The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Birches” is an enduringly popular lyric by one of the United States’ most celebrated poets. In fifty-nine lines of blank verse, the poem presents a description of birch trees in a New England countryside, scenes of a boy swinging from these trees, and reflections on the meaning that being “a swinger of birches” has in Robert Frost’s life. He addresses the reader in an informal, conversational manner, using the first person “I” and addressing the reader casually as “you.” Sometimes poets create first-person speakers who are quite different from themselves. In “Birches,” however, Frost seems to be speaking in his own voice: as a grown man who has often observed and mused upon the birch trees he is describing, who remembers swinging from birches as a boy, and who has endured the adult tribulations he discusses late in the poem.

Frost reinforces the effect of conversational informality by casting the poem in continuous form. Rather than dividing the poem into stanzas or other formal sections, Frost presents an unbroken sequence of fifty-nine lines. Within this continuous form, however, Frost does shift his focus and tone, sometimes abruptly, as if he were digressing in a conversation with the reader. In this way, Frost’s major shifts reveal five sections in the poem.

In the brief first section (lines 1-3), Frost muses that when he sees birch trees that are bent over, he “like[s] to think” it is because “some...

(The entire section is 463 words.)