Guest poem sent in by Raji Rao
(Poem #1272) Birches
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.
Maybe this is not one of Frost's popular poems, but it sure is an interesting one. This is one of my favourite poems. Frost uses simple language to bring his readers into a deep and abiding relationship with the world around them. This poem describes Frost's growth from a young "swinger of birches" to an old man who went through various trials and challenges. The comparison of the birch tree to that of a girl bending with her hands on her knees to dry her hair is awesome and also rings a bell, illustrating the poet's power to blend observation and imagination. He describes in a symbolic manner the harsh realities of life, the way in which the boy swings on a birch tree. He also talks about the ups and downs and the hardships experienced by people in life, with the various conditions and movement of the birch tree. Frost uses nature to symbolize aspects of real life situations that humans undergo. He also fancies to be a swinger of birches in the end, meaning to say he has grown old now as he has already experienced life's sweet misery, and only left to wait for death. (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.) My favourite lines in the poem are: 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. These lines reveal Frost's love for life. He compares life to a pathless wood, where he symbolizes man's quest to happiness. And in the lines, "where you face.....across it open" he describes life as a never-ending journey of sadness and misery mixed with happiness. He also frankly states his wish not to die when he says: "I'd like to get away from earth .....Not to return". Reading this poem, one can experience an acute sense of understanding towards life in general. It's invigorating and entertaining at the same time. Rajeshwari Rao Subbu [Martin adds] Another thing I like about today's poem is the way it highlights the versatility of iambic pentameter, and how well it can be blended with the more irregular rhythms of speech. The poem starts off regularly enough, the first four or so lines being flowing sequences of iambs which gradually give way to a more varied pattern as the poem progresses and the narrator sinks deeper into his reverie, and ending with a line that is so removed from the metre that it acts more as a sort of slghtly detached, one-line coda than as part of the 'main body' of the poem.