Imagine Being A Swinger Of Birches Essay

, Research Paper “Birches” , by Robert Frost, is a symbolic poem about choices, the choices of heaven’s truth, and earth’s truth. The choices exists because when Frost had first experienced earth’s truth he did not like what the senses convey, or can find no meaning in it, then the aspiration toward some kind of heaven became more important, and that heaven’s truth becomes a choice.

, Research Paper

“Birches” , by Robert Frost, is a symbolic poem about choices, the choices of heaven’s truth, and earth’s truth. The choices exists because when Frost had first experienced earth’s truth he did not like what the senses convey, or can find no meaning in it, then the aspiration toward some kind of heaven became more important, and that heaven’s truth becomes a choice. The need to choose is apparent, as Radcliffe Squires points out from his book The Major Themes Of Robert Frost, because these truths are his understanding of the universe. If he does not pick the way he perceives his life, then his conscienceness shall go insane. Through his experience, Frost finally takes both paths of truths by becoming a swinger of birches.

Through out the entire poem, we can see that Frost purposely divides the entire poem into three parts or stanzas. He wants us to experience possibly his own experience of swinging of birches by first introducing us to the start of the journey down on earth in the first stanza. He then releases us on the birch tree into the air where we could almost reach the heavens above in the second stanza. Finally as the birch tree can no longer go any higher, it brings us back down to earth so that we may be perceive a different earth in the third stanza. It can be seen that reality and the understanding of reality also follow this same trip on the birches. The reality that everyone faces everyday is introduced in the first stanza and reality is broken in with a rampage of imagination in the second stanza. Finally a newer and more enlightened reality can be seen by the end of the trip down on earth.

The word “truth” has to be defined to understand what Frost is really saying about the choices he has to make. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines truth as “being true” but in one of the more specific meaning that defines truth is “reality.” This is the earth’s truth that Frost describes in the beginning of “Birches.” Another way of putting this is that earth’s truth is nature with its fire, wind, rain, etc Heaven’s truth can be defined through many eyes as spiritual, imagination, or insight. So the enigmatic truth lies in us and all around us. This is the heaven’s truth that “Birches” describes after earth’s truth. Eventually a universal truth lies at the end of the trip or possibly a truth that can satisfy our mind.

“Birches,” is filled with meaning, trying to make sense and confusion of both truths. Each part of his poem symbolizes the ideas of heaven’s truth and earth’s truth, and what choice to make. Frost begins the journey with a cold winter day out in the forest of New England where he looks out to the woods to observe that:

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.

He reveals that when he “sees birches bend too left and right” he would “–like to think some boy’s been swinging them.” This joyful feeling is immediately introduced with just those three lines, as if we are reminded of our past childhood; a memory of swinging birches.

The next couple of lines destroy that feeling of youth and joy that Frost shows in the first three lines of the poem and the passage begins the visual journey through the woods. In this journey, Frost wants the reader to see the birches as they really are and as they seem in a series of dreary images. Part of the realism comes from the sound of passages:

But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay

As ice storm do. Often you must have seen them

Loaded with ice 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.

Frost puts fact in place of that joyful feeling. Squires points out that Frost “–begins in ‘Birches’ by setting forth ‘fact’.” The fact is that “–swinging doesn’t bend them[birches] down to stay as ice storms do.” The fact is then expressed even further about how an ice storm has an effect on birches. Frost uses the word “loaded” to express the strength of the ice storm on the sixth line, as if we are the same, “loaded” down on earth by the “fact” that we are bound on earth. Frost wants us to acknowledge this fact, and not to just see it, using the phrase, “Often you must have seen them.” This is part of the earth’s truth that Frost reveals to his reader; a reality that people live with everyday of their lives.

Frost’s alliteration–here the repetition of s and k sounds–lets us hear as well as see the birch trees after a freezing rain and the morning after as the melting begins. The k sound in “crack” and “crazes” mimics the sound of the ice in the breeze “shattering” and crashing “on the snow crust.” It also imitates the crunch of snow under the weight of boots. The s sounds suggest the rising breeze–his use of s sounds increases as it rises. These sounds also suggest the scratch and swish of birch branches scraped on the crust. These sounds contribute to the tone, or attitude, concerning “Truth,” or reality. The upheaval caused by the breeze and the sun’s warmth portray a shattered, uncomfortable feeling. Life is full with its peaceful ups; however, it also consists of shattering downs.

The “fact” is now being twisted. Squires says that as Frost exposes “fact”, “he begins to destroy the fact, facturing it in prisms of imagery.” The imagery at line eight gives the “fact” that the “breeze” becomes the torment for the birches, “as the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.” The word “cracks” and “craze” gives meaning about life at this point of the poem as the “stir” from the breeze rises. The “enamel” is what’s being affected here as if we also change by nature’s “stir. The irritations from the natural world, by such things as natural disasters, disease, obsession, etc… are natures stir of heat. The fact is always changing as the same with people are faced with bad times. People become in a way insane, and “turn many-colored,” meaning people are in confusion and change, but it makes sense for this to happen. This is part of earth’s truth.

Frost then uses another imagery after the glazing of the birches here:

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.

The sun here is earth’s truth that “shed crystal shells shattering and avalanching a the snow crust-.” The “shell” is the division between heaven and earth, and the sun as nature destroys heaven’s truth. The poem communicates an attitude about imagination and reality. The choice of certain words and certain details makes it clear that the speaker prefers imagination but is aware of reality. Frost describes “crystal shells/ Shattering and avalanching on the snow crust–/ Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away.” The words “shattering and avalanching” give the feeling of calamity and perhaps fear or sorrow. A disturbance in the universe is suggested by the “heaps of broken glass” that make it seem as if “the inner dome of heaven had fallen.”

Frost finally supports his now deductive knowledge of why birches stay bending here:

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:

Since Truth is linked to the ice storm, the speaker sees that in reality that ice storms have bent down the birches. Frost finds that the “load” isn’t really the reason why they stay bent and mutated but the repetitiveness that brings the birches so low to the ground is why birches stay bending. The lives of people can easily represent the enamel of the birches as the souls within our bodies. If this true, then people are destined to live by earth’s truth, since “they never right themselves.” People will have to live their life without hope or insight to their life because of the torment we receive from natures actions or more like realities burdens.

The last of this wintry imagery of birches comes from one of the most mind-boggling comparisons in all poetry:

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.

“Why does Frost admit with this image?,” questions Squires as most people would say. Squires answers this by looking not what is in this simile but what it is trying to say. This simile destroys the very truth of the matter. It ends Frost’s image of his wintry scene of birches. This all-powerful simile is accounted for and we see his imagination breaking in with hope.

There is a turning point that informs the reader that the unwanted “Truth” has butted into the poem. A whole new view of the truth is introduced here:

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.

Frost goes back to his first three lines, and again a boy swinging on birches. Does this mean that Frost can abandon his destiny of earth’s truth and follow heaven’s truth? And if so, would Frost necessarily take heaven’s path? Squires answers the first question by stating that Frost’s “‘untrue’ fantasy about a boy’s bending the trees seems by contrast ‘truer.’” Meaning that Frost has found something about those birches that relate to himself and a truth called heaven’s truth.

The speaker admits that “Truth broke in/ With all her matter-of-fact about the ice storm.” But now it’s imagination’s turn. The speaker’s annoyance about truth pushes reality aside for the more refreshing view of imagination. The comforting image of the boy who “one by one . . . subdued his father’s trees” pits art against the destructive chaos of reality. The boy refines his art of imagination by persistence–

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.

This scene is softer than the scene of the ice storms in lines 5 – 15. But the point of this opposition between imagination and reality, the boy vs. the ice storm, doesn’t come until years later at the end of the poem.

By now, “we must see the tree as an approach to heaven” says Squires about this segment of the poem:

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 used 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.

The image of the boy as a swinger of birches refines the portrayal of imagination as a swinger of birches. The desire to go to heaven is, as Squires describes, “surrounded by suspense and even a species of terror.” Squires purposely put italics on “and even above the brim” to signify the course to heaven’s truth. So now we are confronted with heaven’s truth.

Now it is clear to us without a doubt that this child was the “swinger of birches:”

And so I dream of going back to be.

So I once myself a swinger of birches.

And through these words Frost exposes his desires to find earth’s path of truth and heaven’s path of truth, through all the metaphors and similes.

The poem now takes a big turn and now you don’t see that birch scene any more. Frost starts to summarizes his experience. You see confusion, weeping, and earth’s truth ripping Frost apart here:

It’s when I’m weary of considerations,

And life is too much like a pathless wood

Where your face burns and trickles with the cobwebs

Broken across it, and one eye is weeping

From a twig’s having lashed across it open.

“A moment of terrified confusion breaks upon the naturalist,” commented Squires and this is apparent. The reason for this confusion is because Frost is observing nature over and over again so much that it loses meaning. Frost wishes to escape the moment and that in this moment he may be incapable of awaiting discovery. As one weeps for the yearning to get out, the other eye is blinded by nature or better put, earth’s truth. But if earth is to be abandoned, heaven remains as nature destroys itself for Frost. Frost becomes exasperated with seeking truth on earth through earthly means since earth may offer only the confusion symbolized in the lost-in-the-woods figure, when he is weary of considerations.

Now heaven’s truth is being spoken here, as if it can take you away:

I’d like to get away from earth awhile

And then come back to it and begin over.

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.

Frost is now attracted with heaven’s truth and would like to see what heaven has to say, yet he wants to go only as far toward heaven as his loyalty to life permit. Meaning the poet asks that “fate” shall not “half grant what” what he “wishes and snatches” him “away not to return.” Frost recognizes that heaven’s truth is a delicious temptation of freedom but life is too valuable for Frost to give up. He tells us this because “earth’s the right place for love.” Love is the answer for Frost, because by experience Frost finds that you can find this divine truth of heaven and earth through love.

Here, the decision is made that he shall take both paths of truths and now he has to tell it to the reader:

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.

The summary of his choice to pick both paths of truth are written in these few words. Frost wants to climb a “birch tree” and go “Toward heaven” till death prevents him from going any father and then come back down. As Frost said, “One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.”

Frost does pick both paths of truths, heaven’s truth and earth’s truth. When Frost tried to find the divine truth through earth’s truth he found confusion and chaos. When he tried to find the divine truth through heaven’s truth, Frost loved life too much for a one way path to heaven’s truth. So Frost decides to be “a swinger of birches,” and find this divine truth through “love” of both truths. A decision is made until he is sure of winning. Frosts swings between the truth’s but never making himself accept one of the truths.

This boy lives away from town and must play by himself. He has learned his father’s lessons. Imagination is the gift for escaping reality that each one of us possesses. We do not have to depend on anyone to take a mental vacation. Mastering your art of imagination will increase your ability to handle the bad things life dishes out. That’s why the narrator advocates using imagination. On Earth we can become weary from life’s everyday occurrences–that “pathless wood.” However, Earth’s the place for love–not hate weariness, or any negative feelings. Therefore, imagination is used to come back to reality calmly. At the end, the narrator imagines climbing the birch tree “Toward heaven”–to the top and swinging a branch down to the ground. Suddenly he sounds relaxed and carefree. Isn’t this better than “Truth”? It sounds like imagination works.

The frustration of life sometimes makes it “too much like a pathless wood.” After disclosing that Frost himself has been “a swinger of birches” the speaker confesses that he yearns to return to those days in his imagination to get away from the frustrations, the shattering of real life. The last line, “One could do worse than to be a swinger of birches,” sounds relaxed, thoughtful, resolved. After having taken a mental vacation into the forest, the narrator comes back to reality refreshed, ready for love and ready to face reality again. Isn’t this one purpose of all art–paintings, movies, literature, sculpture, music–to refresh us by drawing on our imaginations so that we can use our dreams or our memories to survive day-to-day, matter-of-fact reality? “Birches” is not a poem to winter; it is more a tribute to the power of imagination.