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.
The poem, “Birches” by Frost is a dramatic monologue that highlights the poet persona’s observation of the trees, birches. He recognises that the ‘birches bend to left and right/Across the lines of straighter darker trees’. From his intuition, he had imagined that the bend is as a result of ‘some boy’s been swinging them.’ But on a second note, he sees that this kind of bend is different in ‘But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay/As ice-storm do.’
What had been the workings of some boys in a pleasurable manner has been left for snow rain to subdue. Due to the change brought in by technology and science, the poet speaker observes that the birches have been left alone for ice storms to deal with. He reveals how snows have forcefully bent the birches into sharps that they find it difficult to ‘right themselves’. He says ‘You may see their trunks arching in the woods/Years afterwards,’ which explains how the negligence of the society has promoted battering of nature in form of trees. But through the aid of flashback, the poet speaker hints on the position in ‘I should prefer to have some boy bend them/As he went out and in to fetch the cows’. From his desire, we realised how his boyhood experience had been in great affinity with swinging on birches in a pastoral setting. He establishes a dichotomy between the lifestyle and interest of the boy in a pastoral setting and modern setting by saying, ‘Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,/Whose only play was what he found himself,/Summer or winter, and could play alone.’ He highlights the excitement that dictates the manner in which ‘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’. In the subsequent lines, he shows us the degree of dexterity deployed by some boy ‘to conquer’ the birches. In his words, ‘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.’ However, the poet persona makes us to understand that he wishes to return to such experiences of his boyhood days in ‘So was I one a swinger of birches/And so I dream of going back to be.’ He goes further to inform that his desire is stirred by frustration with his present modern society as stated in ‘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’. The disappointment recorded in the modern world or society forces him to cry, ‘I’d like to get away from earth awhile/And then come back to it and begin over.’ He calls for a respite from the notion of survival of the fittest which governs how things are run. In order to always ease oneself of the suffocating nature of life of the modern world, he reiterates in the lines: ‘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.’ He reaffirms, ‘One could do worse than be a swinger of birches’ to be completely free like nature.
ANALYZING THE POETIC DEVICES AND THEMES IN THE POEM
Dramatic Monologue: We notice through the use of the first person pronoun ‘I’ and the second person pronoun ‘You’, the poet has through the device dramatic monologue unveil his thought on how the birches have been neglected in the hands of ice storms to bend. Through it, dramatically recaps what his boyhood experience looked like as he is left to swing on birches. Through is also, his frustration is noted as he confesses ‘It’s when I’m weary of considerations/And life is too much like a pathless wood’.
Simile: In order to draw the attention of his readers to his intended point of view, the poet speaker deploys simile in ‘… trailing their leaves on ground/Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair’ to describe the way the leaves of long forgotten birches bent by ice storms. Also, to communicate his displeasure with affairs of the present society, he says, ‘And life is too much like a pathless wood’.
Imagery: Right from the opening of the poem where the poet recounts, ‘When I see birches bend to left and right/Across the lines of straighter darker trees,’ we recorded the use of imagery. With this device, readers could visualise even the boyhood experience of the poet speaker and internalise his perception of birches. And this device is seen to run through the poem in complementary effort to dramatic monologue.
Personification: This device is employed in the line, ‘But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay/As ice-storms do.’ As humans, ice-storms bend these birches. Also, in ‘As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored’, the poet speaker personifies the human attribute of rising and turning on breeze.
Onomatopoeia: To fasten the reception and retention of meaning, the poet decides to engage onomatopoeia. Such words like ‘click’, ‘cracks’, ‘crazes’, ‘crystal’, ‘shattering’, ‘tickle’ and ‘lashed’ are utilised as their sound help create meaning.
The simplicity and blissfulness of nature: Due to the complexities and bewilderment that characterise his present modern society, the poet speaker reveals his secret desires as he says, ‘I’d like to get away from earth awhile’. This is because for him ‘… life is too much like a pathless wood/Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs/Broken across it’. The bastardised spate of the modern society which is divulged of the touch of nature and known for its suffocating tendencies has ignited the quest for his youthful days characterised by the presence of nature in the lines, ‘So was I once myself a swinger of birches/And so I dream of going back to be.’ He says this, not without extending a reason for such move: ‘It’s when I’m weary of considerations’. Furthermore, the simplicity of nature can be viewed from the lines, ‘Some boy too far from town to learn baseball/Whose only play was what he found himself/Summer or winter, and could play alone.’ Even alone, playing with nature is blissful.
The theme of innocence and purity: The poet persona through the lines of the poem highlights innocency and purity in the attitude of the boy with the birches. No wonder he says, ‘I should prefer to have some boy bend them’. This is because the boy does not bend them that they find it difficult to right themselves. In ‘You may see their trunks arching in the woods/Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground,’ it is observed that the ice storms are mindless of what happens to the birches. Unlike the reckless attitude of the players of the modern society, the concern of the pastoral society is affirmed in ‘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.’ His innocence and purity is heightened by his request to fate not to misinterpret his words or desires as noted in ‘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.’
GENERAL EVALUATIONS/REVISION QUESTIONS
- Highlight on the theme of peaceful co-existence in the poem, “Birches”
- Comment on the poetic devices used in the poem, “Birches”
- A speech in a play in which a character speaks his or her thought alone is A. a monologue. B. an aside. C. a soliloquy. D. an epilogue.
- In Literature, repetition is used essentially for A. rhyme. B. suspense. C. allusion.
- The pattern of a poem without reference to its content is referred to as the A. limerick.
B. metre.C. free verse. D. form
- The performers in a play constitute the A. chorus. B. character. C. audience. D. cast.
- A metrical foot in which a stressed syllable is following by an unstressed syllable is
A. iambic.B. spondaic.C. trochaic D. dactylic.
- Comment on the issue of unhealthy rivalry in the poem, “Birches”
- Assess the diction of the poem, “Birches”
- Give a detailed content analysis of the poem, “Birches”.
- Examine the poem, “Birches” as a romantic work.
- “Here comes the princess, now heaven walls on earth”, illustrates the use of A. contrast. B. metaphor. C. metonymy. D. meiosis
- An ode is usually a poem written for A. condemnation. B. celebration. C. instruction.
- The main character in a literary work is the A. antagonist. B. protagonist. C. narrator.
- A sonnet may be divided into an octave and A. tercet. B. quatrain. C. sestet. D. septet.
- “All hands on deck” is an example of A. metaphor. B personification. C. synecdoche
Read the content analysis of the poem in Exam Focus and summarise it.