#4 “Birches” (Robert Frost)

The paper birch is one of the most glorious trees of northern North America. It’s not a universal image, perhaps (any more than the blackberry canes that cover waste ground in England), but it’s one of the most striking features of the New England landscape, and familiar to more people than perhaps have ever seen live birch trees through the medium of Robert Frost’s great poem “Birches.”

Birches, as the poem suggests, are easily bent. It’s their way of surviving northern winters, with their frosts and icings. The phenomenon of birches bent to the ground, never quite recovering their upright posture, can be seen in any number of photos on the Internet.

But that is a matter of fact, and “Birches” is a matter of fancy. The speaker imagines a boy taking the place of a natural force. That boy takes up a lonely game of standing in for ice, swinging the birches down with his own weight, so that they will resume their upright posture afterwards, no worse for the experience. The very uncanny nature of the game makes the poem great and terrible. Frost, as we have seen this semester, is the great poet of working outdoors. But this poem is all about play, done purely for its own sake. And while people have doubtless swung birches just as Frost describes in the poem, and still do and will do as long as children have leisure and short attention spans, the game is so pointless that it captures the wonder of art and of existence.

Swinging birches is a benign game with enough of a hint of danger to be momentous. As Frost describes it, it’s also a careful art with enough of a hint of freedom to be exciting – much, certainly, like poetry itself.

23 responses to “#4 “Birches” (Robert Frost)

  1. I totally agree with the statement made in class…”Nobody doesn’t like this poem.” I’ve noticed that in this class in particular most of us enjoy the more simple poems. This poem is just that! However, it’s not only uncomplicated it’s also very fun and playful. In this poem the speaker is wondering how great it would be to go back to your childhood and play the game you most enjoyed playing. I can relate to the speaker because one of my favorite things to do as a kid involved just me and nature. I always liked to go outside and make mud pies! In a silly childish way, when I was outside playing in the mud I felt in harmony with nature just as it seems the boy in the poem felt. Another one of the reasons this poem is so wonderful is because it takes the sadness out of a sort of natural disaster. It’s a lot more fun to explain why a tree is bent over by using your imagination than by explaining that it happens as a result of ice storms. After reading this poem I started thinking of the scene implanted in my head of when I went to visit my grandmother in Saragosa, TX the day after a Tornado had hit. If I use my imagination to think of other reasons why the town looked they way it did it makes the experience a little less traumatic.

  2. This is a poem about reflection, of childhood memories. Thinking back to the way things were when I was a child and thinking..now was that because that’s the way the trees, etc were supposed to be or was that because we played so much with them? We used to have a palm tree in our front yard. I used to go and swing on the palms and pull the bark off. Some of the palms were lower than others…now was because I swung on them so much or was that due to the winds and rains and hurricanes we had a good bit of (I grew up in s.tx and we had a good bit of hurricanes). It was a fun tree to have so I understand about the birch tree. My grandparents used to have a pine tree in their front yard and I remember playing with that too! Did the prickly leaves/sticks fall off the tree because I played with it or because they were supposed to fall. As in the poem says, “But swinging doen’t bend them down to stay. Ice-storms do that.” So, that is what the trees were supposed to..it wasn’t because of me. Another frined of mine used to have a banana tree in her yard and that tree was curved. We used to climb on the curved branches and sit and talk for hours. The branch was not curved because we sat on it, it was curved because that is the way the tree was. So many thoughts of childhood events and did we cause nature to form a certain way or is that the way things are. Yep..that’s it! Nature

  3. I really enjoy how robert frost uses the vivid refrences of the trees bending in the winter as a way for them to survive the bitter and cruel winter. I do enjoy the work of Robert Frost, but this poem, on the other hand is a poem gives the credit to children at play for the reason of the tree’s being bowed down as if inviting the children to play. The refrence to that brought back many memories of my own childhood, where me and my little brother would climb up the tree as if it were a big mountain. I really enjoyed this poem, i have grew fond of it.

  4. In the poem “Birches,” Robert Frost contrasts adulthood and childhood, age and youth, reality and play. The “ice storms” allude to the realities and responsibilities that come with being an adult. Throughout life, these realities burden us down from their weight. As we continue under the load, we lose our innocence, imagination, dreams, and the ability to play. The weight of the “ice storms” shatters our imagination and creativity like “broken glass to sweep away.” We try not to give up, but the realities of our lives “Truth” and age “As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel”are always there to remind us of what is real and not imaginary. We desire to get from under the load of the ice, but we can’t find our way back to the carefree days of our youth. Frost says, “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.” We find ourselves wandering through “pathless woods” searching for the place where we can be free again. We take two weeks vacations to play and renew, but “Truth” keeps interrupting and bringing us back to reality. When my daughter graduated from University of Texas at Austin, she had to get a job and student’s loans came due. She said, “I like childhood better because it is too hard being an adult.” I said, “Welcome to the real world.” I wonder if there was a time when Robert Frost wrote poetry only for enjoyment instead of for pay. For some reason, I feel he is referring to his life and his poems. Perhaps, the “ice storms” represent his poetry when he was under deadline pressures from publishers or financial responsibilities. The boy swinging on birches represents when he was able to write only for the enjoyment of it, and his creativity and imagination was free to roam and play. He probably felt that was the time when he was at his best “Good blocks of beech it was I split, As large around as the chopping block; And every piece I squarely hit, Fell splinterless as a cloven rock.”

  5. The poem “Birches” reminds me of the twist and turns of life. We start out as a child playing through life and slowly start to bend from the pressure and stress weighed on us as we become adults. Depending on how you handle life situations you are pressured with, you will bounce back or remain broken down like the birch tree. Life is what you make of it, just like how the young boy rides the tree until the stiffness is out of them. Starting out I picture this poem with a young boy outside during a beautiful winter morning. But there is a twist that changes my view of the poem from a boy playing on a beautiful winter day to a man that has grown up reflecting on childhood memories. Thinking about how life was full of fun with carefree living riding on faith. There are times as mentioned in the poem “I’d like to get away from earth awhile and then come back to it and begin over” if we are able to erase our current picture of life and paint a new one. Poems are like pictures and Robert Frost tends to paint interesting ones.

  6. This poem by Frost has to do with the imagination of a child; it’s about a boy who loves to climb bent trees–not just the regular straight ones. I loved the way the speaker or the boy describes the trees; he does it with so much passion and also makes the description rich. Towards the end where he says, “I’d like to get away from earth awhile,” I imagined him being shot from one of the bent trees like a cannon ball out of the earth. I found that amusing and appealing. The next few lines after that where he says, “may no fate…where the it’s likely to go better,” he infers that he won’t want to leave earth because he loves it and probably also because it contains trees which he loves. This poem I feel appeals to readers of all ages most especially children because children tend to have a lot of imaginations. I can relate to the poem because I know as a child I had so many imaginations growing up and I loved them.

  7. I really liked this poem it was very endearing. I liked how Frost knew exactly what caused the birches to be bent but still chose to write about a child using them as a means of entertainment. I imagine Frost wanted to be that young boy, he probably wanted an opportunity to swing on the birches and feel the thrill of recklessness and youthful rebellion. I particularly liked how he wanted to go back to being a boy again but that didn’t mean he was ready to die, however badly he wanted to be young again he just wants to live. I’m sure everyone would like a second shot at childhood. Children don’t have any worries and are usually able to find fun in their environment. Children are blessed with imagination and resourcefulness that seems to fade after puberty. Every time I watch my daughter play I often think back to the games and fantasies I had as a child. It’s like going back in time. It’s heartwarming to see her fall in love with the same things I had come to love as a child. I would trade places with her in an instant.

  8. This poem reflects on a boy growing up who loved to play outside and climb trees. The boy used his imagination when he climbed the bent trees. When i read this poem i think back on when i was a child and loved to play outside. Me and my brothers used our imaginations and had fun with nature. When you are a child you do not have a care in the world about life decisions because you do not have them. As we get older we start realizing and taking on different responsibilities. I think Robert Frost wrote this poem because he would like to go back into time and be a young boy again. Im with him, i would love to go back into time when i was young and use my imagination and play outside.

  9. I enjoyed this poem. I feel that the poem is one of reflection. The speaker remembers what it was like to be a young boy, without a worry in the world, and how much fun it was to be a “swinger of birches.” When the stresses and headaches of life get to be too much, the speaker longs to be a kid again, and just go back to swinging from birch trees. I’m sure we all feel that way from time to time. I know I do! When problems at work or at home get to be too much, we would give just about anything to be kid again, and have all of those worries and stresses just melt away.

  10. This poem is truly a great one, and definitely one we can all enjoy and relate to. We all have those childhood memories and a lot of times wish we could go back in time and live recklessly again. My father and I talked about this exact situation a few days ago. We were talking about how as a child you live with no fear and feel invincible. I remember growing up, me and my brother did some ridiculous things that we probably would not try at this age. One thing was making piles of leaves and flipping into them from the roof of our old house. At this age and weight, the leaves would probably not cushion us well at all and we would more than likely injure ourselves or possibly paralyze ourselves. As a child we don’t think like this. Everything is fun and games and if you do get hurt, you ignore it and keep going. As we grow older we begin to realize the possible consequences of our actions and so risky behavior becomes less attractive to us. As we age, instead of just going at something careless, we practice techniques to be safe. We use materials and take precautions to protect us. As a drifter, I know firsthand the consequences of losing control of a car at high speeds. However I have survived the two accidents I have had and because of my practice they were no where near as bad as they should have been. Although doing this is dangerous I feel very confident when I’m on the track and I feel invincible, like a child again. Nothing else matters to me when I’m doing what I love. It’s as though I found something I can resort to when I’m angry or just want to get away from everything and everyone. The speaker wishes he could go back to being a child and forget the harsh reality of being an adult, like we all do. I think as adults, we just have to find something that brings complete happiness to us, making us ignore the ugly truth of life and our responsibilities.

  11. The poem “Birches” by Robert Frost might or might not have hidden meanings in it. To me, it seems as if though the speaker is just reminiscing about his childhood. I get a sense of loneliness from the poem where it mentions a “…boy too far from town to learn baseball, whose only play was what he found himself…” these few lines make me think that the boy didn’t even have any friends to play with but the only fun he had was swinging those birch trees. However, when I think about those things I did as a child; even if I was alone I found some kind of peacefulness in them and wish I could do those things sometime again. The poem is of course about play, and that brings out the fun in it. I have certainly never done it, but it seems like so much fun to swing on a birch tree as a kid. The way that the speaker describes the activity makes it sound so amusing. I can definitely see why the speaker would like to be a kid again. I also really liked the part of the poem where the author compares the trees to the girls on their hands and knees “…that throw their hair before them over their heads to dry in the sun…” those few lines gave me a visual of the way the branches of the trees actually bend toward the ground. Overall, I enjoyed this one much better than “Blackberrying” so I found a way to relate to it and respond. Frost’s poems are usually quite enjoyable so I knew this one would be as well…I can definitely agree with all of those who say that poetry is a form of art 🙂

  12. I love Robert frosts poems not only because of what they mean but how he brings in nature to each poem. I think everyone can relate to this poem in some way or another, we’ve all imagined things, most of us some random things like this. I think its nice how at any age one can imagine things that are crazy or impossible. Its fun to be a child, there is nothing in the world one has to worry about and that’s when our imagination is at its greatest.

  13. This poem is very simple to go through and doesnt have much depth. I personally like this types of poems because of their simplicity. The poem is about a person going back on memory lane and thinking about his childhood. The thing that he enjoy the most is bend trees which I have never seen before, but they must be very fun to play with. This poem makes me think about childhood today, its so change and technological. Even when I was a child (not so long ago 🙂 I used to play with many kids and go outside climb trees and just make up games together, bake cakes out of mud, and play house. Now days kids play with video games, on the computer and they are even getting caught up with text messaging mania. Very few like to enjoy nature and just simply play.

  14. I thoroughly enjoyed “Birches” by Robert Frost. There have been a number of Robert Frost poems on the countdown this semester and all have been excellent. “Birches” has been my favorite though. Robert Frost has a quality of realness to his poems that I have not found with many other poets. It is something that is tough to pinpoint or to explain. In “Birches” there is no need to look for any hidden messages or try to uncover what the poet is trying to implicate. It is a simple poem that is enjoyable to read. Robert Frost has a real American feel to his poems and I enjoy that. Not to say that poets from other countries or time frames are not talented, it is just hard for me to relate to something I know nothing about. Frost finds a way of taking a child swinging on trees and making it something we all know and understand. I myself have never experienced how flimsy Birch trees can be, but Frost has an ability through language and storytelling to bring me right there.

  15. There are many things about this poem I like, all of them for different reasons. I remember discussing in class how Frost describes life, being like a pathless wood. I have felt that way before, as though I am going through life without a path and it is just beating me up along the way. I think that shows the importance of having goals and a path to follow. I also like that Frost stayed away from the “matter of fact” about birches. I like his idea of how the trees bend because of a child. It is more playful and it painted a picture in my mind while I read it. I like the way he discusses fate, and seems to have a conversation with it. It reminded me of those instances where people say be careful what you wish for. Frost immediately distinguishes his wish about being taken away from earth. Again it is something I have felt, just wanting to start over and return later. When Frost describes himself climbing the tree to the heavens, it sounded very graceful to go as high as u can and be placed back down, only if everything were that way. I thought of love and how we get as high as we can but when we fall, we are not “set” down. I know this poem is about birches and the way they bend, but it is hard not to pull so much more from this poem and I think that is what makes it a great poem.

  16. I like this poem because I like simplicity. The poem is a story about a boy whom goes about playing on birch branches till he wears them by bending. Frost points out the actual reason for the bending in detail but says he prefers the idea of a child playing on them more. The innocence in a child playing in a tree is fundamentally appreciated. I think this because children haven’t made it to the bad parts of life yet. So all that they know is play, and of course eating and sleeping. They have no cares or stress to bog them down. Frost claims to once be a “swinger of birches”. I think that in his adult hood looking back he wishes that at times he could return. There are five lines near the end of the poem that describe him as leaving earth for a while. I think that is Frost’s way of saying to essentially get away from it all. Then when he feels that he is ready return back. This way he could climb again and be free.

  17. I really like Robert Frost. I’ve enjoyed all of his poems on this countdown. This one is very simple. It seems to me as if he is referencing to this little boy as if it were him in his younger years. Maybe he wants to be a kid again so he doesn’t have all of the grown up responsibilities. After all, it’s so much fun being a kid, so carefree and full of energy. I think Robert Frost wants to get away from every day life,if only for a little while. If he were to become a child again, he wouldn’t have to deal with anything!

  18. Seeing as I have grown up in Texas my whole life, I have rarely come across a birch tree bent to the ground, nonetheless seen a boy playing on one. However, Frost paints a beautiful picture with this poem and makes me feel as the speaker does, the longing to go back. I don’t think “Birches” could have come at a better time in the countdown, especially so near Christmas, you can almost taste the freedom that the little boy has. He is so fascinated by the simple things that many of us pass by every day without notice. All too often we feel a need to have the newest, most high tech things to keep us entertained and I think that Frost really is looking at the birch tree and thinking of a simpler time when just playing on a tree limb was enough to keep you satisfied for hours. He knows that now that most trees probably were not bent in this fashion and were probably caused by nature’s wear and tear but wishes it was the cause of a bored little boy or girl instead. His interest in something so seemingly small and unimportant is somewhat inspiring in knowing that not everyone has forgotten the less complicated moments in life.

  19. “Birches” by Robert Frost is just another example of how brilliant Mr. Frost is. I don’t think anybody can have any problems with this work, or any of his for the matter. It seems like all of his poems are very nature driven, and all have to do with the outdoors. The words he uses are so perfectly placed to paint a picture full of details for the reader to enjoy. This poem gave me a sense of childhood, and the return to it. It seems to have a real powerful message about the innocence of a child and how life and its pure joys can be seen in a boy. Besides, one can do worse than be a swinger of birches.

  20. In this poem, Robert Frost paints a beautiful picture of an area with trees all everywhere. This sounds like a place where children can play and have fun using their own imagination. To me it seem as if the character doesn’t like the way that the birches hang down like a bunch of children were playing on them. It’s kind of funny how people forget what they were like when they were children. The older generations tend to look at the younger generations and they automatically say that the children of today are worse now than they were. In some situations that is true but generally speaking, we all look for thrills as children. But when the character in this poem began to think back to those times when that person was a child, playing in the trees, the desire to go back to those times started to set in. Whether children or ice is the reason for the hanging birches, it is a beautiful site to behold.

  21. This subject matter, which Frost is speaking about, is different from much of his other work, in that it deals only with play and not with work. A work towards a certain enlightenment, which tends to be prevalent in many of Frost’s poems. But I do think that in this poem the speaker does revert in his dialog to his own pursuit and tumultuous path towards happiness: “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.” also I I see a parallel between the boy climbing the trees and a person working towards a means : “climbing carefully
    With the same pains you use to fill a cup
    Up to the brim, and even above the brim.”
    That is why this poem is typical Frost even though the poem’s approach is somewhat different and more light hearted than some of his other poems. This poem deals with very lofty ideas including freedom and how one should or could live their own life. And as in other poems a child like nature and innocence is a key part of a righteous mindset.

  22. This poem reminded me of the only time I ever saw birches that looked like this. The photo was in National Geographic or some kind of magazine like that. The photo was of just birches in general. But I remember seeing some of the trees bent over at odd angles. I think I was in elementary school at the time I saw the photo. So I had no idea at the time what could have caused these ridiculous looking trees. I did not know what caused this phenomenon until we talked about it in class the other night. After having read the poem and having a chance to think about how these trees looked I think that it gives me a new appreciation for their sheer bizarreness. I can really identify with the desire of the speaker of the poem in more ways than one. Not only do I understand the desire to be a bender of birches but also the speakers desire to just be free. I think that the imagery in the poem more or less lends itself to the sheer idea of that sort of innocence and rebellion. It is an interesting way to say what I think most of us feel at one time or another.

  23. decarlocoleman

    In the poem Birches by Robert Frost, Frost displays the images of a child growing into adulthood through the symbolism of aging birch trees. Throughout these images readers are able to see the real world compared to their carefree childhood. The image of life through tribulation is the main focal point of the poem and the second point of the poem is if one could go back to the simple fun times of childhood. The first half of the poems’ images is of life, and coming of age. The first three lines in the poem represent the image of childhood and adulthood. “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.” Childhood is represented when the branches swing. Adulthood is represented by straighter darker trees because darker is a reference to older trees just by the nature of the color. “But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay. 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.” The ice storms symbolize the difficult times in life or the coming of age over time and weathering just like a human. The word loaded describes about the burden of being old compared to youth like the burden of the ice on the trees. Shattering and avalanching on the snow such heaps of broken glass to be swept away is a representation of the final stage in life which is death. The shattering of the branches is like the death of a person and the sweeping away of the branches is like a funeral.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s