Birches

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  • Q1

    What is the significance of ‘Birches’ in the poet’s life? What do they represent? Elucidate.

    Marks:20
    Answer:

    ‘Birches’ is a poem that talks about possibilities and alternatives. The poet achieves this end by stating the importance of imagination. The birch trees were a part of the poet’s childhood memories. Therefore, they have become a very important part of his imagination. When he gets tired and weary of making difficult decisions and compromises, he finds refuge in the memories of his childhood days; the days when he used to climb birches to pass time. Like the cowherd boy he describes in the poem, Frost too grew up on a farm away from the city. He had to make use of whatever he could find to play with and he used to enjoy climbing the birch trees owned by his father.

    The poem is about the poet’s nostalgia for his childhood. He misses his childhood days because things were simpler back then. He compares adult life to a pathless wood with cobwebs and twigs which can hurt one’s eyes. Of course, the cobwebs and twigs are symbols representing the problems one faces. Children always have elders to guide them whereas adults are usually on their own. They have to make tough decisions and also live with the consequences of having made those decisions. The poet proposes a temporary escape from this hectic and disillusioning humdrum of adult life. He talks about going away for a while. He uses the analogy of climbing the birch trees to illustrate this idea. While climbing a birch tree, one leaves the ground and moves towards the sky. The ground represents the human life with all its problems whereas the sky represents heaven with possibilities of respite and happiness. Therefore, the poet talks about climbing and going up towards the heaven. The birch tree becomes a medium through which the poet fulfils his desire of a momentary escape from his life. The birch tree is also ideal as a medium because the break which the poet longs for is also a momentary one. A birch tree brings the climber down when he or she reaches the top, allowing them to come back and start over again. This is why the poet found ‘birches’ ideal and meaningful.

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  • Q2

    We all wish to escape from the situations that are too exhausting for us. Sometimes, these situations require us to take difficult decisions. What is the poet’s attitude towards such situations? How does he propose to escape the harsh realities of life?

    Marks:20
    Answer:

    Many things change when we grow up. Sometimes, we find ourselves in unavoidable situations. We find ourselves wishing for a switchover to simpler times. The poet engages in a similar meditation in the poem ‘Birches’. He is disillusioned with the hardships of life as an adult. He feels that life is burdensome and wishes to escape by arriving at a place of calm. To him, the place of calm is among the birch trees which he used to climb as a child.

    This is because life is much simpler for children. Adults on the other hand have no one to guide them. They have to make their own decisions and face the consequences of having made them. The poet has elaborated the idea by comparing life with a pathless wood and he has compared problems with cobwebs and twigs which make it difficult for a person to navigate through life with ease.

    The poet relies on imagination aided by good memories to make the passage through life simpler. He reminisces his childhood days as a swinger of birches and uses that recollection to add zest to the drab logical explanations of natural things. He prefers to think that birches are bent because a cowherd boy was swinging on them. He uses the power of memory to create the cowherd boy, who lives on a farm far away from the cities. He swings on birches because that is the only way for him to pass his time. Since he lives far from the city, he doesn’t know anything about baseball and he has to make use of whatever he can find to play with.

    He wishes to escape the problems by taking a small break from the humdrum of life. He explains that he is not referring to death by the term ‘break’. To him, the ideal break is like climbing the birches – leaving the problems and going up towards freedom and when he reaches the top, the tip of the birch tree will bring him down thereby giving him a chance to start over. This break refreshes him and gives him the much needed respite. Therefore, we can conclude that through the poem, the poet wishes to stress on the idea that imagination is a powerful tool and it gives us the ability to escape the harsh realities of life for a few moments at least. This escape refreshes us and we are able to start over with our lives with fresh perspectives.

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  • Q3

    Comment on the form and structure of the poem “Birches”.

    Marks:20
    Answer:

    ‘Birches’ is a simple poem which has a lyrical form. Though it is simple, its unique form and structure give it a layered depth. It is written in blank verse which means that we won’t find any rhyming words in it. The length of each line is different and it depends on the flow of thought of the poet. There is a constant rhythm to the poem because the poet has tried to emulate the natural tone of the spoken form of the American dialect of English. It has a metaphorical structure which also enables it to contain multiple levels of meaning. He also uses various figures of speech in the poem which add to its beauty and meaning.

    The poem is symbolic and the birch trees are perhaps the first symbols in the poem that we come across. The poet has spoken about their “upward movement”. By this, he suggests aspirations of spiritual nature and by describing their “downward movements” he has suggested coming back to the earth.

    We find many metaphors in the poem. One of the important metaphors that the poet has employed in the poem is the comparison of issues and problems of life with the cobwebs and twigs.

    In addition to metaphors and symbols, the poet has used similes as well. Similes are different from metaphorsbecause similes compare two things directly. The poet compares trailing leaves of tree trunks to girls who get on their hands and knees and throw their hair over their heads to dry them in the sun. He has made a comparison of life with a “pathless wood”. He emphasizes on the difficulty of living life as an adult in a world where everyone is on their own. He laments the fact that there is nobody to give us directions or to guide us. That is why life seems to be like a pathless wood where it is easy to get lost and wrong decisions have consequences.

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  • Q4

    Discuss the various underlying themes of the poem ‘Birches’.

    Marks:20
    Answer:

    The poem Birches by Robert Frost, though seemingly simple, has multiple layers of meaning. Through the poem, the poet voices his ideas and concerns regarding many things. When we begin reading the poem, we witness the poet reminiscing his childhood. This is a theme that recurs in Frost’s works quite often. In this poem, he longs to go back to the time when he could simply be a swinger of birches. Now that he has grown up, he faces the hard choices that he has to make as an adult. He is disillusioned with his life and longs to return to his carefree days of childhood.

    The second idea that comes out from this poem is that of man’s relationship with nature. He reminisces his childhood days and projects his memories through the image of a young cowherd climbing and swinging on birch trees. In the poem he also looks at the process of climbing the birch trees as an escape from reality. He also brings forth the idea of man conquering nature when he describes how the boy has subdued all of his father’s birch trees one by one. Frost is a poet who tries to portray a harmonious relationship between man and nature.

    The third theme that we come across in this poem is that of the conflict between imagination and reality. The poet is clearly disillusioned with the reality of living life as an adult and finds the need to make difficult decisions burdensome. Therefore, he tries to find an outlet to escape. He does that by ignoring the rational explanations of things. He rejects the scientific explanation that the snow storms could have caused the birches to bend and favours an imaginary one – that a cowherd boy must’ve caused them to bend by climbing them. He thinks that imagination offers an escape which gives us the strength to endure and survive an otherwise drab reality.

    The theme of loneliness or isolation is another feature common to many of Frost’s poems. In ‘Birches’, he imagines that the birches are bent because a boy swings on them. From the description of the boy alone we can deduce some sense of loneliness. The boy lives in a village far from the cities and is too far from the urban civilization to know of baseball. Therefore he passes time by playing with whatever is available to him. It can be said that the theme of isolation is recurrent in Frost’s works because he too grew up on an isolated farm.

    The poet gives us alternatives to enable us to survive the harsh realities of our lives. Sometimes, the situations make life very difficult and we find ourselves wishing for an escape, the poet suggests a remedy for the same by talking about the importance of imagination.

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