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
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-coloured
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
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
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.
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
As he went out and in to fetch the cows–
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
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
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,
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
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.
May no fate wilfully 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~
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.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Robert Frost's poem Birches

51 Comments

  1. Greg says:

    I remember reading this poem in the 6th grade. Then i couldnt appreciate it for its worth but now i see it for its true beauty

  2. J says:

    I think this poem contains a number of different themes but is centered largely around the theme of swinging between two polar opposites: Truth and imagination, youth and age, heaven and earth. From the first few lines we see the contrast between the playful activity of swinging birches and the ‘straighter darker trees’ which I believe represent the realism of life. Just as the voice of ‘After apple picking’ seems to long to return to its youth, there is an element in ‘Birches’ of the voice dreaming ‘of going back to’ his youth so that he may re-influence his future. Climbing the birch tree will also help him to navigate the ‘pathless wood’ that his life has become lost in. Ultimately though there is a strong sense that, in order for the voice of the poem to achieve the ‘Truth’ he must be prepared to take control of his own actions by not ‘launching out too soon’. In my opinion this truth seems to be the ability to connect the real with the ideal as a rational thinker to achieve an equilibrium, which the boy can achieve by accepting the concrete and the imagination.

  3. jeff says:

    some of the comments r funnier than hell. like #24

  4. Charlie C says:

    The first time I read this poem I was really confused. It is hard for me to understand Poetry. My teacher then told us about it and good golly this is definatly not a G rated poem if you look into it. I thought she was just pulling my leg, but I was curious so I looked up some information about Robert Frost so I could better understand his miliue a little better and I do believe that this poem is very sexually related. It’s too bad.

  5. mtsgirl says:

    This has been one of my favorite poems of all time. I have been discovering layers of meaning in this poem since I was a child. And, I am female. I never once, until today, thought about the idea that someone could read a sexual reference as a layer here, but as any real poet, as I’m sure Frost would agree, truly profound poetry and art allows the one experiencing the poem to see new meaning and beauty in their own personal way.
    For me, this poem spoke to my own development- as I grew from innocent youth to deal with life trauma, my own level of resiliency, my continued connection with imagination, nature, and how this inspires me, the beautiful art of keeping maturity married to childhood imagination… these are the things of magic I found Frost speaking of. I have linked this poem to my own discussion of nature metaphors in life and poetry on my new site http://www.ruminature.com. Come check it out if you resonate with my response and submit your own poetry!

  6. albana says:

    i don`t have any critic about this poem it is writen very good ano it it is based in a life and death and confronting challenges Robert Frost is a very excellent writer and contrains moral in his writing..

  7. Roxy says:

    I dont belive that in 1916 someone would ateempt to write a poem about “riding birches” as something sexual and don’t think about replacing the r with a t because that term wasn’t loosely used in that time. Also, the last line is not about him saying that there are worse things than sex or thinking about sex, just clearing that up.

  8. JULZ says:

    This Poem Is based on the natuaralities of facing life and death and confronting these two challenges in such a confusing, elloquent, iirationalized, unethical, contrivance but I do believe that in the end Robert Frost is a very excellent writer and contains alot of good morals and values especially when he proved that in his writings =]]

  9. Petuna says:

    What does the last line of the poem mean? I don’t understand it.

  10. Temenuga says:

    Life is something we can discuss after passing through it.It’s immposible before death.Why not talking about trees then.They can’t walk and can bear everything silently and with indignity.This noblety of trees,even the tender ones,irritates us.It’s poem of fighting,I think.

  11. beadbud says:

    Frosts brilliance comes with his moments of cognition. Well, let me say that I might believe that all great poetry is born from a fleeting moment of brilliant cognition, that second when god seems to speak to you. And you understand the world. I mean, you don’t understand the whole damn thing, but one part of the world, your part becomes crystal clear. The moment may happen when you’re watching water wash over a windshield or when a spider is stuck in the bathtub. And those images will become a metaphor, like the world is speaking to you. I think everyone has had a moment like that, when you feel like poetry is the only way to express it. Perhaps I measure poetry looking for that cognition only after reading Frost. He seems to explain what it’s like to be in that moment.

    In Birches, like others of his work, he takes us through the symbols, memories, and thoughts that he had one moment while he noticed birch trees all bent over. And he reflected on his own nostalgia, that he swung from trees as a kid, even while admitting that these trees are likely bent by nature. (We had a huge willow tree where I grew up, we would swing from it like Tarzan. I will never forget that.)

    I believe Frost wrote this poem in his early 40s, at a time when many men first start “feeling” the effects of aging. Stiff joints. And realizing that what seems to be the truth, our past, becomes a story, really, clouded by nostalgia. The temptation is to see the bent over birches and imagine swinging from them. But the sensual reality is that they are bent from the weather. The temptation is to “tame” all of the birch trees, out of a childish playfulness and boredom.

    At the time birch trees might have conjured images of corporal punishment, a switch. I don’t think he could have written the poem without alluding to it somehow. The stinging in the eye. But the poem isn’t about punishment. I mean, daddy can spank me for going into the brier patch, but it hardly matters, because life, the brier patch it’s self, will extract a punishment with it’s thorns. Life comes with scratches, and it’s as annoying as hell.

    That can be too much, sometimes. It wears you down and you do want to stop the merry-go-round, and get off once and a while. But Frost would come back, because he can’t imagine love without life, here. This poem seems to be his case for re-incarnation. He wrote this poem when few americans thought about re-incarnation, even though in his formative years the US was experiencing a ‘Psychic’ or ‘new age’ sort of craze.

    You spend your youth, your life, learning to climb the trees, fearlessly but carefully. Learning to live life (tree of life) fearlessly but carefully. And then you climb to the very top, how Frost wants it to be, you climb to heaven and the tree gently swings you back to earth again, in new life. He proclaims he’s a “swinger of birches”, like he’s found his religion, like you would aver that you are a Hindu or a Spiritualist. “One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.”

    The poem is about life and only in that way does it relate to sex. because without sex the human race would die and there would be no life. But Frost doesn’t allude to that. You know sometimes a birch tree isn’t a cigar.

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