Birches by Robert Frost: Summary and Analysis

This blank-verse lyric Birches was published in 'Mountain Interval' in 1916. As a boy, the poet was much interested in climbing birch trees, swinging from the tops, till the supple branches bent down to the ground.

Robert Frost (1874-1963)

When the poet sees birches bending to left and right across the lines of dark trees standing upright, he likes to think that some boy must have been swinging them. But he rethinks that mere swinging may not bring birches so low to stay there. It must have been caused by ice storms. Often one must have seen them quite loaded with ice on a sunny winter morning after a rain. Birches begin to click themselves as it blows, and they become multi-colored like enamel. As the sun rises up, birches begin to shed crystal shells very swiftly like avalanches on the snow-crust. The crystal ice looks like heaps of broken glass, as though the inner dome of heaven had fallen and spread over everywhere. The crystal pieces of ice are driven to the 'bracken' and appear unbreakable although they are kept down for long and they do not raise themselves again, but years afterwards their trunks are seen arching in the woods. Their leaves touch and trail on the ground. These arched trees, then appear like girls on hands and knees throwing their hair before them over their heads to dry in the sun.

As the poet was going to say more about it, the truth about the ice-storm flashed in his mind. He felt that some boy, a country bred who had gone out to bring back the cows, must have been bending them. The boy must have gone too far from town to learn baseball. His only play was with the things like birches that came handy during summer or winter, and he was all happy to play alone. One by one, he went up all the trees of his father until he grew himself physically strong enough. Not even a single tree was there that the boy could not have subdued and run over. He acquired all skill needed in the matter. He learnt that launching too soon would carry him and the tree directly to the ground. And when he had reached the top of branches, he maintained the balance and climbed the tree with the same care as one show in filling up a cup to the brim, and even above the brim. Then he applied his feet to the birches and gave a start and reached the ground through the air in no time.

The poet himself was once a player among birches. And so he thinks to become once more. He wishes to be particularly so when he is troubled by earthly worries and problems, and when life seems to him to be a pathless wood with all its hurdles like the cobwebs and the twig's lashing across the face and eye. The poet would like to go away from the earthly desires and then return to them after getting refreshed by swinging. He wants that no fate should misunderstand him and grant him only half of his desire so that he may be permitted to leave the earth, but not to return to it. Earth is the right place to make love, and nowhere else love is to get fulfilled. He would like to go by climbing a birch tree, and would like to climb black branches up to the snow-white trunk toward heaven, until his burden becomes unbearable to the tree. Again he would come back from top to bottom and this would be a source of good joy for him both going and coming back. One could do worse if one did not like to be a swinger of birches.

The central theme of Birches is that the poet dreams of becoming a swinger of birches once again in his life as he was during his boyhood. As the poet is weary of considerations that his life involves, he expresses his desire to be a swinger of birches at least for the present time, but it does not mean that he wishes to escape from his life on earth. It is not the desire of escape that forms the central theme of the poem, but the love of the earth.

Birches is one of Frost's most famous poems. It makes a high level of appeal to love among human beings: "Earth's the right place for love." It creates a love for the earth and earthly things, for "I don't know where it is likely to go better."

The act of swinging on birches is projected as a way to escape the hard and unbearable truth of the adult world, only for a moment. The narrator tells us that the swinging act is going towards heaven and a place where his imagination can be totally free of all earthly pains. He focuses on the narrator’s remorse that he now cannot swing on the birches as he is full of his obligations. The narrator’s yearning to escape from the rational world is indecisive. The moment he thinks of escaping from responsibility by swinging on the birches, he wants to come back to the earth which is the only right place to love.

 Birches is a beautiful poetic piece full of nature images and descriptions. The swinging of the birches shaken by the ice storms, and watched by a boy, in the early hours of the day, till the sunset makes a real appeal to the reader. It is a striking picture of nature. The entire poem abounds in natural images and genuine experiences. The poem is lyrical in content, but it has dramatic turns in its sudden changes of ideas and images. It is rich in eloquence and expression. In the main, it is a narrative or descriptive poem full of "fact and fancy". It has "the power to blend observation and imagination".

Birches is in blank verse, which is a fit vehicle for the expression of deep thoughts and feelings. Blank verse is also suitable for the "poetry of talk". The reader is sure to feel the increasing speed of rhythm as the poem runs to a close.