Why does the speaker prefer to think the birches have been bent by boys instead of ice storms in the poem "Birches"? Explain the extended comparison in lines 41-49.

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The speaker has several reasons for preferring the birch trees be bent by boys and not by ice storms. First, the ice is harsher and relentless, leaving the birch trees permanently bent to the earth and unable to stand upright again. As he puts it, ending with a wonderful image...

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The speaker has several reasons for preferring the birch trees be bent by boys and not by ice storms. First, the ice is harsher and relentless, leaving the birch trees permanently bent to the earth and unable to stand upright again. As he puts it, ending with a wonderful image of girls drying their hair in the sun:
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
The speaker would prefer the trees to be able to bounce back and become upright again.
Second, boys are not only gentler when they bend the branches, they experience joy in the birch trees, and they learn how to handle nature—and life—in a humane way. They learn how to interact with the tree to that it doesn't bend all the way down:
He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground.
In lines 41-49, the speaker conveys his longing to return to climbing the birch tree as an escape when life gets harsh and painful from having to face too much reality. He states that when
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.
The speaker says that he would like to go "Toward heaven" by climbing a birch tree, but that he loves life and the beauties of earth and doesn't want to die. Instead, he wants to be renewed up near the sky but then return to earth to face life once again.
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The speaker prefers to think the birches have been bent by boys instead of ice storms because, first of all, boys do not do permanent damage to the trees to the extent that ice storms do. In lines 4 and 5, the speaker says,

"...swinging doesn't bend them down to stay

Icestorms do that."

Even more than this, however, the speaker likes to think boys have bent the birches because he used to do so himself, and he recalls what a valuable experience it is for a young boy to be able to climb to the very top of a birch and let himself down. Being able to engage in such an activity can provide a lonely boy an outlet for his energies, and allow him to keep himself interested and occupied in the absence of friends. In lines 24-27, the speaker says,

"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."

Although the speaker does not directly state it, it is implied that, when he was a boy, he was isolated from the company of others his own age, and found companionship and play in the birches instead.

In the extended metaphor in lines 41-49, the speaker compares the action of the boy's play with the birches to a wider concept of life. The boy climbs the birch tree, and when he is at the top, he feels separated from the earth, high above it. By shifting his weight, he can get the tree to slowly bend and bring him back to earth when he is ready. The speaker likens this experience to being able to escape from earth temporarily, when he would

"...like to get away from earth awhile

And then come back to it and begin over" (lines 48-49).

Climbing to the top of the birches offers one the chance to "get away from it all" for a bit, allowing for a period of rest and renewal before getting on with the sometimes difficult business of life.

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