Poets use imagery to convey meaning, feelings, and emotions. The contemporary poet best know for his use of imagery is Robert Frost. The Road Not Taken, opened the eyes of poetic readers and critics to Frosts artistic creations. He uses forms of language such as diction and syntax to capture and move the reader.
When read literally Robert Frosts Birches is the speakers observations of the birch trees in a calm New England setting. The speaker sees the permanent bend of the trees from frequent ice storms and the climbing of a playful boy. The speaker appreciates the trees, as they are a part of his comforting surroundings. He would prefer the branches to be bent by a boy for the trees hold a place in his heart and he does not want their pain and destruction to be in vain. In line 41 the speakers voice changes. It becomes reflective as he remembers his time as a boy swinging through those same birches. If the branches must be bent and swayed, his wish is for it to be done by a boy so that enjoyment may be gained. From lines 41- 59 the speaker reflects. He wants to be back in his time of childhood swinging through the same trees, bending the same branches, and listening after and ice storm as the branches click upon themselves/ As the breeze rises (Lines 7-8).
There is so much more to a poem than just its literal interpretation. Being a master of language and the written word Robert Frost camouflages his meanings behind the descriptions of the nature around him. He expressed his need to use this method of reaching the reader in his talk, Education by Poetry:
Poetry provides the one permissible way of saying one thing and meaning another. People say, Why dont you say what you mean? We never do that, do we, being all of us too much poets. We like to talk in parables and in hints and in indirections- whether from diffidence or some other instinct.
He holds true to this in Birches, using the figure of a tree to symbolize life, an ice storm to represent the hardships and obstacles that the speaker has encountered throughout this life, and the word heaven (Line 56) to mean happiness.
Frosts choices of words relay emotions and feelings to the reader. Birches arouses the senses of sight, sound, and touch. The first lines of the poem play out in a readers mind like a movie:
When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boys been swinging them. (Lines 1-3)
One sees a swaying tree, then more trees behind it create a dark forest, and finally a boy enters the picture as the cause of the swaying. In lines four and five he speaks directly to the reader bringing him or her further into the poem, making it so that they can claim the experience described as their own.
The use of alliteration aids Frost in his attempt to create sound through words.
They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel. (Lines 7-9)
Click, cracks, and crazes are all very blunt words used to describe a sound. The repetition of the c, in all three words draws the readers mind to the sounds being illustrated with the c in colored holding the lines together. Quickly he changes the feel of the poem:
Soon the suns warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away(Lines 10-12)
Here he uses alliteration once again to keep the words flowing. The words soon, sun, shed, shattering, snow, such, and sweep create a new feel to the tree. It is changing; the ice is departing no longer crashing and harsh to the observer.
In lines 32-38 Frost attacks something private in the reader; he focuses on concentration. Everyone knows what it is like to concentrate really hard to complete a hard task such as climbing a bending tree or filling a cup Up to the brim, and even above the brim. (Line 38) As the boy depicted swings out and then towards the ground the reader strives to know if he makes it all right, but is answered with a longing reflection.
There is a drastic change in the point of view of the poem in line 41. The speaker stops talking of the boy that he is watching and begins talking of his own boyhood. This change allows the reader to find another meaning to the poem. As he is reflecting the trees take a different shape. Line 48 says, Id like to get away from earth awhile.By earth he means life. He would like a break from his life and the obstacles he has encountered along the way. He blatantly says And life is too much like a pathless wood in line 44. This pathless wood is his uncertainty in his future. Regressing to boyhood where he could climb the birches and care not about what is bending beneath him.
A feeling of happiness is elicited in lines 49-56:
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earths the right place for love:
I dont know where its likely to go better.
Id 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,
This passage once again plays out like a movie. A man leaves all his troubles behind and climbs the same birch tree only this time he is climbing to heaven, love and happiness. There is no dark forest around him.
The poem is ended with a few simple lines saying that a trip back to innocent boyhood returning with happiness would be fulfilling. One could do worse than be a swinger of birches. (Line 59) This ending line is there to leave the reader remembering innocence and hoping that there is possibility for carefree love in an adult world.
Robert Frost has used diction and syntax to carry the reader through worlds of the present, the past and that of a dream. Allowing him or her to be part of every word and phrase. His words are left to interpretation, one may read Birches purely at face value, taking the denotation of each word to explain the overall meaning of the poem or reading through their connotation, allowing the poem to be read in terms of the readers life.
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