one could do worse

This is an essay I wrote a few years back, and I’ve decided to post it here in honor of the return of someone special. I hope no one attempts to plagiarize this work, as that would make me vomit in disappointment. The hyperlink was the only change made. The following is the entirety of the essay:

Nature held great importance to Robert Frost and is vividly depicted throughout his poems. His 1916 blank-verse work “Birches” is filled with images of the trees as bent from both an ice-storm and from a young boy’s swinging, and contains a somber, reflective quality as the speaker reveals that he once was such a swinger of birches. Frost’s use of form, variation in tone, and figurative language contribute to the theme of imagination and will contrasted with obligations and reality.

The poem’s form is ironically structured rather than imaginative and creative, but this constraint aids in delivering a clear theme. The unrhymed iambic pentameter is formal but gives the reader a sense of structure that could otherwise be less effective at delivering the message due to distraction. Typically the lines are end-stopped and when Frost deviates from this it is usually for emphasis, such as when he says, “Often you must have seen them / Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning” (5-6). This calls the reader’s attention to the speaker’s personal tone and his beginning image of the reality of the ice-storm. Caesuras are prevalent and also used for emphasis. For example, the statement “but swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay / As ice-storms do…” calls attention to the permanence and invasive nature of reality (4-5). Another example of this is seen when he says, “May no fate willfully misunderstand me / And half grant what I wish and snatch me away / Not to return…” (50-53). Setting aside the last portion relates a fear of the permanent reality of death. This form is effective at drawing focus to important parts of the poem.

The transmutation of tone emphasizes the disparate nature of imagination and reality. The tone is clearly approving when the playful swinging of the birches takes place and much more blunt when reality is described, as shown in lines 22-24:

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

The use of the harsh term “matter-of-fact” expresses the cold and distant feeling of reality but the preference of bending the birches seems uplifting and redeeming. The speaker would rather the boy’s games be only “what he found himself” and could do on his own (26). That “one could do worse than be a swinger of birches” seems to be a positive conclusion drawn from experience (59). However, this approval of fantasy is undermined by the reality of the destructive ice-storms. The speaker’s tone is almost mournful when he says he dreams of going back to being a “swinger of birches” (42). The suggestion is of a death of dreams to the considerations and “pathless wood” of life and such a loss saddens the conveyor, depicted in his sorrow that life “burns” and “tickles” and that “one eye is weeping / From a twig’s having lashed across it open” (45-47).

The figurative language found in the poem helps to depict the difference in fantasy and reality. Metaphors abound and show contrast, such as the birches bent by the boy leaning across the “lines of straighter darker trees” (2). The beautiful syllogism used in describing the broken ice crystals as the fallen “inner dome of heaven” reflects a fragility and a crashing back to reality (13). Frost uses a simile of the bent trees being “like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair / Before them over their heads to dry in the sun” (20-21), which favorably turns the trees into images of beauty. The speaker’s conclusion that he would like to “go by climbing a birch tree” in lines 54-57 is a resignation to fantasy and dreams in a figurative image of death.

Through effective form, switches in tone, and figurative language, Frost expresses the importance of imagination and a disapproval of constraining reality. Despite this emphasis on dreams and free will, Frost seems to condone an embrace of some forms of structure and reality; though the speaker would like to “go by climbing a birch tree” (54), he would have the tree “[dip] its top and set [him] down again” (57), bringing him back to reality. After all, “Earth’s the right place for love” and he does not “know where it’s likely to go better” (52-53). Frost seems to be telling us to dream, but appreciate simplicity and that which is available in the world.

2 thoughts on “one could do worse

  1. quat

    noun
    the leaves of the shrub Catha edulis which are chewed like tobacco or used to make tea; has the effect of a euphoric stimulant; “in Yemen kat is used daily by 85% of adults” [syn: kat]

    good times 😉

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