Robert Frost is often misread as a "Currier and Ives" poet, a verbal painter of pretty scenes with his focus on rural New England. His poems are much more than pretty pictures, and Frost himself speaks often about the symbolic meanings and underlying elements present in his poetry. Some of his pieces are sorrowful, pictures of characters who are emotionally estranged from life. Even his most optimistic poems are tempered by tension, anxiety, and uncertainty. "Birches" is an up-beat piece reflecting the emotions of a narrator who would gladly exchange heaven for a series of earthly lives, all because "Earth's the right place for love" (52). Yet "Birches" is a lonely piece, as the only human figures present are the narrator and the boy of his imagination, both alone among the trees with no one in sight to share in either the poet's wonder or the boy's accomplishments. The poem begins with a description of birch trees leaning in a New England forest, and a narrator's wistful dream that they might have been bent down by a boy---a boy who has made a passion of "swinging" birches (3). The narrator later explains how to swing birches, every detail from "not launching out too soon" (33) to flinging "outward, feet first, with a swish" (39). He even offers an imaginary boy, one who is "too far from town to learn baseball"(26) to swing the birches. Is the boy lonely? Is his life so narrow that he can find no entertainment but swinging birches? Is this an empty obsession and a hollow pleasure, even as he "subdue..[s] [all]
his father's trees" (28)? Our poet does not seem to think so. He no more allows such emotions to intrude on the life of his fantasy boy than he allows reality into his poem earlier, in the segment where he claims, not quite accurately, that "Truth broke in" (21). Yes, there were ice storms, and it was ice storms and not a boy that bent the birches (5-16). Our narrator admits that much. But the poet's ice storms are not cold and dismal. The storms are...
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