Fear Of a Unlived Life in a Poem By Robert Frost

Categories: Regret

In a poem called ‘Birches’ by Robert Frost, the speaker, an old man is looking back on his life and trying to accept the fact that he is dying. He feels as though he has gone through life without living his life to the fullest. Through the use of literary devices, Frost recreates the idea that the speaker has a fear of a life un-lived.

Throughout the poem, Frost uses a series of different themes, devices, and uses a unique structure.

These different themes and devices all represent different parts in the speaker’s life and challenges that he has faced or is currently facing as an older man. The poem consists of six different parts. The structuring creates a paradox which is looked at more in depth later on in the poem. The paradox creates confusion in the reader much like the confusion that the speaker feels which is the effect that Robert Frost is trying to establish. However, the paradox is not created by the structure alone.

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After the fictional part of the poem ends up switching back to the truth, it shows that the last part of the poem was the truth rather than the fiction. Birches shows no rhythm which makes it free verse.

Frost opens the poem with an image of the birches bent “left and right Across the lines of straighter darker trees” using visual imagery and contrast. He then quickly gives the reader an explanation as to how they got that way: A boy had been swinging on them.

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Shortly afterwards, he states that this is false…saying in line 4 “But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay.” However, the image of a playful boy is powerful and is shown more throughout the poem.

"But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay. Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning" (Lines 4-6)

From these lines (Lines 4-6), we learn that whatever it is, swinging bends the tree down to the ground. But, swinging doesn't bend the tree enough to cause permanent damage like an ice-storm can. Line 5, is where we see the first break in the poem where Frost admits that it is ice storms rather than boys who bend down the birch trees. He goes on to talk about the birch trees using visual imagery, sound imagery, and repetition. We are now into the second section of the poem. In line 9, the sun “cracks and crazes their enamel” The ice. This shows a sense of destruction in the poem. This quote also shows Onomatopoeia. In the following lines, Frost changes value of the ice covered birches, which is a metaphor for religion.

“Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells

Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust-

Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away”(Lines 10-12)

This quote introduces the theme of religion and illustrates the idea that the speaker has had faith in his religion but is losing it, which shows a loss in value (“Crystal shells” turning into “heaps of broken glass”) to the speaker. Robert Frost is using dramatic language to get you into the feeling of experience.

The speaker is questioning his religion and reconsidering because he wants a second chance so badly that he is willing to drop his life-long values. This puts emphasis on how unfulfilling his life may have been.

In line 13, Frost makes the poem more symbolic with the sentence “you’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.” This quote anticipates the end of the poem and is the beginning of the speaker’s retreat from reality.

"They are dragged to be withered bracken by the load, and they seem not to break; though once they are bowed so long for long, they never right themselves"

In this quote (Lines 14 to 16) the trees are bent down under the weight of ice and snow until they reach the bracken on the ground below. Lines 15 and 16 show that, to the speaker, the birch trees do not crack like the ice, but they bend, rather than break. However, when he says "seem" this proves that this may not be right. When trees bend down, they do not straighten out afterwards. So in a sense, they are broken. This introduces the paradox.

In lines 16 and 17, the quote "You may see their trunks arching in the woods years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground" once again shows visual imagery. Frost makes us imagine what the broken trees might look like after the snow thaws and the leaves show.

The next section of the poem is lines 21-23, which pay a very important role in the poem. It is the bridge between the truth and the fiction. Frost uses personification to show that the speaker has distaste for the truth and the reality that comes with it. This shows that he dislikes the truth without directly saying it in the poem.

“But I was going to say when the truth broke in With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm”

The next section is the fictional part of the poem (So far). This entire section is lines 21 to 40. This introduces the theme of Childhood. Frost talks about a Boy who lives with his father and the speaker is thinking of himself when he was a boy. In these lines he goes on to explain what his childhood was like and suggests that he would like to change his childhood.

“Some boy too far from town to learn baseball, Whose only play was what he found himself, Summer or winter, and could play alone.”(Lines 26-28)

This shows that the speaker was a very lonely boy and had few friends. This implies that the speaker did not have a very exciting and enjoyable childhood, which would give him reasoning to want a second chance. There is however, deeper meaning in the line “Whose only play was what he found himself”. This quote means that he was sexually frustrated and due to his loneliness had to masturbate.

"One by one he subdued his father's trees by riding them down over and over again until he took the stiffness out of them, and not one but hung limp, not one was left for him to conquer" (Lines 28-32)

The speaker is imagining himself as a boy going out on his father’s land. The boy "rides" the birches up and down, meaning he is going to the top and going to the bottom over and over again until the tree bends to the ground. There is also more hidden meaning to this. This quote describes the actual action of masturbating.

“He always kept his poise to the top branches, climbing carefully with the same pains you use to fill a cup up to the brim and even above the brim”

In this quote, Frost is showing that the boy is getting better at climbing the trees. He also uses a simile here. When he says that “He always kept his poise to the top branches” he means that the boy always climbed the trees balanced and calm. He also compares climbing the he birches to filling a cup up to the brim. When we are filling a cup, we try not to overflow the cup as you are pouring…so a person pours the liquid into the cup carefully and slowly, which is a metaphor for climbing.

Near the end of the section we come to the transition between the fiction which will soon reverse, creating the paradox. The last section of this poem is a very important one. It introduces death, and how the speaker wants a second chance.

“So was I once myself a swinger of birches; and so I dream of going back to be” (Lines 42-43)

These lines create a paradox. This quote shows that the speaker himself, talking as an older man in this part of the poem, is saying that the boy in the previous section (Originally thought to be fiction) was him and it is actually the truth.

“It’s when I’m weary of considerations

And life was too much of a path less wood

Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs

Broken across it, and one eye is weeping

From a twigs having lashed across it open.” (Lines 44-48)

The speaker is talking about how tough and painful his life was in these lines. The speaker wishes he could be a boy again when he’s “Weary of considerations”. “Considerations” means thoughtful decision making. In the next line, the speaker is comparing life to “a path less wood” which means it is easy to get lost when you have no directions. In lines 45 to 47, Frost tells us what happens when you walk through a path less wood in “And life is too much like a pathless wood when your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs broken across it” These are all metaphors for the challenges of life. A controlling metaphor is present in this quote.

“I’d like to get away from earth for a while

And then come back to it and begin over.”(Lines 49-50)

This quote brings forth the beginning of the theme of death. It also tells us that the speaker wants to get away from his responsibilities as an adult and go back to his childhood as a method of escape. This shows that he wants a new beginning. He doesn’t want to die but also doesn’t want to be where he is right now.

“May no fate willfully misunderstand me

And half grant what I wish and snatch me away

Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love”

In line 51 “May no fate willfully misunderstand me”, it shows that he doesn’t want to die but is going to anyway. This is showing tone and the speaker yelling fate. This is Robert Frost making allusion to the pagan fates. He expresses that he didn’t experience love when he was younger and wants to have a second chance so that he can find love and experience it in “Earth is the right place for love”.

“I’d like 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” (Lines 55-57)

Typically when people say that phrase “I’d like to go by…” They are referring to their death and how they would like to die. When he says “by climbing a tree”, this means that he’d like to die and then go through life once again. In “toward heaven” it shows that he is a Christian, and is put in italics for emphasis. He says “till the tree could bear no more” shortly afterwards, which means that he doesn’t get to heaven. Frost is also using thematic imagery in these lines.

“But dipped it’s top and set me down again

That would be good both going and coming back

One could do worse than be a swinger of birches”

These are the last few lines of the poem. In the first line, when he says “set me down again” its hidden meaning is reincarnation. This brings back the theme of religion once again that was mentioned earlier. This once again is evidence to show that he is questioning his faith just to be reborn again. The glimpse of the world from a new perspective would be rejuvenating. He then concludes in line 60 that birch swinging is enough to make a life worth living.

In conclusion, this poem is all about living your life to the fullest and not having any regrets when your time has come. The poem is all about an old man having trouble accepting death because he isn’t happy with the way he has lived, hence the change in his religion as a Christian in the end of the poem in an attempt to have a second chance at life through reincarnation.

Updated: Feb 15, 2024
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Fear Of a Unlived Life in a Poem By Robert Frost. (2024, Feb 15). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/fear-of-a-unlived-life-in-a-poem-by-robert-frost-essay

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