Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
“Birches” is a popular poem largely because it so satisfyingly represents the loveable side of Robert Frost. The poem neatly encapsulates much of what is most familiar and endearing about this poet: his vivid description of a New England natural scene, his folksy voice mixing plain talk with whimsy and imagination, and his clear development of simple images and actions into accessible symbolic meanings. Further, the conclusion of the poem is warmly reassuring, making the conflict between realism and romanticism seem reconciled so that earthly realities do not ultimately seem too harsh or discouraging, and playful imaginings do not seem too whimsical or quixotic.
Seen from another perspective, however, “Birches” also reveals a more sophisticated view of the theme of the relation between imagination and reality. Though in general terms the poem presents these two realms as in conflict, Frost also delights in showing that realistic and imaginative language often dissolve into each other, so that the dichotomy between them is not as clear as many people (including the speaker of the poem) seem to think it is. For example, in the second section of the poem (the one mainly concerned with the actual “Truth” about how ice storms bend the birches), the fervor of Frost’s observations leads him into some wildly imaginative tropes. Ice shattered by the sun becomes the metaphor “heaps of broken glass to sweep away” that seem to have fallen from the...
(The entire section is 479 words.)
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