Birches

1When I see birches bend to left and right
2Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
3I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
4But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay.
6Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
7After a rain. They click upon themselves
8As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
9As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
10Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
11Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust--
12Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
13You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
15And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
16So low for long, they never right themselves:
17You may see their trunks arching in the woods
18Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
19Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
20Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
21But I was going to say when Truth broke in
22With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
24I should prefer to have some boy bend them
25As he went out and in to fetch the cows--
26Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
27Whose only play was what he found himself,
28Summer or winter, and could play alone.
29One by one he subdued his father's trees
30By riding them down over and over again
31Until he took the stiffness out of them,
32And not one but hung limp, not one was left
33For him to conquer. He learned all there was
34To learn about not launching out too soon
35And so not carrying the tree away
36Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
37To the top branches, climbing carefully
38With the same pains you use to fill a cup
39Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
40Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
41Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
42So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
43And so I dream of going back to be.
44It's when I'm weary of considerations,
45And life is too much like a pathless wood
46Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
47Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
48From a twig's having lashed across it open.
49I'd like to get away from earth awhile
50And then come back to it and begin over.
51May no fate willfully misunderstand me
52And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
53Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
54I don't know where it's likely to go better.
55I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
57Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
58But dipped its top and set me down again.
59That would be good both going and coming back.
60One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Notes

5] Ice-storms do that. "As ice-storms do." in Robert Frost, Collected Poems, Prose, & Plays (Library of America, 1995), p. 117 (a later, revised text). Back to Line
14] bracken: a fern with large leaves and creeping roots, often found in clusters. Back to Line
23] Line omitted in Library of America edition. Back to Line
56] a snow-white trunk: birches have a white bark. Back to Line
Original Text: 
Robert Frost, Mountain Interval (New York: Henry Holt, 1921), pp. 29-30. PS 3511 R94 M6 ROBA.
Publication Start Year: 
1916
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.
Rhyme: