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The Philosophy of Birches

The Philosophy of Birches

The philosophy expressed in “Birches” poses no threat to popular values or beliefs, and it is so appealingly affirmative that many readers have treasured the poem as a masterpiece. Among Frost’s most celebrated works, perhaps only “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” ranks ahead of it. Yet to critics like Brooks and Squires, the persona’s philosophical stance in “Birches” is a serious weakness.

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The didactic and philosophical element that some critics have attacked strikes others as the very core of Frost’s virtue.

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Perhaps impartial observers can accept the notion that “Birches” is neither as bad as its harshest opponents suggest nor as good as its most adoring advocates claim.

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“Birches” . . . contains three fairly lengthy descriptions that do not involve unusual perspectives. In fact, the most original and distinctive vision in the poem–the passage treating the ice on the trees (ll. 5-14)–is undercut both by the self-consciousness of its final line (“You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen”) and by the two much more conventionally perceived environments that follow it: the rural boyhood of the swinger of birches (ll. 23-40) and the “pathless wood,” which represents life’s “considerations” (ll. 44-47). As a result, the poem’s ardent concluding lines–its closing pronouncements on life, death, and human aspiration–do not arise from a particular experience. Instead, they are presented as doctrines that we must accept or reject on the basis of our credence in the speaker as a wise countryman whose familiarity with birch trees, ice storms, and pathless woods gives him authority as a philosopher.

Since in “Birches” the natural object–tree, ice crystal, pathless wood, etc.–functions as proof of the speaker’s rusticity, Frost has no need for extraordinary perspectives, and therefore the poem does little to convince us that an “experience,” to use [Robert] Langbaum’s wording, “is really taking place, that the object is seen and not merely remembered from a public or abstract view of it.” This is not to deny that the poem contains some brilliant descriptive passages (especially memorable are the clicking, cracking, shattering ice crystals in lines 7-11 and the boy’s painstaking climb and sudden, exhilarating descent in lines 35-40), and without doubt, the closing lines offer an engaging exegesis of swinging birches as a way of life. But though we learn a great deal about this speaker’s beliefs and preferences, we find at last that he has not revealed himself as profoundly as does the speaker in “After Apple-Picking.

Essay on Dover Beach: An Analysis

An Analysis of Dover Beach

Dover Beach intrigued me as soon as I read the title. I have a great love of beaches, so I feel a connection with the speaker as he or she stands on the cliffs of Dover, looking out at the sea and reflecting on life. Arnold successfully captures the mystical beauty of the ocean as it echoes human existence and the struggles of life. The moods of the speaker throughout the poem change dramatically as do the moods of the sea. The irregular, unordered rhyme is representative of these inharmonious moods and struggles. In this case, the speaker seems to be struggling with the relationship with his or her partner.

In the beginning, there is a peaceful, blissful atmosphere to the poem. Imagery of light amidst the darkness of the night is created by the use of words such as “gleams,” “glimmering” and “moon-blanch’d”. The speaker seems excited by the sweet night-air and the lively waves that fling the pebbles on the shore as we see by the exclamation marks in the sixth and ninth lines. The waves “begin, and cease, and then again begin,” much as life is an ongoing process of cessation and rebirth. The first stanza is quite happy until the last two lines when the “tremulous cadence slow, and bring/ the eternal note of sadness in.” This phrase causes the poem’s tone to change to a more somber one

This shift in tone is continued into the second stanza where Arnold makes an allusion to Sophocles, a Greek dramatist whose plays dwell on tragic ironies and on the role of fate in human existence. The speaker feels connected to Sophocles in that he, too, heard the “eternal note of sadness” on the Aegean (a sea on the east side of Greece). It is suggested that Sophocles was inspired by the …

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…ere is a resolution in the rhyming. It becomes more ordered towards the end, because the speaker’s love can counteract the chaos of the world.

The various moods of “Dover Beach” reflect the many feelings and struggles that life holds for us all. This is one individual’s experience, but it is still true to all of us, because each of us have felt disillusioned and betrayed by the world at one time or another. We have all known beauty and joy, but also misery and sadness. Arnold expresses these experiences by relating them to the nature of the ocean. The experience that surpasses all others is that of love, which is the only true thing in a deceptive world. Everything that the speaker is trying to express is tied together by the poem’s form. The uneven rhyme is a perfect method of pronouncing the confusion that the speaker is feeling about the world.

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