Robert Lee Frost (1874 – 1963)
Robert Lee Frost was an essentially pastoral poet often associated with
rural New England, Frost wrote poems whose philosophical dimensions transcend
any region. Although his verse forms are traditional he was a pioneer in the interplay of rhythm and meter and in
the poetic use of the vocabulary and inflections of everyday speech. His poetry
is thus both traditional and experimental, regional and universal.
After his father's death in 1885, the family left
California and settled in Massachusetts. Frost attended high school in that
state, but remained less than one semester. Returning
to Massachusetts, he taughtschool and worked in a mill and as a newspaper
reporter. In 1894 he sold "My Butterfly: An Elegy" to The Independent, a New
York literary journal. A year later he married Elinor White. From 1897 to 1899
he attended Harvard College as a special student but left without a degree. Over
the next ten years he wrote (but rarely published) poems, operated a farm in
Derry, New Hampshire (purchased for him by his paternal grandfather), and
supplemented his income by teaching at Derry's Pinkerton Academy.
In 1912 he sold the farm and used the proceeds to take his
family to England, where he could devote himself entirely to writing. His
efforts to establish himself and his work were almost immediately successful. A
Boy's Will was accepted by a London publisher and brought out in 1913, followed
a year later by North of Boston. Favorable reviews on both sides of the Atlantic
resulted in American publication of the books by Henry Holt and Company, Frost's
primary American publisher, and in the establishing of Frost's transatlantic
Sales of that book and of A Boy's Will enabled Frost to buy a farm in Franconia,
N.H.; to place new poems in literary periodicals and publish a third book,
Mountain Interval (1916); and to embark on a long career of writing, teaching,
and lecturing. In 1924 he received a Pulitzer Prize in poetry for New Hampshire
(1923). He was lauded again for Collected Poems (1930), A Further Range (1936),
and A Witness Tree (1942). Over the years he received an unprecedented number
and range of literary, academic, and public honors.
Frost's importance as a poet derives from the power and memorability of
particular poems. "The Death of the Hired Man" (from North of Boston) combines
lyric and dramatic poetry in blank verse. "After Apple-Picking" (from the same
volume) is a free-verse dream poem with philosophical undertones. "Mending Wall"
(also published in North of Boston) demonstrates Frost's simultaneous command of
lyrical verse, dramatic conversation, and ironic commentary. "The Road Not
Taken" and "Birches" (from Mountain Interval) and the oft-studied "Stopping by
Woods on a Snowy Evening" (from New Hampshire) exemplify Frost's ability to join
the pastoral and philosophical modes in lyrics of unforgettable beauty.
Frost's poetic and political conservatism caused him to lose favor with some
literary critics, but his reputation as a major poet is secure. He
unquestionably succeeded in realizing his life's ambition: to write "a few poems
it will be hard to get rid of.