‘Birches’ is a poem written by the American poet Robert Frost. Frost’s capacity to bring the philosophy of life into common realism is best displayed by this poem.
Largely influenced by the modernist stances of WB Yeats and Thomas Hardy, Frost can show how a human reacts to the universality of Nature especially in an untouched rural setting.
This poem is a perfect example of Frost’s use of conversational language to describe the simplicity of nature i.e. birches and the abstract meanings in it.
The poem is written in Blank verse which means metrical sentences without any rhyme scheme.
The poem begins like the poet is in a candid conversation. He describes that seeing birches bending to left and right makes him think of some boy who swings in them.
When a boy swings in birches, the process reverses when he comes down but the bending of birches due to ice-storms is not the same. Ice storms bend them down to stay. He reminds us how on a sunny winter morning, we can often see birches loaded with ice after a rain.
The poet minutely observes how the rising breeze cracks the glazed surface made over the birches by snow. The warmth which comes from the sun starts melting the ice covering those birches. Ice starts falling like crystal shells and shattering together to create an avalanche.
They look like heaps of broken glass and their sharp sound of crashing makes one think as if the inner dome of heaven has fallen.
A load of fallen ice on them brings them down to the withered bracken, a kind of fern growing on the ground. They remain bowed for so long without straightening themselves once.
The poet describes how one can see them years later in the woods with their leaves touching the ground. A beautiful image of girls throwing their hair over their heads while they are on their hands and knees to dry in the sun is sketched here to compare it with the birches lowering their leaves to the ground.
The poet enters into a reverie about a rural image of the boy going out to fetch cows. He says that when ice storms do that to birches, he’d like such a boy to bend them while doing such housework.
It reminds him of the loneliness of such a boy which is probably the loneliness of the poet’s own childhood. Such a boy goes on bringing down the branches of birches by swinging on them one after another which looks like bringing the stiffness out of them.
For the poet, it is to conquer their stiffness one after another and bring them under control or subdue. He wonders how such a boy learns how to swing in such a way that the tree clearly doesn’t come down to the ground, he climbs carefully and keeps his poise.
Climbing to the top of the birches is like filling a cup carefully up to the brim and even above the brim which is very vulnerable to slip out yet it can be achieved. Then the boy holds the birch with his hand and throws feet outward and come down swiftly making a whistling sound in the air.
The poet then remembers suddenly that as a child he was a swinger of birches too. He dreams of going back to become so again. He does it when he is tired of life and its hard decisions which one needs to make.
Tired of such considerations, life becomes a pathless wood for him. The very realistic description of losing amidst the wood and climbing a birch becomes metaphorical.
The life becomes very hard at times like one’s face is burning and tickling with the cobwebs broken across it. The poet describes the hard skills of climbing a tree when a twig occasionally bruises against one’s eye causing it to weep. It is very much like life’s hardships.
The poet is tired of life’s such trails and at times he wishes to get away from earth awhile so that he can come back to it later and begin everything afresh. He is not saying that he wants to go away for always.
He prays that may no fate wilfully misunderstands this wish of him to get away from earth. He gives a strong statement that Earth is the right place for love. He is not sure whether there is another better place than this.
So, such a wish to get away for a while from the earth and come down to it is very similar to climbing on a birch tree whose snow-white trunk feels like climbing toward heaven.
When the tree can’t bear him anymore, it’ll dip its top and bring him down to the ground again. For a while, he will get fresh. It feels very good to go up and come back again. It is the best alternative the poet can put forward on the face of life’s hardships and he says that one could do worse than be a swinger of birches.