Escaping can be a productive coping mechanism to life’s many demands and challenges. There must be an exploration of their existence in this world full of confusion and desire to find their own entity. Robert Frosts’ poem “Birches” is a reflective poem about an old man dwelling on his youthful days with a strong desire to return. He also knows that he has a responsibility stay as an adult with responsibilities. Consequently there may be controversy over this desire; he thinks that it is okay to escape reality from time to time. He wants to continually return to that particular feeling that he gets while swinging from tree to tree. Swinging from tree to tree gives a person a pleasurable sensation of being “high”. However he did not want to linger at the tops of the birches for an extended period of time. Ice on the trees can linger on until the tree is so bowed that it cannot return to its original state. In other words, he plays it safe while climbing and swinging from tree to tree. Life is not about having fun all of the time. Discipline and other factors come in to play as part of being an adult. Of course the birch trees are metaphoric for the point that the author is trying to make. In this poem the reader is taken through a journey full of imagery, tonality, symbolism, rhythm and rhyme.
The poem begins with “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”. (Frost p.1107-1108)
This provides the reader imagery of how it makes the narrator feel when looking upon birch trees that are bowed a little bit. Flashbacks of his childhood occur while the narrator gazes upon the tops of the bent birches. Similarly this could be how the author actually sees himself and applies to his understanding of how to balance everything out. Also the “darker” trees can be considered older or less tampered with. (Frost p.1107-1108)
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There is a break in the poem which reads, “But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay as ice-storms do”. (Frost p.1107-1108) This tells the reader that it is not the boys that bend the branches down permanently; rather it is the ice-storms. Frost then elaborates on the beauty of these ice covered trees. This could be considered an analogy of when in youth things can appear very dazzling, but when old age approaches the ice shatters. There is a depressing connotation that appears in the mind of a reader during this stanza. The sense of destruction comes from the ice shattering from the birches.
“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”. (Frost p.1107-1108) Moreover through the progression of the poem Frost dismisses the ice-storm idea and continues on with the boy bending the birches even though he knows that the ice actually caused the tree’s predicament. He chooses to carry on the idea even though it overrules logic. It also shows the authors creative world without boundaries.
“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.
(Frost p.1107-1108) The boy’s conquest over the trees reflects the victory of Frost’s poetic imagination over the real world. His vision has now replaced the ice storm as the cause of the trees’ condition. Another specific point to take not of line 33, “He learned all there was to learn about not launching out too soon”. (Frost p.1107-1108) This stanza makes the point that he was careful about not growing up too fast. He didn’t want to miss out on the opportunities of being a kid. As adolescences, a young adult in a sense wants to grow up, yet on the other hand doesn’t want the responsibilities of an adult.
There is a certain technique that the boy has for climbing and bending the birches. He didn’t want to damage the trees in any way, shape, or form. “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.” (Frost p.1107-1108) This is important because Frost is describing a method of reaching beyond the limits of things to a realm beyond reality. Not only is this just the internal world of his imagination but something even greater. It is a theme that he will begin to develop more fully toward the ending of the poem. There is a parallel resemblance of the carefulness the boy climbs the trees and how carefully Frost constructed this poem.
In the introduction to lines 41-42, Frost reminisces about being a swinger of birches himself. “So was I once myself a swinger of birches. And so I dream of going back to be”. (Frost p.1107-1108) He continually has the desire and longing to relive those carefree moments from his childhood. Consequently this stands in sharp contrast with the pain of the adult world; however this section also further develops the theme of the imagined world versus the real world. Thus far the narrator has conquered the birches of being a worry-free, playful time when one
person can alone remake the world as he imagines it. Now he must conquer the real world which is, it seems too much of a challenge for him. “When I am weary of considerations and life is too much like pathless wood.”(Frost p.1107-1108) This is the point where he wants to run away from reality. It becomes too uncomfortable to handle. At this point he wants to escape. “I’d like to get away from earth awhile and then come back to it and begin over”. (Frost p.1107-1108) Why does he want to begin it all over again through an endless cycle? “Earth is the right place for love”. (Frost p.1107-1108) There are emotions to feel and other experiences to be had that can’t be accomplished away from the ground. One must deal with discomfort in order to know comfort. It is essential to progress in this life.
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When a person daydreams or consumes alcohol, etc. It is considered running away. During this state that the person is in, they are swinging on birches. Most of the time, one completely disregards reality in which they are consumed by a world that they have created. Many times this world is a place of comfort and serenity. It is a place that all the cares and worries of the world are quarantined. Furthermore, this can cause many problems for a particular person who exercises these kinds of habits on a daily basis. Frost tells the readers to be careful of staying off the ground for an extended period of time. Likewise one can become an incomplete individual without experiencing emotions such as love.
During the conclusion of this poem, the reader discovers that filling a cup beyond its brim can make it possible to exceed the limits of the real world only to a certain extent or else there could be disaster lurking around the corner. “One could do worse that be a swinger of birches”.
(Frost p.1107-1108) Of course everyone has limitations. That is what defines the character of a human being. Boundaries are critical to our development, thus one must respect those laws.
Furthermore there will always be opposites that attract and make all things possible both to see and feel. Without limitations Frost would not be able to use his imagination in ways that completely mesmerize his readers.
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