This is taken from the Poetry Foundation’s website where you will find an audio reading by Frost of the poem along with a thoughtful, if dense, essay on Frost’s style and work.
When we discuss poetry, we start with a close consideration of the words and how they are used. This may lead us to the larger question of what the poem does: does a poem, as some have suggested, work to capture human experience at so sharp and close an exposure that in reading a good poem we learn a bit more about the process of being human? Does this poem act in this way? How does this differ from other media forms we encounter? Why should we do the work poetry requires?
by Robert Frost
When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
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,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. 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.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
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, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
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.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
Source: The Poetry of Robert Frost (1969)
Some further thoughts:
*Narrative prose form offers the Other for study; poetry throws us back into ourselves (without plot, the story comes from me).
Robert Frost defines a poem: “It begins in delight and ends in wisdom.” He contends that the wisdom might provide temporary stability: “a momentary stay against confusion”. Wildness is necessary to balance form- tension between the need for form and the corresponding need of freedom from form. Frost uses a container (the Sonnet, for ex.) to create tension. (Echoes E. Bishop’s Sestina)
–From Rereading Robert Frost, p.220
Art is organization—a searching after order. The primal artistic act is God’s creating of the universe out of chaos—shaping formlessness into form. Therefore evaluate a poem by its unity, coherence and proper placement of emphasis: structure, form, pattern, symmetry (reflect) the human instinct for design.
–notes from Perrine’s Sound & Sense pg. 219
This image was borrowed from Poem Shape where you will find a thoughtful essay on the meter and rhyme of “Birches”.