Robert Frost's Birches


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I chose “Birches” from Mountain Interval which was written by Robert Frost during the early 1900’s. “Birches” is a complex poem, yet it isn't to some. When we first read the poem, all I could think of was how the poem just wasted 10 minutes of my life. Yet after some research I found out that Robert Frost is considered to be one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize 4 times. So there had to be more to this poem than just a farm boy talking about swinging on trees in the woods. Many believe it openly refers to sexual matters, but its view of sexuality is not simple. The theme, obviously is in it's depiction of the boy's desire to bring the father's trees to submission. The trees, however, are rich symbols of several things: they contain enamel that is crazed as they click upon themselves and are shattered by the sun in an avalanche and are reduced to rubble; though not destroyed they are crippled. Some would argue that the repetitive motion of swinging is masturbatory, but it is accompanied by a primal scene fantasy suggested by the clicking "upon themselves" and he is enraged by it and so seeks to master the whole scene; to cool it off by encasing it [in] ice is not enough: the parents' sexuality must be permanently bent. Furthermore, the mother/girl is placed in a position of perpetual subservience: "Like girls on hands and knees."

The ice is a rich condensation: it is the agent that bends the parents' sexuality and it is also the parents' sexuality. What is even more interesting, perhaps, are the motivations for returning to the scene of the swinging. On the one hand he finds solace from suffering an eye being lashed; thus, he might be achieving revenge on the object that initially inflicted pain on him. Along with this wish is another, the fear of achieving his wish and being lost in his destructive fantasy and punished for it: "May no fate...half grant what I wish and snatch me away /Not to return.

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The poem also contains a sense of wishing to destroy, but also a wish of not having destroyed too much: the trees survive, but they have felt his power: "they never right themselves." There is the idea of wanting to be held by the tree, even "set down" by it.

One might conclude that creativity, love of nature and consolation are sustained by these powerful fantasies, fantasies that permit destruction and perpetuation of the objects that bend to his will and yet will remain constant though damaged.


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