Poet Robert Lee Frost powerfully depicts a boy’s transition from adolescence to early adulthood in his poem, Birches. The poem begins in the first person point of view, luring the reader to take a close glimpse at nature, specifically birch trees bent from ice-storms and the passage of the years. After a few lines, though, Frost shifts to the second person point of view, stating , for example, “You may see their trunks arching in the woods” (Frost line17). Here, he directly addresses the reader, making the latter part of the experience of witnessing something simple and majestic like nature.
It is clear that the author is making an attempt to immerse that reader’s consciousness in his musings about a part of nature, which is actually a metaphor for something more profound. In the poem, birch trees serve as a metaphor for life itself. Most literary selections discuss the weariness or relentless toiling that adults experience as they journey through life. From the outset, it may seem like the birch tree is used to symbolize a person who is advancing in years and weary from years of toiling and withstanding the elements.
Upon reading the rest of the poem, however, the reader gleans that the hardships of life being depicted are that of a young boy who, in grappling with the pains and difficulties he encounters in his childhood, both as part of the natural course of events – or sexual awakening – and as wrought by external factors and events, he gains a semblance of maturity. In the poem, the boy’s sexual awakening is depicted in the line that likens the falling leaves of the birch trees to “girls on hands and knees that throw their hair…” (Frost line19).
The other symbolisms, like the boy who climbs the top branches of the tree and makes his way back to the ground, signifies how a youth develops his own distinct identity and molds his character by exploring all that life has to offer, whether they are part of the natural order of things, or challenges inflicted by unfortunate circumstances. The discerning reader is able to sense from the masterfully written poem that the main character – a boy – is entwined between trying to discover intimacy and enjoying isolation.
All the pieces of the poem may be tied together after reading it in its entirety. The poet’s musings about how hard life can get, as symbolized by birches all bent but not broken, easily strikes a chord in the heart of a reader who has known the joys of a carefree childhood but is thrust into the challenges and vicissitudes of life. Frost alludes to the possibility that “some boy’s swinging them” (Frost line3) but immediately detracts, ascertaining that this could not have been the cause on why the trees have become permanently bent.
It is midway through the poem, from the author’s own revelation, which states, “So was I once myself a swinger of birches” (Frost line42) that the reader gathers that the author was recalling his own boyhood. This was not immediately discernible, as the reader may have conjectured that the author may be relating his observation of some other boy or childhood friend. The average reader is also bound to be taken in or entranced more by the imagery depicted by the poem than to ascertaining if the author was talking from experience.
In any case, some knowledge about Frost’s life proves that he was, in fact, making references to his own childhood years. Learning about Frost’s family background and upbringing sheds greater light on the many sentiments he expressed in his poem. “Frost’s parents were poor… Robert was only eleven years old when his father died, leaving the family virtually penniless” (Nikita par. 3). Knowing this, the reader is ale to understand better Frost’s use of birches as a metaphor for life.
The reader is able to surmise that Frost has had little time to enjoy his childhood, as life dealt a heavy blow with the death of a parent and foisted a man’s responsibilities on him. In the poem, this is expressed in the line “One by one he subdued his father’s trees” (Frost 29). Frost expresses his angst and sentiments about finding solace in nature and the countryside in the lines: “I’d like to get away from earth awhile / And then come back to it and begin over” (Frost lines49-50). This is one of the most stirring lines in the poem which a reader can easily identify with.
When the author underscores birch trees as a metaphor for life which has seen ups and downs and now appears to have been weighed down by the onslaught of the years and of external elements, he presents a universal subject matter in a highly creative way. Frost employs literary devices like figures of speech, notably similes, personification to lend visual impact to his key message, successfully bringing to the reader’s consciousness all the important sentiments he wishes to convey. Frost’s brilliant poetic style is also thought-provoking.
The reader is led to make inferences or interpretations when Frost, for instance, sprinkles his poem with similes, like “life is too much like a pathless wood” (Frost line45), or when he expands the idea by using personification in the lines “When your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs / Broken across it, and one eye is weeping…” (Frost lines46-47). Frost’s trademark style of moving “in a smooth uninterrupted flow from an event or object, through a metaphor, to an idea” (Roberts & Jacobs 1103) is indeed impeccable.
Overall, Birches is a beautiful poem that offers a soothing balm to world-weary individuals who yearn to go back to their roots, especially if these roots bring them back to places and experiences that in some ways renew the spirit. Nature, a favorite subject matter of Frost, is used to present in full impact how an individual grapples with life’s difficulties that weigh him down at some point, and make him yearn to take a respite.
The main character reminisces about his boyhood and carefree romp with nature, but realizes in the end that he must continue to face the responsibilities and the realities of life as any adult should. Work Cited Nikita, Rochelle. “The Life and Poetry of Robert Frost. ” Associated Content. 25 November 2008. 28 May 2009. <http://www. oxfordtoday. ox. ac. uk/2007-08/v20n1/08. shtml>. Roberts, E. , and Henry Jacobs. Literature – An Introduction to Reading and Writing. 6th ed. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.. , 2001.
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