Steps to Analyzing a Poem
Follow these steps to easily analyze any poem. First, read “Birches” by Robert Frost:
- Print out the poem. Most poems can be found online. If you have a book you’re allowed to write in, then write in it.
- Annotate the poemusing the following steps:
- identify the rhyme scheme
- identify the meter and any examples of straying from the meter
- if the poem is difficult, summarize each stanza
- circle important words, ambiguous words, and words you need to look up
- circle examples of figurative language
- write questions
- write down insights.
- Draw conclusions based on the information you gathered while annotating.
- Write the analysis. The following steps are for how to write a paragraph analysis:
- The topic sentence should state the poem’s theme (one that may not be so obvious).
- The examples, facts, citations from the poem you’re analyzing should support your topic sentence.
- Provide analysis explaining how your facts support your topic sentence.
My own analysis using the above steps produces the following observations:
- There is no rhyme scheme. The meter is blank verse with variations. The lack of structure mirrors the freedom of youth.
- The poem creates its rhythm through the use of enjambment.
- The poem opens with a contrast: bent birches and straighter, darker trees.
- The short sentence in line five “ice storms do that” jolts the reader and changes the tone from idyllic to harsh.
- The contrast is continued in line 6 with the juxtaposition of ice and sunny.
- Line 9 alliteration of “cracks and crazes” draws the reader’s attention. Cracks and crazes could also represent the wrinkling of old age. Enamel reminds me of teeth and bones.
- I am drawn to the alliteration and assonance in lines 10-11: “soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells shattering and avalanching on the snow crust.”
- Old age metaphor in lines 14-16: “They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load, / and they seem not to break; though once they are bowed [nice pun] / So low for long, they never right themselves.”
- Line 23 contains a pivot: “(Now am I free to be poetical?)” The tone of the poem changes once again. Poets see things that aren’t and make them so. It’s not about facts. It’s about beauty. The poem’s rhythm picks up immediately, reflective of the switch from old age represented by ice bent limbs, to youth, represented by swinging from branches.
- Line 29: “One by one he subdued his father’s trees” much in the same way the young supplant the old.
- Line 42: “So was I once myself a swinger of birches” is a combination of alliteration and consonance. It establishes the last stanza as reflective, a personalized message about youth. It marks a change in mood.
- Lines 47-50 states the poet’s desire to begin his life again, much in the same way he begins his poem again in lines 23 and line 42. Form enhances theme.
- The final association of birches is with love beginning in line 55.
- He finishes the poem with an outstanding example of meiosis: “One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.” This is the concluding line to a poem that exults the life of one who is a swinger of birches.
My own interpretation based on the information gathered in step 1:
The regenerative cycle of nature and love is reflected in Robert Frost’s nature poem “Birches.” The poem begins with the harsh realization that although he wishes the bent birches were a result of some boy swinging on them, he understands that “ice storms do that” (5). The abruptly short sentence jolts the reader and turns a lively mood into a somber one. Lines 5-22 laments old age through the use of symbols and metaphors: ice “cracks and crazes their [birches] enamel” (9), “heaps of broken glass” (12) are swept away, birches are “dragged to the withered bracken by the load” (14).
The poem pivots in line 24 as the poet imagines that, yes, the birches are bent from a boy swinging on them. The rhythm of the poem speeds up as Frost provides images of youth swinging on birches. Frost uses alliteration in line 42 to change the direction and mood of the poem once again as he reflects on what it would be like to be young again. The only way to do this, he claims, is through love. It is through love that even those who are bent can enjoy a renewal of their spirit, and can “climb black branches up a snow white trunk / Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more” (56-57). He emphasizes the perfect rejuvenating power of love, represented by the birches, via meiosis in the last line: “Once could do worse than be a swinger of birches” (60).
Disagree? Let me know your thoughts on the poem in the comments.
This post is part of the series: The Robert Frost Poetry Study Guide
An analysis of Robert Frost’s poetry will enlighten and inspire.