out / ward, feet / first, with / a swish,
Kicking / his way / down through / the air / to the ground.
Note the subtle use of internal consonance – them/them/limp/him/climbing/brim/brim. And alliteration pops up in several lines.
Lines 41 – 53
The speaker declares himself a swinger of birches; he could be the boy. Metrically some of these lines are far from the iambic foundation, with pyrrhics and amphibrachs – just like the speaker who wants to get away from earth, the rhythm changes – but not too much. The boy still needs to stay grounded:
So was / I once / myself / a swinger / of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when / I’m wea / ry of / consid / erations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your / face burns / and tick / les with / the cobwebs
Broken / across / it, and / one eye / is weeping
From a / twig’s hav / ing 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 will / fully mis / understandme
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 like /ly to go /better.
Lines 54 – 59
The remaining lines confirm the speaker’s desire. He’d like to climb a birch and experience that sensation again, of going up towards heaven and falling back to the earth.
I’d like / to go / by climb / ing a / birchtree,
And climb / black bran / ches 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 go / ing and com / ing back.
One could / do worse / than be / a swinger / of birches.
There are some ambiguities along the way. For example, how to pronounce Toward – is it a single syllable or two? If it is pronounced T’ward then the line becomes pure iambic pentameter; if Toward then the remaining feet become trochees, which wouldn’t work. So the former, T’ward, fits best.

All in all, complex rhythms show up in a traditional iambic framework, reflecting the unusual perspective Frost had on the everyday things he encountered. There is music and texture, repetition but not monotony, and the clever use of alliteration and internal rhyme make this a poem for speaking out loud. But not too loud.
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