University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
“A Young Birch” by Robert Frost Poetry Analysis
In the poem “A Young Birch”, Robert Frost establishes the futility of existence despite having beauty through the use of symbols, structure, and imagery. Although the birch tree is beautiful, its life is meaningless and its death is unavoidable. The speaker describes the birch tree’s life, but in the end, the struggles that the birch tree faced were pointless. Frost establishes the birch tree’s beauty through the use of symbols in the colour white. The colour white symbolizes beauty and purity. Frost compares the birch’s beauty to the sun’s ability to be bright. “Soon entirely white / To double day and cut in half the dark” (ll 4-5) The speaker comments on the birch’s ability, being beautiful, to make the days twice as bright, establishing the blinding beauty of the birch tree.
The colour white symbolizes not only beauty, but death. Frost uses this symbolism to establish the inevitability of death. “…crack it’s outer sheath / Of baby green and show the white beneath” (ll 1-2) Frost uses the speaker’s comment on the growth of the birch tree to establish the beauty that was always within the tree, but also death, which is apart of every natural living being. Frost establishes the birch tree’s beauty, but also the inevitable death in his use of symbolism in the colour white. Frost establishes the futility of existence through the use of symbols. The speaker describes the growth of the birch tree through the comparison of its size to different man-made objects, the cane and the fishing pole. The cane and the fishing pole are symbols of the birch tree’s growth. “At first to be no bigger than a cane, / And then no bigger than a fishing pole,” (ll 14-15) The cane and the fishing pole also represent the birch tree’s inevitable death. These man-made objects are made of wood, which are essentially dead trees. The speaker describes the ever-present force of death, even in the growing stages of life.
Frost establishes a sense of futility in the birch tree’s growth. Frost establishes the lack of meaning in the birch tree’s life. The use of the word ornament represents the birch tree’s meaningless life, although being beautiful. This symbol establishes that the only purpose of the birch’s life is to be a beautiful object and nothing more. “To live its life out as an ornament” (ll 22) The speaker comments that the birch tree’s life is fruitless. Frost establishes the futility of existence in growing and living because of a purposeless existence through his use of symbols. Frost establishes life and growth as futile through his use of structure. The poem, “A Young Birch”, is divided into two sections through the tense that is used, present tense and past tense, establishing that life is only a small part of existence and that death is the overpowering force.
Frost uses sentence structure and length to represent the birch tree’s growth. Each sentence, with the exception of the transition sentence and concluding sentence, is slightly larger than the last. As the birch tree’s growth is described in the poem, the length of the sentences grows too. The sentence lengths reach a climax of 10 lines and it is cut short abruptly, representing the way death cuts life. Frost establishes death as dominant to life through his use of structure. Frost establishes the birch tree’s imminent death through his use of imagery. The speaker describes the sound of the birch tree breaking out of its outer cover, a stage in its maturity and growth. “The birch begins to crack its outer sheath / Of baby green and show the white beneath” (ll 1-2) The breaking out of the outer layer of the birch provides a vivid description of the birch tree’s struggles in life.
Frost emphasizes the futility in the struggle of life, as death is unavoidable. Frost establishes the ever-present possibility of being killed in his vivid description of death. The speaker describes those that were killed around the birch and the ease in which the birch itself can die. “He spared it from the number of the slain.” (ll 13) The image of death emphasizes the loneliness of the birch tree, despite having beauty, and the inevitability of death in the birch tree as well. Frost establishes the vulnerability of living things and the benefit in accepting death through his use of imagery. Frost establishes the dominant nature of death to life and the lack of purpose and meaning in life. He establishes that even in growth, purity, and beauty, death is unavoidable and acceptance of death is beneficial. Frost establishes the imminent nature of death and the futility of existence in “A Young Birch” through his use of imagery, structure, and symbols.