This poem “Birches” is a reflection and reminiscences the poet’s childhood memories. The poet recollects his childhood swinging on a particular type of tree known as birch. For the poet, the swinging was done by a boy but little did he know that it was ice storms and not some hidden hands that swing the tree. He describes the natural world of the hurricane which blows the birch tree as against his child-like world of a boy hidden somewhere and cause the trees to shake. The activities of the winter and summer in Northern England where he would climb the birch tree and the storm causes it to swing is narrated thus: “When I see birches bend to left and right/I like to think some boys been swinging them / As ice storms do. Often you must have seen them“.
The poet recount the freedom inherent in such exercise of climbing the birch tree, According to him, climbing a birch is a means to: “Get away from earth awhile/And then come back to it and begin over“.
The ice coat on the branches is said to be making some “cracks“, while the breeze blows but when “sun’s” warmth comes, the ice begins to melt. The ice makes the tree leaves to fall-off life “crystal shells” which collectively becomes “heaps of broken glass”. They are compared and described as “the inner dome of heaven”. This is a reminder to mortals that Man must die after the body is weak and eventually dead and heaven is the answer after all.
Through the struggles of life, the road is rough; Indeed, it is not an easy road goes a famous song, humans, like trees wither, and can be bent by vicissitudes of life but a strong one marches on till the end. Man is being cankered by the troubles of the world and so is the helpless birch tree being swindled by the storm. As the poet puts it:
…You may see their trunks arching in the woods/Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground”
The poet imagines that some boys “too far from town“, may be, not used to city life, may out of them“.
During the adolescence age, one’s thinking diff “subdue his father’s trees/ By riding them down over and over again/Until he took the stiffness out of them”
During adolescent age, one’s thinking differs and philosophy of life is stuck to one men idea but during older ages, methodology definitely will change.
The poet was once a swinger so he knows where it pains and matters most. As he remarked “I was once myself a swinger of birches“. He however wished he could become a child to re-enact the past especially when he is emotionally down and when “life is too much like a pathless wood“. It is also implied here that when one grows old, he may wish to turn to a baby and begins life again. The poet maintains that “as above so below“. Heaven and Earth meet in one particular sequence and life begins anew. As he succinctly puts it “And climb black branches…/Towards heaven, till the tree could bear no more,/But dipped its top and set me down again”
1. TRANSIENT NATURE OF LIFE
“Birches” conveys the idea of young and old, life and death, heaven and earth infact, genecology of opposites. Nothing is ever permanent in life. The theme of nostalgia runs like a motif throughout the lines of the poem..
2. JOY OFIMAGINATION
The poet recounts his childhood experiences and would like to repeat such life in one imaginative happenstance. If is a celebration of freedom from a boy who escapes from the hassles and boring life of a particular inhibitory circumstance.
3. CELEBRATION OF FREEDOM/NATURE
The poet says “I’d like to get away from earth awhile/And then come back to it and begin again”. This is freedom of movement and association. If his prayer is granted, it is carpe diem (enjoy today) in itself. The poet also says “…Earth is the right place for love / I don’t know where it is likely to go better….”
4. THE BEST WORLD IS CHILDREN’S WORLD : We learn that the best life to live is that of a child. The poet teaches that an adult life is somewhat hellish and so desires to start life anew in the poem, when old age is staring him in the poem.
The poet does not use any particular limitation of rhyme scheme or the rest but allows free-verse which also underscores the theme of freedom of the poem.
This is exemplified in the following lines “Years afterwards trailing their leaves on the ground like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair…” Another example is “it is when in weary of consideration and life is too much like a pathless wood”.
The very idea of swinging on Birches is picturesque and shows a temporary escape, a retreat to renew one’s physical and spiritual strength. The shedding of the leaves/ branches and shell of the birch tree is the growth from childhood to adulthood. The poem is also an allegory of man’s life on earth. The birch is beaten by rain and snow drops on them, the breeze scatters same. and it falls. This is what obtains in the life of man as man is born, grows and dies.
Certain expression here are grossly exaggerated to give us a mental picture of the situation being described. Example: “Such heaps of broken glass to sweet away/you’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen”
The use of some alliterative words which gives some measure of music in the poem, is underscored in the following expressions. Cracks and crazes (“C alliterates).
Soon… Sun is (“S’ alliterates) etc.
“Truth” in line 21 is given human attribute of broke. This is picturesque and paints the picture very well.
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