The writer of ‘Birches’ uses a simple theme of swinging trees to encapsulate a variety of weighty ideas skimming through his mind; the careless and happy life of children compared to the challenges of adult life; life and death and truth and imagination. The vast use of figures of speech and the personal voice of the poet make this piece of writing effective in bringing across the thoughts and feelings of the poet as well as the contrast between these varies ideas.
Thefirst section of the poem can be described as a ‘battle’ between truth and imagination, the writer knows that it is ice storms that are responsible for the bending of the trees, yet he likes to imagine it is caused by a boy who swings on them. This swinging movement can be seen in the structure of the poem, where the topic seems to shift from the ice storms to the boy, consequently back to the ice storms and so on.
The writer remembers his careless childhood where he used to climb birchesjust for fun. Now as an adult, he sees ‘climbing branches’ as asuperior escape from life’s problems. This idea is conserved in the simile ‘it’s when I’m weary of considerations and life is too much like a pathless wood’. Thanks to this figure of speech, it can be seen the writer is experiencing problems in life, he finds it ‘pathless’ and he is lost not knowing what to do next, yet nostalgia is present; as the writer says he ‘dreams of going back to be’ a child. This is a very personal account, which effectively reveals the feelings of the writer; he misses the past and is quite overwhelmed by the troubles of adulthood.
The metaphor of swinging, as a movement between two contradicting ideas present throughout the whole piece has its climax in the last part of the poem. It is said ‘I’d like…coming back’. He wants to leave Earth by ‘climbing a birch tree’, and be able to rest from his problems, yet he isnot ready to die and wants to be able to return back to Earth after. This is why the birch tree is the perfect ‘vehicle’, it will take him all the way up above Earth, yet then swing him back down when he is ready. The black branches which he climbs up the snow white trunk may symbolise all the troubles he has to pass in his journey of life on Earth.
The upward movement is away from Earth, the problems, the ‘Truth’ and into the world of tree tops, heaven, imagination, where all Earth’s problems seem small, and the downward movement symbolises reality, coming back to the grey world. This movement between both is present in the whole poem; in the description of the trees bending under ice, the upwards movement – imagination, that the boy is swinging the trees, and the downwards -reality, the ice storms;it is also present in the memory of childhood, the good, carefree times, and the downwards movement when reality brings him back to Earth and reminds him of all his ‘weary considerations’ he faces now as an adult.
The last line of the poem, ‘one could do worse than be a swinger of branches’ justifies his feelings, capturing the message the whole poem is trying to bring across – that it is nothing bad to imagine, to wear off into the world of dreams and good memories, and that sometimes that is the only escape we have from our current problems and worries.