When 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.
Mountain Interval (1916) | Robert Frost (1874–1963)
- Begin by reading the poem out loud. Stop at the punctuation, not at the end of the lines, so that the poem flows. Listen to Robert Frost read the poem — as he intended it to be read:
- Copy the poem into a copybook.
- Use Drawing and Writing paper to add one or two lines from the poem along with a corresponding illustration.
- Narrate the poem, describing to someone else what is happening.
- “Birches” uses blank verse, a form of poetry written with unrhymed lines. Unlike free verse, blank verse does stick to a regular meter. See if you can tap out the rhythm of the poem and determine the meter.
- Use this poem as a model to write one stanza of your own in a similar manner about a different type of tree.
- Learn more about birch trees (see resources below).
- Create an author page for Robert Frost.
Interactive vocabulary list from the poem.
Poetry for Young People: Robert Frost
We love these books. The point of the book is to introduce young students to poetry at an early age. It takes the mystery out of poetry, making it accessible. So don’t expect detailed poetical analysis. Simply read and enjoy. There is a fruitful payoff over time….
Free Nature Studies: Our Wonderful World
These are the tree sections from our free nature study with resources and more for studying the birch:
Author Notebooking Paper
Create an author page for Robert Frost.