Birches-Robert Frost-Critical Appreciation

Birches-Robert Frost-Critical Appreciation

Birches-Robert Frost-Critical Appreciation : Robert Frost has been considered as one of the renowned poets in the arena of American poetry. He was associated with a literary school of the Dymock poets of the 20th century who resided in Dymock village, Gloucestershire for some time. 

As the member of the Dymock School, Robert Frost employed traditional forms and techniques in the composition of his poems. He derived pleasure in depicting the local scenes and landscape of English countryside.

Lionel Trilling hailed as ‘a ‘poet of terror’ due to Robert Frost’s expression of troubled, combative and destructive spirit in the garb of his depiction of the life of rural rustics and wisdom. Robert Frost’s poetry vividly reflects his love of nature, quest for simplicity and reality.

Birches-Robert Frost-Critical Appreciation

Robert Frost composed his poems on simple and ordinary things however the simplicity only floats on the surface. Actually they are pregnant with philosophy of life and truth flavoured with wisdom. Frost remarked that his poems begin in delight and end in wisdom. It clearly indicates Robert Frost’s views about the function of poetry. His poetry both delight and instruct the reader.


Robert Frost’s famous poems “Birches” and “The Road Not Taken” appeared in his third volume of poetry, “Mountain Interval” in 1916. It is important to note that Robert Frost was associated with the group of Georgian poets also. In the poem there is a fine blending of fact and fancy in the poem. Though the poem deals with a common subject it takes the readers to higher plane of philosophy.

It begins with a picturesque and vivid description of the ‘nature’ of the birches and the impact of strong wind and ice storm upon them. But soon the poem begins to tell a parable of human aspirations.

The present poem ‘Birches” deals with Robert Frost’s boyhood experience of climbing the birches until they bend down to the ground under the boy’s weight only to swing upright when the boy releases it when landing on the ground. It is a symbolic activity of a boy who swings the birches from earth to heaven which symbolises a desire of both earth and heaven by human being.

When the poet the branches of birches bending to right and left he imagines that some boy must have been swinging the branches. But soon the poet comes to know that a boys swinging cannot bend the birches down for a long time. It is also possible that the ice storm must have bent them down.

The poet knows that the readers might have often experienced and seen the branches of birches laden with a heap of ice in a sunny winter morning after the rain. After rain and ice storm the birches are wrapped in ice, the branches produce peculiar and sharp sound due to strong breeze blowing outside. The writer has employed a word, ‘enamel’ which indicates a covering of snow around the branches.

The readers can find picturesque and minute description of the impact of strong wind and ice-storm on the birches. The birches sway up and down when the wind blows fiercely and the layers of ice gather on them. The ice flakes on the birches shine and emits many wonderful colours when the  sun-beams pass through the ice.

The ice on the branches melts into crystal shells and falls on earth when the warm rays of the sun touch the ice accumulated on the birches.  The word ‘avalanche’ implies the falling of the melted ice like a cataract.

The snow crust on the ground makes the poet imagine that the central dome of heaven has cracked and the earth is enveloped heaps of broken glass. It is due to the burden of ice that bent the birches down never to stand again upright.

Owing to the over-burden of snow on the branches, the trees are bent for a long period of time and over-right themselves. The trunks of trees are seen in arches in the wood even after many years. The trees shed their leaves on the ground.

From this harsh reality of life the poet again transports the reader to a region of fancy. The poet again imagines that the birches must have been bent by some boy’s swinging them. The poet thinks that some boy who dwells in some distance place from the town and wants to learn baseball must have devised a game for himself. He takes to birch swinging and finds it amazing sport. He has devised a game which can be played alone both in summer and winter.

The boy climbs the birches for many times and bows them down. He has learned a skill to reach the top and maintain balance and come down to the ground with swift movement even when he is alone.

The poet has employed the imagery of horse riding and bringing him under control. Whenever the boy climbs the birches, he climbs with utmost care. He climbs carefully reaching the top of the branches just as one fills a cup to the brink and even above the edge of a cup without letting it trickle down it sides. The poet has employed a number of similes in the poem.

The poet further goes into a realm of his past and thinks of his boyhood days and wants to become a boy again. He longs for going back to his boyhood because he is tired of considerations. Robert Frost has artistically employed various metaphors in the poem. For example, the boy who is swinging the birches implies to the poet that he himself is tired of consideration and yearns for escaping the hardships and pain of life on earth for awhile.

Robert Frost has compared the bent birches to girls on hands and knees which hurl her hair before them over their heads to dry in the sun. He says:

“Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair

Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.”

Robert Frost’s “Birches” not only instruct the mind but also delight the heart of the reader. The poem is pregnant with Frost’s rich philosophy conveyed in a very simple manner. There is a fine combination of fact and fancy, reality and idealism, earth and heaven, observation and imagination which transport the readers both to a world of reality and fiction. The upward climb of the birch swinger reflects human ideals and aspirations; it also indicates man’s desire to escape in the fairy world in order to forget the harsh reality of life and wearisome condition of life.

The poem ‘Birches’ also makes the readers recall John Keats’s famous poem, “The Ode to a Nightingale” where the poet wishes to escape to the world of a nightingale from ‘the weariness, the fever and the fret’ of life’.

Keats wishes to escape in the world of a nightingale due to the hardships and pains of life which are unbearable to him while Robert Frost’s wants to escape from the weariness of life for a short span of time. It will be his momentary escape in order to gather his strength in order to face the challenges in life bravely and courageously. He says:

“May no fate wilfully misunderstands me

And half grant what I wish and snatch me away

Not to return”.

The poet likes to come to a world of reality because he knows that:

“Earth is the right place for love,

I do not know where it is likely to go better.”

The poem ends on a note of questions of life on earth, and death. The activity of birch swinging from earth to heaven implies man’s life and it also imparts a message that man should maintain a balance between his duties on earth and his spiritual aspirations.

He should set his life in such a manner that he should reach his goals by maintaining a fine balance. The earthly responsibilities and duties are as valuable as man’s spiritual aspiration. So he should strive for acquiring them with a fine sense of balance between the two.

Thus, Robert Frost has beautifully illustrated the ordinary activity of birch swinging in a symbolic manner. There is a dexterous use of figures of speech in the poem. For example, the poet compares life to pathless wood. He says:

“And life is too much like a pathless wood

Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs

Broken across it.”

“The pathless wood’ and “the cobwebs” imply internal conflict and bewilderment of man, man fails to see and understand the goal of his life due to confusion and internal conflict.

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