With reference to “Birches” by Robert Frost, what does being a swinger of birches symbolize for the speaker?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Frost's "Birches" articulates the gap between the hopeful aspirations intrinsic to human identity and the crushing weight of reality that also defines what it means to be an individual in the modern setting.  For Frost, being a "swinger of birches" symbolizes a happier and "lighter" time in one's being.  When Frost sees the bent of the birch trees, he recognizes that such a natural vision could be a result of a boy who enjoyed swinging on birch trees.  For Frost, being a swinger of birches reflects purity, joy, and a sense of exhilaration in terms of what it means to be a human being.  

Frost speaks about what it means to be a bender of birches as "some boy too far from town to learn baseball."  The boy's embrace of swinging of birches was an activity where "he could play alone."  Frost shows that the boy who is a swinger of birches "conquered" the birch trees, and "learned all there was/ To learn about not launching out too soon."  Frost articulates a certain skill that the swinger of birches must possess:  

He learned all there was 
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.

Frost combines the joy intrinsic to being a swinger of birches with the masterful grasp of technique, where the boy "learned all there was" and "always kept his poise."  He describes this technique as one who is fully immersed in life as the activity brings happiness and joy in one's consciousness.

The speaker of the poem confesses that he, too, was once "a swinger of birches."  This helps to articulate the full meaning of being a swinger of birches, in terms of it representing a state of being in the world. When Frost ends the poem with “One could do worse than be a swinger of birches," it speaks to how there is a part of human identity which is capable of living in a world of joy and happiness, even if the weight of one's being is a reality where the individual "grows weary of considerations."  It is in this point where being a "swinger of birches" embodies the optimism and restoration that is possible in human identity.  Being a "swinger of birches" symbolizes the individual's capacity to show what can be in the midst of what is.  In this transformative element, being a swinger of birches holds much in way of meaning and importance to the construction of one's identity. 

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