Robert Frost is a prominent American poet whose poetry is marked by deep personal feelings and experience, clear imagery and symbolism. The poem “Birches” symbolically represents the desire of a speaker to return to the past and escape from the troubles by swinging on Birches. Thesis The symbol and theme of “birches swinging” reflects inner psychological state of Robert Frost, his grievances and desperation, as a result of several deaths in his family, which he tries to escape.
Robert Frost was born in 1874 in San Francisco.
The first death he was faced with was his father’s death in 1885 forced the family to return to their native New England, where they settled in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Frost went to Dartmouth College but withdrew in his first term to return to Lawrence and support his family by teaching.
The poem “Birches” reflects his life struggle and grievances, sorrow and depression followed Frost all his life. Frost married in 1895 and applied to Harvard as a special student; he was accepted into a three-year program but withdrew after two years.
Following the deaths of his son Elliott, his mother and his daughter Elinor, he fell into a deep depression and seriously contemplated suicide. In 1912 he and his family moved to England, where he found a publisher for his first book of verse, A Boy’s Will (1913). The collection was well received and was soon followed by a second, North of Boston (1914). These publications, along with his friendship with poets such as Ezra Pound and Edward Thomas, increased his exposure in literary magazines. In 1915 he returned to the USA and settled on a farm in New Hampshire. There Frost the poet was nurtured. Like that of many great national poets, his verse relies heavily on the language of the people. Many of his poems take the form of dramatic monologues or dialogues, using and transforming the New Englander’s patterns of speech which he heard each day on his farm.
“Birches swinging” in the poem “Birches” means an escape from life troubles caused by the deaths of family members. Frost writes: “to get away from the earth awhile” (Frost line 49). “Birches swinging” means regret as a symbol which helps to unveil the realities of life representing a path to the outside world. This escape is symbolic of hopes and dreams.
Frost describes emotional sufferings of the speaker. The tree means life experience of a particular person (probably his own life), and it brings message to everyone to think over next step in his life. Climbing a birch implies not only security, but also the whole life of a person, who has a right to choose which path to go, the speaker is afraid that he will never come back on the earth being lost in his fantasies (Frost line, 59).
The theme of desperation is crossed, suitably given the briefest and simplest attention; and the swift efficiency of the lines leading to the culmination is sufficiently in evidence — the vitality coming from the sharp concreteness of the words and the alert, quick movement – not to need detailed comment here. The last two lines are expressed with such decisive clarity, and by virtue of their position they derive added emotional force from the preceding anticipations. They are a true emotional climax; the exclamation mark is not of that kind that tries to inject into words an emotional significance that they don’t really hold. So Frost conveys his feelings, not by telling readers how strong and deep they are, but by the vivid and vigorous presentation of a situation through which the grievance and desperation emerge. Taking into account his facts from his biography it is possible to say that the state of desperation was also caused by “tuberculosis that ran in the Frost family. No wonder Frost had frequent spells of melancholy. But his “will” prevailed” (Hart, 1999).
“Birches” reflects inner state of Frost: depression and losing hopes. Life struggle and life experience are the main themes of this poem. “Frost lost two children to death in early childhood, another to insanity, another to death after childbirth, and still another (after the death of Frost’s wife, Elinor) to suicide. Like any sensitive man who suffers, Frost sometimes blamed himself for his misfortune” (Davison, 2000). The narrator of “Birches” feels like a madman suffering from melancholy brought upon by the death of the beloved person. His depression is caused of no self-confidence because he is afraid to go out in the real world alone.
In spite of the theme of desperation, Frost uses fresh and vivid images. Symbolic “Birches swinging” is a successful image which helps to make readers feel the writer’s grasp of the object and situation he is dealing with, gives his grasp of it with precision, vividness, force, economy; and to make such an impact on us, its content, the stuff of which it is made., can’t be unduly fantastic and remote from his experience.
Climbing a birch is a symbol of future, and a person has a choice to choose his road, although it is a non-trodden path, it means that a person has to pave the way in his life in accordance with life expectations and aims. The speaker finds self-realization and self-expression in freedom or “birches swinging”. Both woks show that we live in darkness limited by our understanding of self and others while something forces us to see the truth of life.
Robert Frost himself appeared embarrassed at his own imaginative freedom, prefacing his works with statements which sought to legitimize the seductive appeal of fiction by appealing to some external authority. Due to renewal, the age of Frost was a time of chaos and great change which left people with a sense of disillusionment expressed in his works. That created a demand for a substitute reality, which could only be found in the fictitious world of Frost’s poem. Passion, tragedy, desperation and sorrow are the markers of this the poem.
It means that some despairs and troubles are greater than the others, but all of them caused a person to suffer like a birch. “Birches swinging” symbolizes losing hopes, as the speaker is not happy about the way his life turned out to be. He says boys should bend these branches using the chance to escape from cruelty of the world by swinging on a birch tree. This metaphor helps us to understand that much depends upon our perception of the world and our inner strength even if you “weary of considerations, / And life is too much like a pathless wood” (Frost lines 43-44).
In their very different ways they shared a faith in the worth of an individual person’s emotions, the value of his or her reactions to experience and the right to express or communicate these feelings. Taken literally and acted upon, such advice would have appalling consequences in terms of violence and suffering; it is not to be wondered at that more conservative sectors of society feared the anarchic consequences of unrestrained expressions of feeling. Following critics it is possible to say that “below the bluff, rural sage and nature poet… he was a ‘people poet’ – Frost’s passion was cold-edged” (Whittington-Egan, 1999).
The fate of the narrator is tragic. He speaks of his original benevolence and of the miserable loneliness of his condition. Frost devoted himself to tell readers about loneliness, isolation, and frustration. Frost depicts pessimism which characterizes so much of the important writing of the mid-twentieth century was to probe the inner recesses of human behavior to see by what instincts we are governed. The symbolic meaning is part of the whole work of art, and the inter-connection are realized and brought out.
In sum, “Birches” vividly portrays that suffering of Frost is undergone in order to expand the human spirit, to delve into matters previously kept hidden, to grow through pain. Frost’s concern is for degrees of personal freedom, and sympathy results when a man, struggling against emotional pressures, is pushed further back, achieving little in his struggle for freedom, and having degrees of freedom removed from him. The narrator cannot fit into the definition of ‘successful’ that society has imposed, so in those terms he is a failure. He does not have an ability to battle against these pressures, and is finally destroyed by his commitment to them.
Works Cited Page
1. Davison, P. (2000), Farness and Depth: A Rumination on Robert Frost. The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 283, December, p. 113
2. Frost, R. (N.d.) Birches. Available at: http://www.web-books.com/Classics/Poetry/Anthology/Frost/Birches.htm
3. Hart, J. (1999) Frost in a Clear Lens. National Review, Vol. 51, May 3, p. 52.
4. Whittington-Egan, R. (1999). Robert Frost: A Life. Contemporary Review, Vol. 274, February, p. 105.
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