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As with so many of Frost's poems, "Birches" takes a scene from nature and the speaker elaborates on this scene. In this poem, it is the sight of birch trees that appear permanently bent, their "trunks arching in the woods" that leads the speaker to think about how this happened. The truthful explanation would be the way in which storms and in particular ice storms bend the birches, forcing them down and in some cases keeping them that way permanently. However, the speaker would prefer to imagine that they are bent permanently under the weight of a boy who repeatedly climbs up the trunks and swings on them:
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.
Thus it is that we can see the speaker's admiration for the boy, who sees the trees as needing to be "conquered" and "subdued." He sees the unbent trees as a challenge which fills him with excitement. The speaker goes on to talk about this process of bending trees at a literal and a symbolic level.
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