Birches, by Robert Frost ======================== I found Robert Frost's poem Birches at this URL: http://www.columbia.edu/acis/bartleby/frost/70.html The Poem's Message ================== Robert Frost's poem "Birches" extolls the virtue of enticing virgins to sexual activity. In addition, he claims to have done this himself. The remainder of my thoughts are listed in numbered footnotes identified in the poem by a bracketed number, e.g., . The Poem ======== BIRCHES 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.  * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Definitions =========== All of the definitions below are extracted from the Random House Webster's online dictionary (ver. 1.0, 1992). birch' fam ily n. a family, Betulaceae, of deciduous trees with simple, serrate leaves, male flowers in catkins and female flowers in short clusters, and one-seeded nuts: includes the alder, birch, and hazel. birch (bûrch) n., adj., v.
n. any tree or shrub of the genus Betula, comprising species with a smooth, laminated outer bark and close-grained wood. [bef. 900; ME birche, OE birce, c. MLG berke, OHG birihha, birka; akin to OE be(o)rc, ON bjork, Lith bérzas, Skt bhurjá- birch, L fraxinus ash] The same dictionary lists 5 types of birch trees: 1 - pa'per birch n. a North American birch, Betula papyrifera, having a tough bark and yielding a valuable wood. [1800-10, Amer.] Bark of the paper birch was used for writing. Papyrifera is based on the etymon for papyrus, an early form of paper. Parchment, like papyrus, is also written on. [1275-1325; late ME; ME parchemin < OF < Gallo-Romance *particaminum, b ??. L Parthica (pellis) Parthian (leather) and ML pergaminum, LL pergamenum, for Pergamena charta paper of PERGAMUM] compare ME par+chemin and para=similar, like + Gk hymén = skin, membrane The hymen (see below) is a membrane that is usually intact in a virgin. mem-brane (mem'brayn) n. a thin, pliable sheet or layer of ... tissue, serving to line an organ, connect parts, etc. [1375-1425; late ME; ME membraan = parchment < L membrana.] compare L lamina (see lamina/enamel below). 2 - sweet' birch' n. a North American birch, Betula lenta, having smooth, blackish bark and twigs that are a source of methyl salicylate. [< Latin salix = willow (tree)] compare salacious 1. lustful or lecherous. [1635-45; < L salax, der. of salire = to jump, spurt, mount (of animals); cf. SALIENT) salient (say'lee uhnt, sayl'yuhnt) adj. 2. projecting or pointing outward. Also called . [1775-85, Amer.]. Compare: cherry 5. Slang (often vulgar). a. the hymen. b. virginity. hy-men (hie'muhn) n. a fold of mucous membrane partly closing the external orifice of the vagina in a virgin. [1605-15; < LL hymen < Gk hymén = skin, membrane, hymen] Hymen was the ancient Greek god of marriage. compare: examine 2. to observe, test, or investigate (a person's body or any part of it) 3 - white' birch' n. 1. the European birch, Betula pendula, yielding a hard wood. 2. PAPER BIRCH. compare: pen-du-lous (pen'juh luhs, pen'dyuh-, -duh-) adj. 1. hanging down loosely: pendulous blossoms. 2. swinging freely; oscillating. 3. vacillating or undecided. [1595-1605; < L pendulus = hanging, swinging.] Betula pendula is very alliterative. This poem ends with the phrase "swinger of birches." 4 - yel'low birch' n. a North American birch, Betula alleghaniensis, having yellowish or bronze bark. 5 - hop' horn beam n. any of several Eurasian and North American trees of the genus Ostrya, of the birch family, esp. O. virginiana, bearing hoplike fruiting clusters. [1775-85, Amer.] This birch tree is not of genus Betula, but its species name is: virgin-iana. The genus Ostrya reminds one of the bread or wafer consecrated in the celebration of the (Christian) Eucharist because the ME word for it was oyst, derived from the Latin host = victim. Host [1275-1325; ME oyst < MF oiste < LL hostia Eucharistic wafer (L: victim, sacrifice)] ME oyst explains why Lewis Carroll's "Walrus and the Carpenter" ate Oysters. [walrus = L Odobenus rosmarus > ode + bent/twisted + (sub) rosa = secret + (Virgin) Mary] * * * * * * Anita Konkka < firstname.lastname@example.org > wrote: In his book, The White Goddess, Robert Graves writes: " The first tree of the [tree alphabet] series is the self-propagating birch. Birch twigs are used through Europe in the beating of bounds and the flogging of delinquents - and formerly lunatics - with the object of expelling evil spirits... Birch rods are also used in rustic ritual for driving out of the spirit of the old year... The birch is the tree of inception. it is indeed the earliest forest tree, with the exception of the mysterious elder, to put out new leaves (April 1st in England; the beginning of the financial year; and in Scandinavia its leafing marks the beginning of the agricultural year; because farmers use it as a directory for sowing their Spring wheat. The first month begins immediately after the winter solstice, when days after shortening to the extreme limit begin to lengthen again." So the birch, Beth is the lucky tree of the birth-month - from Dec.24 to Jan.20, according to Graves. This month is very white here in Finland - like the trunk of the birches. Maybe Robert Frost knew the tree calendar. /s/ Anita Konkka * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * This tree might be called "birch" because it bends easily, like one's knee. The Hebrew word for knee is bet-resh-khaf BeReKH ... which sounds quite a lot like English BiRCH. In Germanic languages, a final G is often pronounced as ch or sh. B is a voiced stop. V is a voiced fricative. [In Hebrew, Bet and Vet are the same letter]. The Germanic word BiRCH sounds somewhat like the Latin word ViRGin. BeTuLa bet-taf-oo-lamed-heh is a Hebrew word that means a virgin or maiden. The plural form BeTuLim is masculine and means "virginity; hymen". Based on the quote from Robert Graves (above), it seems the birch genus is named Betula because it is self- propagating, that is, self-pollinating. Compare: 1. verge 1. the limit or point beyond which something begins or occurs. 6. a rod or staff [1350-1400; late ME: shaft, column, rod..., ME: penis < MF: rod < L virga] (also see note  in the poem and below) 2. verge = to incline, tend [1600-10; < L vergere to turn, bend, be inclined] The ash is a similar tree from the olive family. It is called Fraxinus in Latin. It has purplish flowers. Fraxinus is cognate with Hebrew peh-resh-het PeRaKH = flower. [Het (without a schwa) is parallel to X = KS in classical Greek and Latin.] Note the similarity to "pregnant". The reverse of the Hebrew word for flower is het-resh-peh/feh which is a Hebrew homonym. KHoReF means "winter". KHoRPah means "disgrace, shame". Compare this with the English word "deflower": de-flow-er (di flou'uhr) v.t. <-ered, -er-ing> 1. to deprive (a woman) of virginity. [1350-1400; ME deflouren < OF desflorer < LL deflorare = to pluck, dishonor < de- DE - + -florare, der. of flos FLOWER] Of course, trees and other plants "flower" in the spring or summer. The winter "deflowers" them. Next, consider the Hebrew word shin/sin-het which is also a homonym. SHaKH = bent, bowed. Converting the het to (Latin) X produces the word SeX. SaKH = to talk, chat. Compare the British slang "to chat up (a woman)" = to entice to sex. Footnotes =========  Frost is not talking about the John Birch society, which bends *very* far to the right. :-) One meaning of "bend" is: 3. to cause to submit: to bend someone to one's will.  One of the definitions of "swing" is: 19. Slang. b. to engage uninhibitedly in sexual activities. Swing is cognate with sway, as in a sway-back horse which has a bent back. Here is the etymology for sway: [1300-50; ME sweyen < ON sveigja = to bend, sway]. To sway also means: 6. to cause to move to and fro. 9. to cause to fluctuate or vacillate. 10. to influence (the mind, emotions, etc., or a person).  The term ice-storm is quite alliterative in Hebrew. kuf-resh-het KeRaKH = ice. It sounds like "c(e)rack" samekh-aiyin-resh-heh S'(K)aRaH = storm. It sounded like "score-ah" when the aiyin was a velar. Changing the het to (Latin) KS produces SKaRaH-KeRaKS = ice-storm, which is almost a palindrome. Compare "Across the lines of straighter" with the most common method of keeping score: 4 vertical lines with a fifth line across them. score 15. Slang. a sexual conquest. 22. to make notches, cuts, marks, or lines in or on. crack 1. to break without separation of parts; become fissured. 17. Informal. to break into (a safe, vault, etc.). "Truth broke in". Compare true = straight, upright. Probably a euphemism for the male organ.  Another word for many-colored is: var-i-e-gat-ed (vâr'ee i gay tid, vâr'i gay -) adj. marked with patches or spots of different colors. [1645-55; < LL variegatus, ptp. of variegare to make (something) look varied = L vari (us) VARIOUS + -egare...] Compare VaRieGated and ViRGin.  Stir (as a noun) means "movement", but is also means agitation, arousal of feelings, or excitation.  Here, "cracks and crazes" means: craze (krayz) v. n. 2. to make small cracks on the surface of (a ceramic glaze, paint, or the like); [1325-75; ME crasen = to crush < Scand; cf. Sw, Norw krasa = to shatter, crush] Frost will use the word "shattering" two lines down. The word "crack/cracker" is a homonym with over 20 etymologically separate meanings.  Enamel is the reverse of lamina(ted). The birch tree has laminated bark. lam-i-na (lam'uh nuh) n. pl. <-nae>(-nee ) <-nas> a thin plate, scale, or layer. Compare with "hymen" and "membrane" defined above.  The Hebrew word for snow is shin-lamed-gimel SHeLeG. It provides an example of bilingual alliteration with the English word shells in the line above and becomes a near homonym with shells if you pronounce the final G as SH (in Germanic). Note the interesting switch between "CRySTal SHeLLs" and "SHeLeG-CRuST.  dome [1505-15; < MF dome < It duomo < ML domus (Dei) house (of God), church; akin to TIMBER]  heaven < ME heven < OE heofon ~ OS heban, ON himinn, Go himins ~ OS, OHG himil ME heigh ~ hegh, hey, OE heah, heh ~ OFris hach, OS, OHG hoh, ON har, Go hauhs = high + Heb alef-vav-feh-nun ofan = wheel (sphere)  compare "bracken" with "broken" two lines above. brack-en (brak'uhn) n. a large, coarse, worldwide fern, Pteridium aquilinum [1275-1325; ME braken < Scand; cf. Sw bräken fern, Norw brake juniper] Pter(idium) is the Greek root for feather. It is related to Heb aleph-vet-resh (T)ayVeR = wing of a bird. Petr is the Greek root for rock. It is related to Heb aleph-vet-nun (T)eVeN = stone  Trunks [= torso ] arching = pregnant ? Compare: Ar-te-mis (är'tuh mis) n. an ancient Greek goddess, characterized as a *virgin* huntress and associated with the moon [which can have a crescent/bent shape]: identified by the Romans with Diana. Diana a Roman goddess associated with forests and childbirth: identified with the Greek goddess Artemis."  "Girls on hands and knees" is a sexual position, followed as it is by "have some boy bend them As he went out and in". As mentioned above, the Heb word for knee is BeReKH ... which sounds quite like BiRCH  To "bend them" is to "knee them", that is, to "know them" in the biblical sense. know 8. Archaic. to have sexual intercourse with.  Why "fetch cows". Why not "out and in" to do something else? The Hebrew word for cow is peh-resh-heh PaRah. In Latin, these sounds refer to bearing children: par-a  (par'uh) n. pl. (par'ee) 1. Also called a woman's status regarding the bearing of offspring: usu. followed by a numeral designating the number of times the woman has given birth. 2. the woman herself. Compare GRAVIDA. [1880-85; extracted from PRIMIPARA, MULTIPARA, etc.] The Latin para is related to Heb peh-resh-yod PaRi = fruit, an in the phrase "be fruitful and multiply". L: gravidus = pregnant, laden < grav(is) = burdened, loaded. Latin GRaV reverses to PReG...as in pregnant.  father's trees = phantasies ?? tree [bef. 900; ME; OE treo (w), c. OFris, ON tre, OS treo tree, Go triu stick; akin to Gk drys oak, Skt, Avestan dru wood]. The Greek root for wood, XyL, is related to the Heb word for tree, aiyin-tzadi (K)ayTZ. The tzadi is most often represented by S in other languages. Here, the KayS is the X in XyL. In English, this X is pronounced Z as in xylophone. In Hebrew, xylophone is spelled with a kuf-samekh and pronounced K'SiLoFoN.  Stiff --> hung limp seems to refer to a penis.  "launching out too soon" = premature ejaculation ?  Heb khaf-oh-samekh KoS = cup. It is also Heb vulgar slang for vagina. Compare cup 11. any cuplike utensil, organ, part, cavity, etc.  Compare: verge  (vûrj) n., v. 2. the edge, rim, or margin of something [1350-1400; late ME: shaft, column, rod ... ME: penis < MF: rod < L virga]  Frost is using meaning #1 and not #8 below: swish 1. to move with or make a sibilant sound, as a slender rod cutting sharply through the air. 8. Slang (disparaging and offensive). an effeminate male homosexual.  Swinger of birches = one who swayed virgins.  Here, cobwebs refers to confusions. 5. confusion or indistinctness: a head full of cobwebs. [1275-1325; ME coppeweb, der. of OE -coppe = spider c. MD koppe; see WEB] OE coppe = spider is related to Heb aiyin-kaf-vet 'aKaV = to lie in wait. In modern Hebrew, spider is called 'aKaViSH, a meld of 'aKaV = lie in wait + kaf-vet-shin KaVaSH = to take into bondage. Compare "put the KiBoSH on".  Compare "one eye ... lashed across it" with "eyelash"  Here, fate is a noun. Even though it is not capitalized, it alludes to the three Fates: 6. the three goddesses of destiny in Greek and Roman myth.  Here snatch is being used as a verb, but it is also a noun with the meaning: female genitalia. snatch = slang: vulva, female pudenda (< ME snacche (n.), snacchen (v.), OE snæccan ~ MD snacken) < reversal TalmudicHeb kaf-nun-yod-samekh-heh k'nisah = entering, entry, entrance (compare Eng cunt)  A middle-eastern euphemism for dying is "to make (physical) love in paradise". In Hebrew this would be aiyin-gimel-vet bet-aiyin-dalet-nun (K)aGaV B'(K)aiDeN. This euphemism may be the origin of the idiom "KicK (the) BucKeT". kgvbkdn --> kkbkt Frost is saying that he thinks this life (on earth) is probably the best place to engage in sex. Don't wait until you go to heaven.  climb < ME < OE climban ~ MLG, MD klimmen, OHG chlimban ~ clamber < ME clambren ~ Hebrew aiyin-lamed-heh (k)alah = go up, rise + bet-mem-heh bamah = high place, mountain; altar betM memB or reversal (see scale, bema) Perhaps Frost would like to die while making love with a virgin?  See the definition of sweet-birch (#2 above).  Could not become pregnant ? * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Here are two more viewpoints: Date: Fri, 2 Jan 1998 01:33:31 -0500 (EST) From: Norman Rosenblood BIRCHES is a complex poem, yet it isn't: it openly refers to sexual matters, but it's conception of sexuality is not simple. The oedipal theme is obvious in it's depiction of the boy's desire to bring the father's trees to submission. The trees, however, are rich symbols of several things: they contain enamel that is crazed as they click upon themselves and are shattered by the sun (read son) in an avalanche and are reduced to rubble; though not destroyed they are crippled. I would argue that the repetitive motion of swinging is masturbatory, but it is accompanied by a primal scene phantasy suggested by the clicking "upon themselves" and he is enraged by it and so seeks to master the whole scene; to cool it off by encasing it [in] ice is not enough: the parents' sexuality must be permanently bent. Furthermore, the mother/girl must be placed in a position of perpetual subservience: "Like girls on hands and knees." Thus, the ice is a rich condensation: it is the agent that bends the parents' sexuality and it is also the parents' sexuality. What is even more interesting, perhaps, are the motivations for returning to the scene of the swinging. On the one hand he finds solace from suffering an eye being lashed; thus, he might be achieving revenge on the object that initially inflicted pain on him. Along with this wish is another, the fear of achieving his wish and being lost in his destructive phantasy and punished for it: "May no fate...half grant what I wish and snatch me away /Not to return." The poem also contains a sense of wishing to destroy, but also a wish of not having destroyed too much: the trees survive, but they have felt his power: "they never right themselves." There is the idea of wanting to be held by the tree, even "set down" by it. One might conclude that creativity, love of nature and consolation are sustained by these powerful phantasies, phantasies that permit destruction and perpetuation of the objects that bend to his will and yet will remain constant though damaged. The amalgam of guilt, fear and self-esteem give the poem a complexity of deceptively fairy tale simplicity. "Whose woods these are I think I know His house is in the village though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow." My thanks to Israel Cohen and Robert Frost for adding another dimension to the winter season here in Canada. Norm Rosenblood rsblood@mcmail.CIS.McMaster.CA * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * From: Milman/Rancour-Laferriere Dear fellow Birch-Folk, Those of us who grew up in the woods of northern New England invariably have special feelings about birches. Birches are basically human. Robert Frost understood that. And his hair was as white as white birch when I watched him recite his poetry at Boston College in 1961. Paul Friedrich has written a very interesting book titled _Proto-Indo-European Trees: The Arboreal System of a Prehistoric People_ (Univ. of Chicago Press 1970). In it he speculates that birch is an ancient symbol of "young, virginal feminity." I have a "Digression on Birches" in _The Slave Soul of Russia_ (NYU Press, 1995, 184-89). The associations with birch ("bereza") in Russia are not so much sexual and virginal, as maternal and violent. You beat yourself with birch switches in the Russian mother-bathhouse ("banya"), for example. Young girls abuse birch trees in various adolescent rituals (tear off branches, chop up the trees, strip the bark, etc.). These rituals seem to represent a break with the mother, which is violent and sad in a Russian context (preliterate Russian culture was virilocal, with girls carried out through the window of the natal hut, like a corpse, and brought to the husband's household - there are interesting folk laments on this theme). The violent treatment of the birch does not seem to be a representation of hymen-breaking. There are fruits and berries (kalina-malina, etc.) and river-crossings to represent THAT. I know one Russian woman who emigrated to California, and who is quite happy with the sunshine state. But she planted a little birch grove in her back yard for when she gets depressed and homesick (kogda toskuet po rodine) Ah....birches. Akh, berezy. Makes me teary-eyed just to think of them..... Daniel Rancour-Laferriere BarDan@compuserve.com * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Israel "izzy" Cohen^M email@example.com^M
Israel Cohen <firstname.lastname@example.org m>
Petah Tikva, Israel - Tuesday, September 29, 1998 at 05:28:07 (EDT)