Study Guide

Birches

By Robert Frost

Birches Introduction

It's interesting that for an iconic American poet, Robert Frost didn't get his start in the US. He had been writing poetry since he was in high school with mild success. (We should note that mild success at any age is impressive for any poet.) His first significant publication, "My Butterfly" (1894), came when he was twenty years old. Frost got married the next year and began a farming career. Unfortunately, he was not successful in agriculture. In 1912, he and his wife hopped across the pond to England. Frost had more success in England as a poet and came back to the States with two published collections under his belt, A Boys Will and North of Boston. These collections were a mix of New England rural life and English Romantic poetry.

Frost's 1916 collection, Mountain Interval, contains a good number of Frost's greatest hits: "The Road Not Taken," "The Oven Bird," and "OUT, OUT—" among others. The poems are much more compressed than the ones in North of Boston. "Birches" is the longest poem in the collection, and through it we get a peek into Frost's developing ideas about what imagination is and what it is like to live an imaginative life in a very real world.

What is Birches About and Why Should I Care?

With the internet mingling with our daily lives more and more, we seem to live in a mix of reality and alternative realities. Thanks to the internet, we have Second Life, online social networks, and XBOX Live. Today the world is a collection of alternative realities, and we spend our time moving between our lives in cyberspace and our lives in physical space.

Though Robert Frost didn't live to see internet alternate realities, his poem "Birches" features a speaker who escapes into the alternate realities of imagination and daydreaming. He raises questions about why we imagine different realities. Is it because we're lonely? Is it because we seek to escape from the demands and responsibilities of everyday life? What do you think?

Birches Resources

Websites

A Frost Bouquet
A great site by the University of Virginia.

Short Bio and Links
A brief biography from the Academy of American Poets.

Thorough Frost Rundown
Modern American Poetry site on Frost with lots of great commentary on his poetry.

Atlantic Article on Early Frost
A short article on Robert Frost' early days and critical reception.

Audio

Frost Reading "Birches"
1956 recordings of "The Road Not Taken," "The Pasture," "Mowing," "Birches," "After Apple-Picking," and "The Tuft of Flowers."

Images

A Young Frost
This photo was taken at some point between 1910 and 1920.

Frost, a little older
Here is an image of an older Frost.

Books

Robert Frost: A Life
A 2000 biography by Jay Parini.

Robert Frost: Collected Poems, Prose, & Plays
Library of America editions are the best.

Movies & TV

Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel with the World
A documentary about Frost completed just before his death.