An Analysis of “Birches” by Robert Frost

Continue your exploration of Robert Frost poems with an analysis of “Birches”. Follow the link for a step-by-step breakdown on how to analyze a poem.

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“Birches” by Robert Frost

Lesson Plans of Robert Frost

You want to teach Frost but you’re afraid of an ice cold reception because you don’t have enough time to prepare a great lesson? No worries. These Robert Frost poetry lesson plans are ready to use.

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.
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them 5
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 10
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 15
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. 20
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
(Now am I free to be poetical?)
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows– 25
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 30
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 35
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, 40
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 45
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. 50
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, 55
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. 60

My Analysis of Birches: Evidence for an Essay

Poetic picture with link to poetry lesson plans.

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My own analysis using the steps for writing a poetry analysis produces the following observations:

  1. There is no rhyme scheme. The meter is blank verse with variations. The lack of structure mirrors the freedom of youth.
  2. The poem creates its rhythm through the use of enjambment.
  3. The poem opens with a contrast: bent birches and straighter, darker trees.
  4. The short sentence in line five “ice storms do that” jolts the reader and changes the tone from idyllic to harsh.
  5. The contrast is continued in line 6 with the juxtaposition of ice and sunny.
  6. Line 9: alliteration of “cracks and crazes” draws the reader’s attention. Cracks and crazes could also represent the wrinkling of old age. Enamel reminds me of teeth and bones.
  7. I am drawn to the alliteration and assonance in lines 10-11: “soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells shattering and avalanching on the snow crust.”
  8. Old age metaphor in lines 14-16: “They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load, / and they seem not to break; though once they are bowed [nice pun] / So low for long, they never right themselves.”
  9. Line 23 contains a pivot: “(Now am I free to be poetical?)” The tone of the poem changes once again. Poets see things that aren’t and make them so. It’s not about facts. It’s about beauty. The poem’s rhythm picks up immediately, reflective of the switch from old age represented by ice bent limbs, to youth, represented by swinging from branches.
  10. Line 29: “One by one he subdued his father’s trees” much in the same way the young supplant the old.
  11. Line 42: “So was I once myself a swinger of birches” is a combination of alliteration and consonance. It establishes the last stanza as reflective, a personalized message about youth. It marks a change in mood.
  12. Lines 47-50 states the poet’s desire to begin his life again, much in the same way he begins his poem again in lines 23 and line 42. Form enhances theme.
  13. The final association of birches is with love beginning in line 55.
  14. He finishes the poem with an outstanding example of meiosis: “One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.” This is the concluding line to a poem that exults the life of one who is a swinger of birches.

Two-Paragraph Analysis of “Birches” by Robert Frost

The regenerative cycle of nature and love is reflected in Robert Frost’s nature poem “Birches.” The poem begins with the harsh realization that although he wishes the bent birches were a result of some boy swinging on them, he understands that “ice storms do that” (5). The abruptly short sentence jolts the reader and turns a lively mood into a somber one. Lines 5-22 laments old age through the use of symbols and metaphors: ice “cracks and crazes their [birches] enamel” (9), “heaps of broken glass” (12) are swept away, birches are “dragged to the withered bracken by the load” (14).

The poem pivots in line 24 as the poet imagines that, yes, the birches are bent from a boy swinging on them. The rhythm of the poem speeds up as Frost provides images of youth swinging on birches. Frost uses alliteration in line 42 to change the direction and mood of the poem once again as he reflects on what it would be like to be young again. The only way to do this, he claims, is through love. It is through love that even those who are bent can enjoy a renewal of their spirit, and can “climb black branches up a snow white trunk / Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more” (56-57). He emphasizes the perfect rejuvenating power of love, represented by the birches, via meiosis in the last line: “Once could do worse than be a swinger of birches” (60).

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