by: Robert Frost (1874-1963)

      HEN 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.
      Ice-storms do that. 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
      (Now am I free to be poetical?)
      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.

"Birches" is reprinted from Mountain Interval. Robert Frost. New York: Henry Holt, 1921.




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