I have been in a funny mood recently. As people who read this blog will know I don’t need to be in an odd frame of mind to read poetry; but there are times when it speaks to me with a louder voice and offers one or two lines that so describe my life view that I almost stand up wherever I might be reading and shout ‘YES’!!!
Robert Frost is one of my favourite poets and Birches one of the poems I have read most often. But this week, as I dashed hither and thither whilst not feeling, frankly, on top form Birches seemed to speak to me personally. I thought, perhaps, that Robert Frost had written about a moment we all have at some point in our lives (unless we are fortunate types who believe we have got everything right, can cope easily with all life throws at us and have boundless energy) when really we would just like to run away for a while. We wouldn’t want to be gone forever; we would miss our loved ones and yearn, eventually, to return. But those constant worries about whether we are doing the right thing; the calls on our time that seem so piffling; the reluctance of others to make decisions on anything without our input; well they all can just get too much…..
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.
This is just the second part of the poem. You can read the whole poem here. Doesn’t that line ‘And life is too much like a pathless wood…’ ring so true, as life seems to spin further out of our control?
A number of the themes Robert Frost focused on in his work are present here – nature, and its ability to teach us about ourselves whilst maintaining an indifference to our fates; the solitary traveller and the choices he or she makes; and those wonderful trees, the birches and the woodland that feature strongly in Frost’s poetry, connecting us with the natural world whilst ensuring we remain rooted in humanity.
I am writing this at midsummer, when we should feel closest to the warmth of the sun, the green of the leaves and the wonders of the world. How far away they seem at present, and how much we need to bring ourselves back to them and root ourselves in our humanity once more.