Critical Overview

(Poetry for Students)

"Birches" has been viewed as an important expression of Frost's philosophical outlook as well as a transitional poem that signaled a significant change in his literary development. Critic Jeffrey Hart, writing in Sewanee Review, terms "Birches" a "Frostian manifesto" due to the poem's skeptical tone regarding spiritual matters. Hart draws attention to the first part of the poem, where Frost presents the fantastic idea that the trees were bent by a boy, then discredits this thought with a more rational explanation regarding ice storms. In this manner, according to Hart, Frost casts doubt on the irrational aspects of the spiritual realm and upholds the value of earthly reality. "Birches," the critic writes, "asserts the claims of Frost's skepticism and sense of human limits against the desire for transcendence and the sense of mysterious possibility." A similar conclusion is reached by Floyd C. Watkins in an essay published in South Atlantic Quarterly. Watkins explains that Frost "contemplates a moment when the soul may be completely absorbed into a union with the divine. But he is earthbound, limited, afraid. No sooner does he wish to get away from earth than he thinks of 'fate'— rather than God. And what might be a mystical experience turns into fear of death, a fear that he would be snatched away 'not to return.'"

John C. Kemp, in his book Robert Frost and New England, notes that "Birches" was written at a time when Frost's work...

(The entire section is 434 words.)