ISC Birches by Robert Frost :line by line explanation and summary

 Birches by Robert Frost:  Explanation

Line 1-4;

“When I see……….. As ice storms do.”

The poem begins with the simple image of birches bent “left and right / Across the line of straighter darker trees.”

Here the poet presents a contrast between the normal and simple image of straighter trees with the exciting and interesting image of bent down birch trees. 

     Birches have thin trunks and so they bend easily in the wind and under the weight of snow.  When the poet observes the birches bending to left and right across the lines of straighter and darker eracted trees in the woods he starts to imagine that a boy had been swinging on them and that is how  they got bent. But in line 4, he acknowledges that the act of swinging from birch trees wouldn’t actually make the trees look bent in the way they do now. Rather  “ice storms” can bent down the trees enough to cause them permanently bent. 

     Line 5 – 12

 “Often you must ………..had fallen”.

   In these lines the speaker describes the beauty of ice – loaded birch trees in a sunny winter morning. Here the speaker admits that the birches are actually bend down due to the ice storm and not due to the boy’s swinging.

    He says, you must often have seen  birches loaded with ice on a sunny winter morning after a rain. The rain coats the tree in a sheet of ice, which forms a transparent freezing enamel around the whole tree. When the wind blows, birches swing up and down with the clicking sound. The ice on the birches shines and turns many coloured as the rays of the sun are refracted into many colours, when passing through the ice. But this beauty doesn’t last long as the ice upon the birches starts to break into pieces due to the warmth of the sun. The ice on the birches is shaken and breaks down into small fragments to fall down on the earth. Here the breaking ice has been compared to shattering crystals and glass that falls like an avalanche. The shattered ice crystals get collected below the tree as if it were a pile of glass pieces to be swept away. In this metaphor, the snow crystals have been compared to the  bits of broken glass because of their transparency and their sharpness. 

     The speaker then imagines the ice crystals scattered around the tree as  “the inner dome of heaven had fallen”.

    Line 14 – 20

  ” They are ……….in the sun”.

   With the burden of ice and snow the birches are bowed, until they reached the dried up ferns and shrubs on the ground. The speaker says that though the trees  “seem not to break” but can  “never right themselves”. This means that the trees are bent down so much and for so long that they are not in a position to straighten themselves.

    Again the speaker’s imagination rises and he has used a simile, compared the bowed down birch trees to the girls sitting on their hands and knees, hanging down their hair, in front of them, as if they are drying their hair in the sun. This simile brings out the delicacy and vulnerability of the birches.

  Line 22- 27

  “But I was …… alone”.

    In these lines the poet dismisses his idea of ice storm as a cause of bending down of birches. He says – although the reality is that the birches are bend down by snowstorm, but still I would prefer them to have been bent by a boy who herds cows.  The boy might have swung them in his spare time. I think the boy, looking after his cows and living far away from the town to learn baseball. As he lives far away from the city so he does not know how to play baseball and does not have any friends. So he might have devised a game for himself – the game of birch swinging. This game he could play alone in summer or winter.

   Line 28- 35

  ” One by one ………..clear to the ground”.

    These lines represent the theme of conquest of nature. The speaker says – the boy found the game of birch swinging very thrilling. So he had climbed all the birches owned by his father and one by one bent them all down as if he wanted to conquer all of them. The boy continues to ride them until he takes  the “stiffness”  out of them. This leaves him absolutely victorious over the trees:  

“not one was left / For him to conquer”. 

  No tree could stand eract as its stiffness was gone. 

     The boy learns to get all the way to the top of the tree and not bend it too soon, before he has reached the top. 

   Line 36- 40

   ” He always kept ……to the ground”.

   In the given lines, the poet describes the technique of climbing and bending of the trees. He says the boy should take as much care and pain to maintain his poise or balance to reach the top of the tree. This is as similar to the care that one must take  to fill a cup “Up to the brim and even above the brim”. 

     Here filling a cup up to the brim and even above the brim express the poet’s willingness to reach beyond the limits to a realm beyond the real. 

    After taking so much care when the boy reaches the top of the tree, then he would fling himself forward with his feet stretched. Next he kicks his feet, the tree bends just enough so that the boy is lowered to the ground without any harm. 

     This is suggestive of the fact that lowering down on the earth is not merely a physical action but a coming back to the real world after the flight of imagination. 

  Line 41 – 47

  ” So was I ………….it open”.

   The next few lines show the longingness  of the poet to get back his carefree childhood. These lines show a sharp contrast between the simple, easy life of childhood and the pain of complicated adult world. 

   The poet says that once he himself was a swinger of birches and  now when he is adult he once again wants to become a swinger of  birches. The poet uses the simile of  “pathless wood” for adult life. In his adult life he is tired of his thoughts and his life becomes hard to live, when the  “cobwebs” of confusion and uncertainty troubles him like some twig pinches his eyes and his  “one eye is weeping”. Then he feels that his life is like a pathless wood where he has lost his path to come out of it.

    The word  ” weeping” suggests that the tears do not come simply as a result of cut or bruise but because of some inner sorrow.  “Pathless wood”, ” cobweb”, “weeping” are all metaphors for the hardships faced by an adult. In these lines the poet brings out the theme of  imagined world versus the real world. The boy’s birch climbing represents the playful time in the world of imagination. On the other hand, his coming down to the ground represents the world of reality.

   Line 48 – 53

  “I’d like to …….go better”.

   In these lines the poet wishes to escape from this earth for “awhile”. He is tired of his difficult and complicated adult life, now he wants to escape from it as a child. He wants to become a birch swinger once again and to forget his difficult adult life, he wants to swing birches. Clearly he wants to escape into an imaginary world. But he does not want to escape permanently from the real world. He wants to come back on the earth to resume his earthly duties. The poet wants the fate to  ” half – grant” him a wish to go away from this world, from his responsibilities. The word half grant is of importance here as he does not want to go away permanently. He wants to return to this world as he thinks earth to be  the right place for love. This way he recognises the fact that there is no better place than the real world. The limits of the real world must exist to enable the imaginative world which makes possible the fantasies of poetic imagination.  

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