What is the tone of "Birches"?

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The tone of "Birches" is, ultimately, hopeful, as the speaker reflects nostalgically upon having been "a swinger of birches" in his youth and concludes that "one could do worse than be a swinger of birches." The birches in the poem seem to represent humans who, like the birches, might be "bowed so low for [so] long, they never right themselves," and yet "seem not to break." The difficulties we encounter, we might infer, will leave their mark upon us, but in the end we will endure.

There is a contrast drawn in this poem between the carefree happiness of the child "kicking his way down through the air to the ground" and the speaker who finds "life is too much like a pathless wood . . . one eye . . . weeping / From a twig's having lashed across it open." Adulthood, we can understand, is so difficult that we often long to be a child again. In the end, however, the speaker returns to the birches, the swinging climb which "would be good both going and coming back." The way I interpret the poem is that no matter how difficult life can sometimes seem, we must always remember that we can go back to being that "swinger of birches" we were in our youth, if only for a little while, because humans can be bowed with strain but are too resilient to break.

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In Sewanee Review, literary critic Jeffrey Hart terms "Birches" a "Frostian manifesto" because of the poem's skeptical tone regarding spiritual matters. In fact, critics feel that this poem is precursor of the tone of poems that followed in which he adopts the voice of the Yankee farmer. In "Birches" the speaker longs for the days of his youth and the flights of imagination that it provided. But, the poem becomes more melancholy as the speaker's introspection emerges with the word "Truth" in line 21.

He returns to his flights of fancy of youth and its innocence and creativity as, perhaps, the means of finding "Truth."

So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood...
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.

Frost's final line confirms his belief in the wisdom and "Truth" of nature: "One could do worse than be a swinger of birches." For, he was willing to test the limits, to extend himself as well as the trees. "Birches" is a poem with much tension between imagination and reality, between the choices to be made in what may seem like like a pathless wood.

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