General Characteristic of Birches Poem

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Words: 2759 |

Pages: 6|

14 min read

Published: Nov 8, 2019

Words: 2759|Pages: 6|14 min read

Published: Nov 8, 2019

“Here was a man who now for the first time found himself looking into the eyes of death--who was passing through one of those rare moments of experience when we feel the truth of a commonplace, which is as different from what we call knowing it.” (GEORGE ELIOT, Middlemarch) The poem “Birches” written by Robert Frost, is a very complex piece of literature focused around the concept of life. This particular piece of writing is packed full of figurative devices that forces the reader to view the poem beyond words. Through a creative structure, Frost recreates an end of life experience, which exposes the conflicted themes by using many different literacy devices.

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Frost begins by giving the central image of the poem by letting the reader know exactly what is about to happen. The style of “Birches” is a free verse of numerous variations on the prevailing iambic foot. Although visually, the poem doesn’t have any more than one selection, it is broken down into five different sections based on changes in the topic as well as the speaker’s ideas. These breaks do not jump out to the reader right away. Instead, along with the speaker’s beliefs, they depend on the reader developing a strong understanding of the poem.

The poem begins by giving the reader background information until line five, when it precedes on to the truth. This truth later changes to fiction due to paradox. It is then followed by what (at first) is fiction. Next, Frost delivers the reader with the reality and connects the speaker to the previous lines, followed by a resolution in the way the speaker feels. Frost uses extreme use of contrast because the speaker whom Frost describes in his poetry are forced to choose between rationality and imagination, and the two cannot exist at the same time.

The title “Birches”, introduces the reader to the controlling metaphor. The birches have a symbolic representation to the speaker as his childhood and are known to him as a way to go back to being a “swinger of the birches” (Frost, 42). He using literally devices to unfold the controlling metaphor throughout the poem. Frost presents the speakers conflict with the title, because the speaker wants to use the birches to go back to his childhood, due to fact that his life right up to this point has been very lonely and awful. This is the first thing we learn about the speaker through poetic devices, but it is just the beginning of them in the poem.

Without direct indication from Frost, the reader is able to figure out that the speaker in this poem is an older man. Frost provides the reader with information to assume that by having the speaker say “So was I once myself a swinger of birches; and so I dream of going back to be” (Frost, 41 and 42) which reveals to the reader that the speaker is older because “a swinger of birch” (Frost, 41) is described as a young boy, so revealing the speakers gender. The old man lived nothing close to a happy life, and is filled with regret, dreaming constantly that he could live his life back over again. Not only did he have a poor childhood “whose only play was what he found himself” (Frost, 26), but he also lived the rest of his life alone “some boy too far from town to learn baseball” (Frost, 25) … “Could play alone” (Frost, 27) and without love. Through more indications from the poem we discover that this man also has interior battles that he faced on top of everything else and through the paradox this conflicted state of his mind is revealed.

As indicated earlier in the first section of “Birches”, background information is given, because the reader needs it to understand the rest of the poem correctly. “I see birches bend to left and right” (Frost, 1) is an example of visual imagery, followed by an example of a symbol “darker trees” (Frost, 2). The first section also gives us two sets of opposites “left and right” (Frost, 1) and “bend… straighter” (Frost, 1-2) which are used along with the rest of this section to provide the reader with the main conflict in the speaker’s life along. This section also is contrast because it is looking at an image and speculates on the reason why the trees are bent, one is the truth and one is what the speaker wishes the truth was. Not only are these the beginning of the many literacy devices used but it also leads us up to the paradox.

The second section of the poem is the beginning of the paradox. Frost starts out by providing us with the truth behind why the trees are bent by saying “But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay/ As ice storms do…” (Frost, 4-5) but later on we learn that this so called truth really turns to fiction. In this section we get to experience many examples of imagery from sound when talking about how the tree branches “click upon themselves” (Frost, 7) to sexual imagery when the speaker uses the words “like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair before them over their heads to dry in the sun” (Frost, 19- 20). This is an example of sexual imagery he uses in the poem describing an intimate experience, because it is something that he never got to experience in his life. We also see Frost using devices such as onomatopoeia when he uses the words “cracks and crazes” (Frost, 9), and a simile when comparing the trees to the “girls on hands and knees” (Frost 19). This section like the rest of the poem is packed full of literacy devices.

The capitalization on the word “Truth” (Frost, 21) shows the reader the difference between what is actually happening compared to what’s happening in the speaker’s head and also represents personification. “With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storms” (Frost, 22) is an example of dramatic language. In this third section of the poem the reader also gets to see the first time the speaker is talking to someone by asking “now am I free to be poetical?” (Frost, 23) which is the final piece of information we get before the paradox. The reader learns that the ‘truth’ to this poem is very imaginative to the speaker and he might actually believe that there is a capital “T” in truth (or a hidden truth to everything). The tone in the poem is also revealed her because you get to see that the speaker doesn’t like reality and doesn’t want to believe the truth at all. When the speaker says “with all her matter of fact” (Frost, 22) he is being sarcastic and this proves that he has a negative/ angry tone towards it all. Once again Frost took every opportunity to use literacy devices in this section.

Fiction is what we’re provided with next in section four but this quickly changes to truth in the poem’s paradox. When the speaker sees the trees bent down, even when he knows the “truth” (Frost, 21) about why they are he still believes himself that a young boy swinging on them is what caused them to bend. Sexual imagery is used again and when the speaker says “by riding them down over and over again until he took the stiffness out of them, and not one but hung limp” (Frost, 30-33) which although appears to be talking about the trees, it is ametaphoric, a description of masturbation. An allegory is also used in lines twenty-four to twenty-eight because the one words “one… not” (Frost, 32) are used four times. The speaker uses this time to describe his life as a boy which we learn was a very unsatisfying youth. When he says “learn about not launching out to soon” (Frost, 34) he isn’t really talking about the boy on the trees, but actually talking about living life to the fullest which is something he didn’t do. This leads the reader to a lot of regret and he wishes more than anything that he could go back and live his life over again, this time full of love, but due to his religion that wish is shattered when he knows it’s not possible for him to return back to earth again, but is also worried that heaven wont be able to provide him with love either, Assonance is visible through the word “swish” (Frost, 40) some of the final lines of this section (lines thirty-six to thirty-nine) show not only a comparison but also a metaphor. Again the reader is amazed by the use of literacy devices.

Section five is where the paradox gets revealed to the reader along with summing up the speaker’s thought before his final resolution. This is the only part in the whole structure that has a break before it representing a transition. This section starts by revealing the paradox “so was I once myself a swinger of birches; and so I dream of going back to be” (Frost, 42-43) which turns the whole poem’s structure to turn into one big opposite and forcing section two and four to exchange meanings and leaves the reader questions truth? The controlling metaphor is also in this section: “I’m weary of considerations, and life is too much like a pathless wood” (Frost 44-45). Along with all the other imagery Frost uses tactile imagery, so the reader can feel “your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs broken across it, and one eye is weeping from a twig’s having lashed across it open” (Frost, 46-48) Fate and religions get revealed to the reader by Frost in this section as well. Not only does the reader know that the speaker is a Christian based on earlier mention of “dome of heaven” (Frost, 13), but now the reader knows about reincarnation through “may no fate willfully misunderstand me and half grant what I wish and snatch me away not to return” (Frost, 51-52) but he wants to believe that he can leave earth but then come back again to relive another life. Paganism (also known as mythology) now is also visible in “Birches” because of the speaker’s rage against Fates, the job of the three fate is to determine the way your life goes, and even when the speaker knows that if you yell at them they will make your life awful he continues to yell at them. Frost not only uses literacy devices but also uses other devices to create another excellent poem.

The speaker comes to a resolution in the final section of “Birches” by finally accepting the fact that he will die and no be able to return to live another life. It sums up all his previous thoughts and condenses the whole poem and the theme which is to live your life to the fullest because if not you will only be filled with regret in the end, even if you live life to the fullest and mess something up it will be better than not taking that chance and things can always be worse. The word “toward” (Frost, 47) which is also in italic shows that he went towards heaven but never reached it because the tree couldn’t hold anymore. This whole part of the poem is an example of thematic imagery because it provides the reader with an image that relates to the theme (metaphor) of the whole poem. An example of analogy is also present by Frost using the words “climbing a birch tree” (Frost, 55) and when he uses “swinger of birches” (Frost, 60) this represents repetition because it is used over and over again throughout the poem. The second last line of the poem says “that would be good both going and coming back” (Frost, 58-59) shows that although he must go and leave earth for awhile, he needs to return in order for him to be complete. The tree is a perfect analog for the speaker to explain his feelings, and solution because the trees is rooted to the ground and even when the tree grow far above the ground “towards heaven” it is still rooted in the ground, so the person climbing the tree is always still connected to the earth. Once the reader finishes the poem, Frost leaves the reader with the same paradox due to the amazing usage of literacy devices in other words the reader of the poem is left questioning the truth, and wondering if their own lives are missing important elements that will regret later such as love.

Readers of this poem not only get the end of life experience of the speaker (older man) but also leaves the reader not knowing what the truth is anymore and they think about their own life, pushing them into the same paradox. The speaker tells the reader the way his life was growing up in a very discrete but detailed explanation at the same time and this causes the reader to feel empathy for him because of the awful events the speaker had to go through. The reader also gets the setting of the poem revealed to us as being after an ice storm. The speaker’s awful, loveless, sad life forces the reader to think about their own decisions and ways of living, causing them to question themselves whether they are really living their life to full possibilities it offers. Religion is also used in a way to get the reader thinking more about the speaker’s opinions, like mentioned either Christianity is visible in “Birches” through the mention of heaven but the other two religions which are Pagan (mythology) and Buddhism are deeper in words of the poem and the reader needs to have a small understanding of both of these to see their presence in this particular piece of Frost’s writing. Buddhism is noticeable through the speaker talking about recantation and the Pagan religion is shown through the mention of “fate” (Frost, 51).

Robert Lee Frost was born on March 26, 1874 and died on January 29, 1963. Often times the material in someone’s work has to do with their personal life, for example if someone has had a depressing sad life, the chance of them writing pieces that are happy is highly unlikely unless it is used to escape their reality; this is present in Frost’s work. Frost was born in California, but after his father’s death, he moved into his grandparent’s house with his mother and sister which was located in Massachusetts. Frost met the love of his life (Elinor White) in high school, they graduated together, got married and had their first child; Elliot, a year after their wedding. However, their love story had its ups and downs. Initially she turned him down when he proposed because she wanted to finish high school first. (Pritchard, 2001) They continued to face rough times that life threw at them. After their second child’s birth; Lesley, Elliot, their first child passed away. They had four more children, one passed away through suicide, one later developed a mental illness, one died in their late twenties after giving birth herself, and lastly one who died a couple weeks after birth, all these tragic events took a major emotional beating on Frost, visible in his work. Although, Frost original wasn’t taken seriously and was turned down many times, he continued to push and stand behind his work, now today his work is used in many schools around the world, and has become a very famous poet. (, 2008)

Throughout “Birches”, literacy devices are constantly used to provide the reader with an end of life experience of an older man. Imagery is used all throughout the poem; from sexual imagery to visual imagery. They all play a critical part in providing the reader with an image in their head while reader the poem. The structure is very creative, breaking the poem up into six different sections. It also provides truth and fiction which later switches due to the poem’s paradox. Not only is the speaker of the poem revealed as an older man, but because of the words Frost uses, the reader also gets to experience the tone he has towards the topics in the poem.

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Literacy devices such as personification, transition, repetition, analogy, allegory, similes, symbols, dramatic language, comparisons, assonance, metaphors, and many more are used by Robert Frost in the poem “Birches”. The extreme use of literacy devices used, make this poem the great piece of literature it is.

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General Characteristic Of Birches Poem. (2019, September 13). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 23, 2024, from
“General Characteristic Of Birches Poem.” GradesFixer, 13 Sept. 2019,
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