In Robert Frost's "Birches," describe the scenario the speaker imagines when he sees the bent brich trees.

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accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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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.

hgarey71's profile pic

hgarey71 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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Robert Frost's poem "Birches" is written in free verse. The speaker in the poem describes the bending of the birch tree branches under the weight of the ice from winter storms. With a wistful nostalgia, he imagines that they are bent by a boy who has been swinging from the branches. In the following quote, the speaker interrupts his description of the birch trees bent by ice to say:

"But I was going to say when Truth broke in 
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm 
I should prefer to have some boy bend them 
As he went out and in to fetch the cows— 
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball, 
Whose only play was what he found himself, 
Summer or winter, and could play alone. 
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. He learned all there was 
To learn about not launching out too soon 
And so not carrying the tree away 
Clear to the ground."
The speaker goes on to say he used to be a boy who would swing on birch trees and wishes he could be again. He dreams of this when life's responsibilities weigh on him, and he gives a beautiful description of life's responsibilities, filled with imagery, in the following quote:
"And life is too much like a pathless wood 
Where 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. 
I'd like to get away from earth awhile 
And then come back to it and begin over."
He is careful to explain that he doesn't want to leave the earth completely, which suggests he is not despondent. He wants to climb the birches toward heaven and be set back down on earth again. He longs for the simplicity of childhood, with its joys and wonders, but also wants to be set back down into his adult life, where he has found love. 
"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: 
I don't know where it's likely to go better."
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