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In today’s class, we will be talking about reading and analyzing of non-African poetry: “The Birches” by Robert Frost. Enjoy the class!
Reading and Analyzing of Non-African Poetry: “The Birches” by Robert Frost
The poem, “Birches” by Frost is a dramatic monologue that highlights the poet persona’s observation of the trees, birches. He recognizes that the ‘birches bend to left and right/Across the lines of straighter darker trees’. From his intuition, he had imagined that the bend is as a result of ‘some boy’s been swinging them.’ But on a second note, he sees that this kind of bend is different in ‘But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay/As ice-storm do.’ What had been the workings of some boys in a pleasurable manner has been left for snow rain to subdue. Due to the change brought in by technology and science, the poet speaker observes that the birches have been left alone for ice storms to deal with. He reveals how snows have forcefully bent the birches into sharps that they find it difficult to ‘right themselves’. He says ‘You may see their trunks arching in the woods/Years afterwards,’ which explains how the negligence of the society has promoted battering of nature in the form of trees. But through the aid of flashback, the poet speaker hints on the position in ‘I should prefer to have some boy bend them/As he went out and in to fetch the cows’. From his desire, we realized how his boyhood experience had been in great affinity with swinging on birches in a pastoral setting. He establishes a dichotomy between the lifestyle and interest of the boy in a pastoral setting and modern setting by saying, ‘Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,/Whose only play was what he found himself,/Summer or winter, and could play alone.’ He highlights the excitement that dictates how ‘One by one he subdued his father’s trees/By riding them down over and over again/until he took the stiffness out of them’. In the subsequent lines, he shows us the degree of dexterity deployed by some boy ‘to conquer’ the birches. In his words, ‘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.’ However, the poet persona makes us understand that he wishes to return to such experiences of his boyhood days in ‘So was I one a swinger of birches/And so I dream of going back to be.’ He goes further to inform that his desire is stirred by frustration with his present modern society as stated in ‘it’s when I’m weary of considerations/And life is too much like a pathless wood/Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs/Broken across it’. The disappointment recorded in the modern world or society forces him to cry, ‘I’d like to get away from earth awhile/And then come back to it and begin over.’ He calls for a respite from the notion of survival of the fittest which governs how things are run. To always ease oneself of the suffocating nature of life in the modern world, he reiterates in the lines: ‘I’d like to go 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/That would be good both going and coming back.’ He reaffirms, ‘One could do worse than be a swinger of birches’ to be completely free like nature.
- Dramatic Monologue: We notice through the use of the first person pronoun ‘I’ and the second person pronoun ‘You’, the poet has through the device dramatic monologue unveil his thought on how the birches have been neglected in the hands of ice storms to bend. Through it, dramatically recaps what his boyhood experience looked like as he is left to swing on birches. Through is also, his frustration is noted as he confesses ‘It’s when I’m weary of considerations/And life is too much like a pathless wood’.
- Simile: To draw the attention of his readers to his intended point of view, the poet speaker deploys simile in ‘… trailing their leaves on ground/Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair’ to describe the way the leaves of long-forgotten birches bent by ice storms. Also, to communicate his displeasure with affairs of the present society, he says, ‘And life is too much like a pathless wood’.
- Imagery: Right from the opening of the poem where the poet recounts, ‘When I see birches bend to left and right/Across the lines of straighter darker trees,’ we recorded the use of imagery. With this device, readers could visualize even the boyhood experience of the poet speaker and internalize his perception of birches. And this device is seen to run through the poem in a complementary effort to dramatic monologue.
- Personification: This device is employed in the line, ‘But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay/As ice-storms do.’ As humans, ice-storms bend these birches. Also, in ‘As the breeze rises, and turn many-coloured’, the poet speaker personifies the human attribute of rising and turning on the breeze.
- Onomatopoeia: To fasten the reception and retention of meaning, the poet decides to engage onomatopoeia. Such words like ‘click’, ‘cracks’, ‘crazes’, ‘crystal’, ‘shattering’, ‘tickle’ and ‘lashed’ are utilized as their sound help create meaning.
- The simplicity and blissfulness of nature: Due to the complexities and bewilderment that characterize his present modern society, the poet speaker reveals his secret desires as he says, ‘I’d like to get away from earth awhile’. This is because for him ‘… life is too much like a pathless wood/Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs/Broken across it’. The bastardised spate of the modern society which is divulged of a touch of nature and known for its suffocating tendencies has ignited the quest for his youthful days characterized by the presence of nature in the lines, ‘So was I once myself a swinger of birches/And so I dream of going back to be.’ He says this, not without extending a reason for such move: ‘It’s when I’m weary of considerations’. Furthermore, the simplicity of nature can be viewed from the lines, ‘Some boy too far from town to learn baseball/Whose only play was what he found himself/Summer or winter, and could play alone.’ Even alone, playing with nature is blissful.
- The theme of innocence and purity: The poet persona through the lines of the poem highlights innocence and purity in the attitude of the boy with the birches. No wonder he says, ‘I should prefer to have some boy bend them’. This is because the boy does not bend them that they find it difficult to right themselves. In ‘You may see their trunks arching in the woods/Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground,’ it is observed that the ice storms are mindless of what happens to the birches. Unlike the reckless attitude of the players of the modern society, the concern of the pastoral society is affirmed in ‘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.’ His innocence and purity are heightened by his request to fate not to misinterpret his words or desires as noted in ‘I’d like to get away from earth awhile/And then come back to it and begin over/May no fate wilfully misunderstand me/And half grant what I wish and snatch me away/Not to return.’
- Give a detailed content analysis of the poem, “Birches”.
- Examine the poem, “Birches” as a romantic work.
In our next class, we will be talking about Reading and Textual Analysis of Non-African Drama: She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith. We hope you enjoyed the class.
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