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.
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 inWith all her matter-of-fact about the ice-stormI should prefer to have some boy bend themAs 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 treesBy riding them down over and over againUntil he took the stiffness out of them,And not one but hung limp, not one was leftFor him to conquer. He learned all there wasTo learn about not launching out too soonAnd so not carrying the tree awayClear to the ground."
"And life is too much like a pathless woodWhere your face burns and tickles with the cobwebsBroken across it, and one eye is weepingFrom a twig's having lashed across it open.I'd like to get away from earth awhileAnd then come back to it and begin over."
"May no fate willfully misunderstand meAnd half grant what I wish and snatch me awayNot to return. Earth's the right place for love:I don't know where it's likely to go better."