Summary and Analysis: Birches by Robert Lee Frost.

Birches by Robert Lee
Frost : Summary and Analysis.


    Summary and Analysis birches


Birches can be regarded as one of the most famous, admired
and thoughtful of Frost’s poems. 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.
When the speaker sees bent birch trees, he likes to think
that they are bent because boys have been “swinging” them. He knows that they are,
in fact, bent by ice storms. Yet he prefers his vision of a boy climbing a tree
carefully and then swinging at the tree’s
crest to the ground. He used to do this himself and dreams of going back to
those days. He likens birch swinging to getting “away from the earth awhile” and then coming back.


When I see birches bend to left and right
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
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.
Soon the sun’s
warmth makes them shed crystal shells
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.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
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 the 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.
Frost also imbues the poem with distinct sexual imagery. The
idea of tree-climbing, on its own, has sexual overtones. The following lines are
more overt:
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.
As are these more sensual:
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 whole process of birch swinging iterates that of sex, and
at least one critic has noted that “Birches” is a poem about erotic fantasy, about
a lonely, isolated boy who yearns to conquer these trees sexually. It is a testament
to the richness of the poem that it fully supports readings as divergent as those
mentioned here—and many more.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
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 a game-swinging
birches – which he could play all
One by one he subdued his father’s trees
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.
He learned all there was
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
The boy learnt 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.
And so I dream of going back to be.
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.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
The poet wishes that nobody including his fate should
misunderstood 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 up on 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.
Two more items to consider: First, reread the poem and think
about the possible connections between getting “away from the earth for awhile” (line 48) and death. Consider the viewpoint of the
speaker and where he seems to be at in his life. Secondly, when the speaker
proclaims, in line 52, “Earth’s the right place for love,” this is the first mention of
love in the poem. Of what kind of love does he speak? There are many kinds of
love, just as there are many potential objects of love. Try relating this love
to the rest of the poem.

Spread the love

Leave a Comment