Birches


Reality vs. Fantasy

"Birches" by Robert Frost is a nostalgic poem filled with fond memories and fantasies, yet at the same time the speaker reveals his longing to escape. Frost sets up a conversation with himself using dialogue between his sensible, knowing self and his fantasizing, nostalgic self. At first the poem seems to be just an account for all of the birches leaning with none standing straight. Frost would like to think that a child at play bent the trees, probably to escape the truth that nature destroys itself. The idea of trees being bent by ice and snow is much less romantic than the idea of a young boy enjoying himself, teaching himself some lessons about Physics and life. This idea of nature's self-destruction is one that isn't often addressed in our time, since most destruction to nature is blamed on humans and pollution. Frost, being a man of the country, realizes that nature often destroys itself, but he wants to imagine a different cause for the leaning branches. The speaker's fantasy offers him a way to make some good come out of the injury to the branches, thereby allowing himself to recollect his past as a boy swinging from branch to branch. This fantasy also allows the speaker, not Frost, to escape from the reality of the destruction of the earth. For these reasons, this poem illustrates the battle of the speaker between the youthful thoughts of fantasy and the older, more plausible, facts of reality.
The description of the boy swing from branch to branch could also be construed as a metaphor: a boy's actions swinging from birches represents his learning through feeling out situations and making mistakes while growing. Of course, a boy will learn of balance and heights while climbing trees, but there is an underlying admission that he is growing up. Frost uses the natural side of things in climbing trees to parallel growing up and becoming a man. The
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description of the boy at play, "He learned all there was/To learn about not launching out too soon", "?climbing carefully"; "Kicking his way down through the air to the ground" shows many traits of learning through experience. The clever choice of words in "with the same pains you use to fill a cup" he prompts the reader to remember the pain of growing up with all of the new challenges and tasks associated with growing up. Because of Frost's commitment to using nature to help people explore them, it is not surprising that the most frequent methods in his attempt to deal with this nature-spirit dualism is the juxtaposition of reality and fantasy.
The speaker also relates the stages of life and tot he season of nature. He/she makes several references to what happens during the ongoing course of the seasons within the first twenty-two lines. The speaker draws us into his observation the trees "you must have see them / Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning / After a rain" and adds that "once they are bowed / So low so long, they never right themselves." The speaker is revealing only the scientific aspect of this phenomenon. After he points out that the trees will be bent over the years, there is a major transition in the speaker's way of thinking. he turned to his imagination again to provide the explanation he prefers. The idea of fantasy is introduced, and it is revealed that this aspect is much more favorable for the speaker when he/she says "I should prefer."
The second part of "Birches" deals with a fantasy that is common to most of mankind; a longing to start over again. It is common to hear someone wish to start over again for countless reasons. Here Frost uses the simile "And life is too much like a pathless wood" to acknowledge that life can lead a person to feel lost. "Pathless wood" illustrates confusion, whereas "one eye weeping from a twig?" illustrates the sadness that comes from life's adversity. In saying, "I'd like to get away from earth for a while" Frost expresses a desire for an escape not necessarily via
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death, but perhaps through fantasy where he may start over again. He quickly addresses the idea of fate and explains that he doesn't want his wish "half " granted; he does not want