Why and when does the speaker reminisce about his youthful experience in Robert Frost's "Birches"?

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shake99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Robert Frost’s “Birches” is an interesting look at a wintertime phenomenon in the North. When ice storms strike, certain kinds of trees are prone to bending under the weight of accumulated ice. Sometimes the trunks of these kinds of trees, which happen to be birches in this poem, never fully recover and right themselves.

Frost uses this phenomenon to look at youth and aging, while painting some vivid word pictures (imagery) in the readers’ minds.

After describing what it means for a boy to swing a birch, and then what ice storms do to birches, Frost changes the tone of the poem a bit by becoming wistful:

So was I once myself a swinger of birches.

And so I dream of going back to be.

The speaker is reminiscing because he has grown old (or, at least, older) and wishes to return to the carefree exuberance of his youth, imagining he could temporarily leave Earth...

by climbing a birch tree,

And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk

Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,

But dipped its top and set me down again.

Why does he want to do this? Because...

. . . 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.

In a sense his own life has become like the lives of the birches, worn out by experience and forces beyond their control. The birches cannot control the weather, and the ice bends them, like age bends a human frame. The speaker probably feels that life is bending him too, and he wants to return to a time when life was about something fun, like riding a birch branch from mid-air to the ground.