Critical Appreciation of Robert Frost’s Poem “Birches”

The poem ‘Birches’ was first published in the Atlantic Monthly in August 1915. In this poem we come across the poet’s desire to withdraw from the world as also his love of the earth as symbolized by the boy’s game of swinging birches.

Frost’s central subject is humanity. His poetry lives with particular aliveness because it expresses living people. Other poets have written about people. But Robert frost’s poems are of the people; they work, and they walk about, and converse, and tell their tales with the freedom of common speech. “Birches” is among Frost best-known piece and has acquired wide popularity. What places the poem on a distinctly high level of appeal is the true and broad humanity running throughout the poem. In the background of the swinging birches, the imaginary boy’s behaviour and utterances acquire a philosophical depth and wisdom. The central thought of this poem is that the poet dreams of becoming a swinger o birches once again in his life as he was during his boyhood. Since the poet is weary of considerations that his life involves, he wants to become a swinger of birches at least for the time being but it does not mean that he wanted to escape from his life on earth. It is not the feeling of escapism that forms the central thought of “Birches” but love for the earth. Although the poet may like to withdraw from the cares and anxieties of the life on the earth, he cannot entertain the idea of relinquishing the earth forever. Frost was no mystic and perhaps no poem is more expressive of his thought than Birches .Elizabeth Jennings has pointed out, ‘in Birches he declares “Earth the right place for love,” and goes on to describe his own preponderance for the immediate tangible world, and his ability to manage without too much consideration of transcendental things.
“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.”

The way in which the theme is rendered is dramatic. The sudden shifts in the imagery and the warmth of the humanly element in it give the poem a dramatic force and intensity. However the poem cannot be describe as a dramatic monologue, despite the dramatic the theme is treated here in elaborate canvas. “Birches” is one of those poems in which we find a sustained movement of sense, feeling and rhythm from beginning to end. Brower has rightly remarked about “Birches” and “The Census-Taker” ‘Frost offers a sure standard of achieved form in poetry of talk in an extended nature lyric Birch or in a country walker’s narrative like “The Census-Taker”.’ The evolution of feeling and reflection in these poems is carried forward unerringly through masterly variation of blank verse rhythm. Both poems start from vivid perceptions of natural or at least country things and both dramatize a person discovering new meanings or new puzzles in that situation.” The poem “Birches” begins in the tune of easy conversation.
“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.”

Some critics like Alvarez deny Frost the title of “nature poet” and would regard him as rural or country poet. Undoubtedly Robert Frost’s poetry has an agrarian bias to is the poetry of a countryman for the countryman. “He is a country poet, whose business is to live with nature rather than through it.” He wishes to carry us off to agrarian world from the choking modern city. He is essentially a poet of pastures and plains, mountains and rivers, woods and gardens, groves and bowers, fruits and flowers, seeds and birds. To him “Wood are lovely, dark and deep and Earth’s the right place for love:
“I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
l’dlike 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.”

Frost has a tendency to philosophize but is free from didacticism. It has been explained by Lewis in these words, “He is a serious moralist as well as a serious artist But his peculiar intimacy with nature prevents him from being openly didactic: He teaches, like nature, in parables: sometimes merely presenting a picture, a mood, a narrative, and leaving you to draw your own conclusions, never permitting himself more than the tender, humorous sort of comment we find at the end of ‘Birches’:
“ I’d likoe to get away from earth a while
And then come back to it and begin over.
may no fate wilfully misunderstand me
And half grand 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.”

The language used is usually simple and clear. Some of its lines have epigrammatic force and terseness. The poem is remarkable for the poet’s mastery over blank verse too. The poem is written in a very simple and clear language and conversational style. Some of its line shaves epigrammatic force and terseness.

The poem consists of a series of beautiful pictures of nature and of man, and each sketch is hit off in a few happy touches, and is complete in itself. The swinging of the birches tossed by the ice-storms, and looked on at by a boy, in the early hours of the day, till
“the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells.
Shattering and avalanching ont he snow-crust-
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.”

makes a genuine appeal. It is a striking picture of nature and of man rendered in terms of prominent imagery, an imagery that combines both fact and fancy. The second picture in the poem is that of the trees with “their trunks arching in the woods”. The ruffled atmosphere of the swinging birches is compared here to -
“girls on hands and knees that throw their hair.
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.”

There is a striking between the images, arching trees and the girls in disheveled hair, and each image renders the other more prominent. In the main the poem seems to be narrative or descriptive in intent. The philosophical statement at the end of the poem serves as finale to a series of picture which are significant for their shrewd turns.”

C.D. Lewis makes the following comment on its rhythm - the upward and downward movement of the rhythm fully reflects the going upto and coming down of the swinger of birches. But when the poet moralizes the rhythm becomes slow.”

About the imagery of the poem Prof. Saxena writes “The crystal ice becomes heaps of broken glass which is compared to the inner dome of heaven. The arched trees are transformed into girls on hands and knees - the girls who throw their hair before them over their heads to dry in the sun. The country boy ‘whose only play was what he found himself’, riding and subduing his father’s birches becomes the mature poet. One has just to quote a few lines to show the vividness and power of Frost’s imagery:
“Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust
Such heaps of broken glass away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen”

Frost does not see the country with the eyes of the carefree vagabond or the city stick romantic who finds it as charming and refreshing as a new mistress. He has for it rather the understanding, slightly quizzical look a man given the wife of him bosom.

It is no spirit of nature which sends Frost’s rain or wind; he neither sees in the natural world the pervading spirit Wordsworth saw.... the mountain is not a personality as it is for Wordsworth in the “Prelude” and in other poems” Frost did not idealize or glorify the objects of nature. He saw them as things with which and on which man acts in course of the daily work of gaining a livelihood. He rarely makes his lessen or his philosophy of nature as overt and obvious as Wordsworthian simplicity of style in his descriptions of Nature. In his poem Birches, we find Frost’s capacity for minute description and accurate description at their best and the opening lines of the poem are a characteristic example of the same. He gives here a smile, concrete description of the “habits” of birches and the changes wrought upon them by wind and ice storms. Young boys who swing on them.
“When I see briches bend to heft and right
Across the linesof straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging does’t bend them down to stay.
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain They click upon themselves
As the breezae rises, and turned many-coloured
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells”

Frost’s accuracy of description is, accompanied by delicacy of feeling aid imagination.. In the words of Untermever, “Birches”, one of Robert Frost’s most widely quoted poems, beautifully illustrates the poet’s power, the power to blend observation and imagination. He begins in tone of easy conversation:
“When I see briches bend to left and right
Across the lines of starighter darker trees…”

and them, without warning or change of tone, the reader is arrested by a whimsical image, and the fact turns into a fancy. “I like to think some boy’s been swinging them. Fact and fancy play together throughout the poem. The crystal ice becomes heaps of broken glass. “You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.” The arched trees are transformed into girls on hands and knees “That how their hair before them over their heads to dry in the sun.” The country boy, whose only play was what he found himself, “riding and subduing his father’s birches, becomes the mature poet who announces:
“Earth’s the right place for love;
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.”

Though Frost is regarded preeminently as a poet of nature, man holds a more important place in his poetry than nature. Forst himself was conscious of the fact when he said, ‘I guess I’m not a nature poet have written two poems without a human being in them.” Contrasting Frost’s attitude towards nature with that of Wordsworth's Murion Montgomery has rightly pointed out, From the publication of "A Boy’s Will down" to the present time Frost has indicated a realization that man can serve important part of this Universe.


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