Poem Birches and Its Crucial Themes
Robert Frost was born in 1874 in San Francisco. Descended from the New Englanders, Robert Frost is much associated with New England. In addition, most of his poems were well-known as a reflection of New England life. Despite that, he was a kind of subtle poet and generally recognized as a private man (Meyer 834). Moreover, his appearance at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy to recite “The Gift Outright” for millions of Americans was one of his most moving appearances (Meyer 835). Besides that, two years before his death, he was named as poet laureate of Vermont. He also received many awards throughout his life as a poet; Pulitzer Prize, the Bollingen Prize and a Congressional Medal (Meyer 835). Some of his work connects to reality and responsibility themes, using metaphor to evoke mental images and tones to signify the poem’s attitude.
The reality and responsibility themes appear in the poem “Birches.” Every time, the speaker sees the birches bend, he tends to think of a boy’s swinging on them. He wishes that he could swing on the birches as he did in his childhood and escape to heaven. However, he needs to accept the reality that he is an adult and cannot leave his responsibility on earth. The speaker is forced to accept that reality, “But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay / As ice storms do” (Lines 4-5). With the same theme about reality and responsibility, “Out, Out”, is about a young boy who is forced to work at yard and eventually dies during his work. The young boy works as his responsibility to continue living in this world but ends up dying. The boy’s family needs to accept the reality that bad things happen randomly regardless of gender and age; no one is to blame for the boy’s death. This speaker ends the poem with, “No more to build on there. And they, since they / Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs” (34-35) to emphasize the reality that the ones not dead should continue to live. This poem could reflect on World War I that robs and destroys children’s lives since Frost lived in the era of that war.
Like most of Frost’s poems, “Birches” used one type of figurative device, metaphor, in the poem to evoke mental images. Frost compares the hard, iced over surface of the birch trees to enamel, “the stir cracks and crazes like enamel” (9). Furthermore, “Birches” is a metaphor for the stages of life. As an example, Frost is somehow comparing the enjoyment and freedom of childhood to the struggle and burdens of the life of adults, and in the poem childhood is preferred, “One could do worse than be a swinger of birches” (59). It is the same with the poem “Out, Out.” Frost still keeps his style of using metaphor in the poem. He uses metaphor when the doctor is trying to help the young boy, “The doctor put him in the dark of ether” (28). This literally signifies the boy is being anesthetized during the struggle of surgery to save his life, but the dark symbolizes that he is dying. Besides that, the poet use personification which is one type of metaphor by comparing the buzz-saw action with human actions. The buzz-saw is personified to leap and think as humans do; the saw seems to know about the supper and leaps when it hears about supper, “As if it meant to prove saws know what supper meant / Leaped out at the boy’s hand, or seemed to leap” (15-16). The boy couldn’t escape from the leaping and ends up dying. Clearly, Frost uses metaphor in his poems to evoke mental images and help readers to understand the poems.
In “Birches,” Frost uses several tones to signify the poem’s attitude or style. He uses a skeptical tone in the beginning of the poem when the speaker of the poem imagines the boy’s swinging the birches that make the birches bend. However, the imagery of the boy’s swinging is discarded shortly with the real truth– description that the ice-storms bend the birches, “I like to think some boy’s swinging them/ But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay / As ice-storms do” (3-6). Apparently, these lines unveil the truth that humans cannot make the spiritual things become real. Imaginary things cannot be real things. However, when the word “Truth” appears in line 21, the tone begins to become more melancholy. In contrast, in the poem “Out, Out,” the tone seems to be very emotional in the middle of the poem. The line, “Call it a day, I wished they might have said” (10) shows the awareness of the speaker regarding terrible things that might happen. But at the end of the poem, the tone changes and there is no indication of the speaker’s feelings, “Since they / Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs” (33-34).
People interpret the poem “Out, Out,” differently in terms of the theme. Since the end of the poem is about the death of a young boy, they could conclude that the poem is about the death or losing of someone we love. In addition, the death occurs in a tragic way– losing blood because the boy’s hand is cut by a buzz-saw. Besides that, people could interpret the poem as the struggling of life. The young boy is forced to work on his family farm, perhaps because that was the culture of New England around 1916. When the hand is gone, and the blood is lost, probably, the boy is struggling to live. So, these could be other interpretations of the poem’s themes.
Frost’s poem, “Out, Out,” was compared to Tom Clark’s poem, “Hazardous Response” because both poems seem “to confront us with the fact of our shaken faith, a test of our courage in the face of sudden, inexplicable loss, and it offers a chance to “hazard (a) response” and redeem ourselves” (Rivard 10-11). But, Clark seems more direct than Frost, and he uses nine series of questionnaires while Frost uses more suspense to review the image and eloquence they began with (Rivard 11). Frost seems to use a more classical style while “Clark uses what might be termed a “multiplier effect,” a device that is entirely excessive and that threatens to become monotonous” (Rivard 11). Being born in the year 1874, without a doubt, Robert Frost’s poetry is classical. His culture nurtured him in a classical way. Frost successfully uses reality and responsibility themes, metaphor to evoke mental images and tones to signify attitude in his poems.
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