Robert Lee Frost (1874 –1963)
Robert Frost (1874-1963) was born in San Francisco, California. His father William Frost, a
journalist and an ardent Democrat, died when Frost was about eleven years old. His Scottish
mother, the former Isabelle Moody, resumed her career as a schoolteacher to support her family.
The family lived in Lawrence, Massachusetts, with Frost's paternal grandfather, William Prescott
Frost, who gave his grandson a good schooling. In 1892 Frost graduated from a high school and
attended Darthmouth College for a few months. Over the next ten years he held a number of
jobs. Frost worked among others in a textile mill and taught Latin at his mother's school in
Methuen, Massachusetts. In 1894 the New York Independent published Frost's poem 'My
Butterfly' and he had five poems privately printed. Frost worked as a teacher and continued to
write and publish his poems in magazines. In 1895 he married a former schoolmate, Elinor
White; they had six children.
From 1897 to 1899 Frost studied at Harvard, but left without receiving a degree. He moved to
Derry, New Hampshire, working there as a cobbler, farmer, and teacher at Pinkerton Academy
and at the state normal school in Plymouth. When he sent his poems to The Atlantic Monthly
they were returned with this note: "We regret that The Atlantic has no place for your vigorous
In 1912 Frost sold his farm and took his wife and four young children to England. There he
published his first collection of poems, A BOY'S WILL, at the age of 39. It was followed by
NORTH BOSTON (1914), which gained international reputation. The collection contains some
of Frost's best-known poems: 'Mending Wall,' 'The Death of the Hired Man,' 'Home Burial,' 'A
Servant to Servants,' 'After Apple-Picking,' and 'The Wood-Pile.' The poems, written with blank
verse or looser free verse of dialogue, were drawn from his own life, recurrent losses, everyday
While in England Frost was deeply influenced by such English poets as Rupert Brooke. After
returning to the US in 1915 with his family, Frost bought a farm near Franconia, New
Hampshire. When the editor of The Atlantic Monthly asked for poems, he gave the very ones
that had previously been rejected. Frost taught later at Amherst College (1916-38) and Michigan
universities. In 1916 he was made a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. On the
same year appeared his third collection of verse, MOUNTAIN INTERVAL, which contained
such poems as 'The Road Not Taken,' 'The Oven Bird,' 'Birches,' and 'The Hill Wife.' Frost's
poems show deep appreciation of natural world and sensibility about the human aspirations. His
images - woods, stars, houses, brooks, - are usually taken from everyday life. With his down-toearth approach to his subjects, readers found it is easy to follow the poet into deeper truths,
without being burdened with pedantry. Often Frost used the rhythms and vocabulary of ordinary
speech or even the looser free verse of dialogue.
In 1920 Frost purchased a farm in South Shaftsbury, Vermont, near Middlebury College where
he cofounded the Bread Loaf School and Conference of English. His wife died in 1938 and he
lost four of his children. Two of his daughters suffered mental breakdowns, and his son Carol, a
frustrated poet and farmer, committed suicide. Frost also suffered from depression and the
continual self-doubt led him to cling to the desire to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.
After the death of his wife, Frost became strongly attracted to Kay Morrison, whom he employed
as his secretary and adviser. Frost also composed for her one of his finest love poems, 'A Witness
Frost travelled in 1957 with his future biographer Lawrance Thompson to England and to Israel
and Greece in 1961. He participated in the inauguration of President John Kennedy in 1961 by
reciting two of his poems. When the sun and the wind prevented him from reading his new
poem, 'The Preface', Frost recited his old poem, 'The Gift Outright', from memory. Frost
travelled in 1962 in the Soviet Union as a member of a goodwill group. He had a long talk with
Premier Nikita Khrushchev, whom he described as "no fathead"; as smart, big and "not a
coward." Frost also reported that Khrushchev had said the United States was "too liberal to
fight," it caused a considerable stir in Washington. Among the honors and rewards Frost received
were tributes from the U.S. Senate (1950), the American Academy of Poets (1953), New York
University (1956), and the Huntington Hartford Foundation (1958), the Congressional Gold
Medal (1962), the Edward MacDowell Medal (1962). In 1930 he was elected to the American
Academy of Arts and Letters, Amherst College appointed him Saimpson Lecturer for Life
(1949), and in 1958 he was made poetry consultant for the Library of Congress.
At the time of his death on January 29, 1963, Frost was considered a kind of unofficial poet
laureate of the US. "I would have written of me on my stone: I had a lover's quarrel with the
world," Frost once said. In his poems Frost depicted the fields and farms of his surroundings,
observing the details of rural life, which hide universal meaning. His independent, elusive, half
humorous view of the world produced such remarks as "I never take my side in a quarrel", or
"I'm never serious except when I'm fooling." Although Frost's works were generally praised, the
lack of seriousness concerning social and political problems of the 1930s annoyed some more
socially orientated critics. Later biographers have created a complex and contradictory portrait of
the poet. In Lawrance Thompson's humorless, three-volume official biography (1966-1976)
Frost was presented as a misanthrope, anti-intellectual, cruel, and angry man, but in Jay Parini's
work (1999) he was again viewed with sympathy: ''He was a loner who liked company; a poet of
isolation who sought a mass audience; a rebel who sought to fit in. Although a family man to the
core, he frequently felt alienated from his wife and children and withdrew into reveries. While
preferring to stay at home, he traveled more than any poet of his generation to give lectures and
readings, even though he remained terrified of public speaking to the end..."
Robert Frost (1874-1963), four-time Pulitzer Prize winning American poet, teacher and lecturer
wrote many popular and oft-quoted poems including ―After Apple-Picking‖, ―The Road Not
Taken‖, ―Home Burial‖ and ―Mending Wall‖;
He only says, ―Good fences make good neighbours.‖
At times bittersweet, sometimes ironic, or simply marveling at his surroundings, one can also see
autobiographical details in Frost‘s works; he suffered devastating losses in his life including the
untimely deaths of his sister, two of his children and his wife. He knew the soul‘s depths of
psychic despair but was also capable of delighting in birch trees ‘loaded with ice a sunny winter
morning’. While memorialising the rural landscape, vernacular, culture and people of New
England in his traditional verse style, his poems also transcend the boundaries of time and place
with metaphysical significance and modern exploration of human nature in all her beauty and
contradictions. Though not without his critics, millions of readers the world over have found
comfort and profound meaning in his poetry and he has influenced numerous other authors,
poets, musicians, and playwrights into the 21st Century.
Robert Lee Frost (named after Southern General Robert E. Lee) was born on 26 March 1874 in
San Francisco, California to Isabelle Moodie (1844-1900) teacher, and William Prescott Frost Jr.
(1850-1885), teacher and journalist. San Francisco was a lively city full of citizens of Pioneering
spirit, including Will who had ventured there from New Hampshire to seek his fortune as a
journalist. He also started gambling and drinking, habits which left his family in dire financial
straits when he died in 1885 after contracting tuberculosis. Honouring his last wishes to be
buried in Lawrence, Massachusetts where he was born, Isabelle, Robert and his sister Jeanie
Florence (1876-1929) made the long train journey across the country to the New England town.
Isabelle took up teaching again to support her children.
With both parents as teachers, young Robert was early on exposed to the world of books and
reading, studying such works as those by William Shakespeare and poetsRobert
Burns and William Wordsworth. He also formed a life-long love of nature, the great outdoors
and rural countryside. After enrolling in Lawrence High School he was soon writing his own
poems including ―La Noche Triste‖ (1890) which was published in the school‘s paper. He
excelled in many subjects including history, botany, Latin and Greek, and played football,
graduating at the head of his class. In 1892 he entered Dartmouth, the Ivy League College in
Hanover, New Hampshire, but soon became disenchanted with the atmosphere of campus life.
He then took on a series of jobs including teaching and working in a mill, all the while
continuing to write poetry.
Frost got his first break as a poet in 1894 when the New York magazineIndependent published
―My Butterfly: An Elegy‖ for a stipend of $15. A year later a wish he had had for some time
came true; on 19 December 1895 he married Elinor Miriam White (1872-1938), his co-
valedictorian and sweetheart from school. They had gone separate ways upon graduation to
attend college, and while Frost had left early, Elinor wanted to wait until she was finished before
getting married. They would have six children together; sons Elliott (b.1896-1900) and Carol
(1902-1940) and daughters Lesley (b.1899), Irma (b.1903), Marjorie (b.1905-1934), and Elinor
The newlyweds continued to teach, which Frost always enjoyed, but the demanding schedule
interfered with his writing. In 1897 he entered Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts,
though illness caused him to leave in 1899 before finishing his degree. Despite that, it was one of
many institutions that would award him an honorary degree later on. The next ten years, the
‗Derry years‘, were trying times for Frost with a growing family to support. In 1900 they moved
to a farm bought by his paternal grandfather in Derry, New Hampshire to try poultry farming.
The same year his son Elliot died of cholera. Frost suffered greatly from grief and guilt, and
compounding this was the loss of his mother to cancer the same year. In 1907 Elinor Bettina died
just one day after birth. But the farm was a peaceful and secluded setting and Frost enjoyed
farming, tending to his orchard trees, chickens and various other chores. This period inspired
such poems as ―The Mending Wall‖ (written in England in 1913) and ―Hyla Brook‖ (1906). The
house built in the typical New England clapboard style is now a restored State Historical
But it was soon time for a change. In 1911 he sold the farm and the Frosts set sail for England.
Elinor was enthusiastic about traveling, even with four children, and they moved into a cottage in
Beaconsfield, just outside of London. Then finally it happened; after writing poetry and trying to
get noticed by publishers for over twenty years, Frost‘s first collection of poetry A Boy’s
Will was published in England in 1913 by a small London printer, David Nutt. American
publisher Henry Holt printed it in 1915. Frost‘s work was well-received and fellow poets Edward
Thomas and Ezra Pound became friends, supporters, and helped promote his work. North of
Boston (1914) followed. When World War I started the Frosts were back in New Hampshire,
settling at their newly bought farm in Franconia in 1915. A year later Robert began teaching
English at Amherst College. Mountain Interval was published in 1916 which contained many
poems written at Franconia. He was also starting lecture tours for his ever-growing audience of
In 1920, Frost bought ‗Stone House‘ (now a museum) in South Shaftsbury, Vermont. There he
wrote many of the poems contained in his fourth collection of poetry New Hampshire (1923)
which won him the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923. It includes ―Stopping By Woods On A
And miles to go before I sleep.
While he also farmed on the idyllic property with its breathtaking views of mountains and
valleys, another project Frost undertook was the founding of the Bread Loaf School of English at
Middlebury College in Ripton, Vermont. After his son Carol married Lillian LaBatt (1905-1995)
and his grandson Prescott arrived, he gave them Stone House to live in where Carol planted his
thousand apple trees. Frost bought a second farm in Shaftsbury, ―The Gulley‖. At the height of
his career, his next collection of poems West-running Brook (1928) was published just one year
before another great loss of a loved one hit him; his sister Jeanie died.
By now Frost was a popular speaker and had a demanding schedule of which Elinor, acting as
his secretary, organised for him, so he spent a fair bit of time traveling, though still maintaining
an impressive output of poetry. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry a second time in
1931 for his Collected Poems (1930), and also in 1937 for A Further Range (1936), and yet
again in 1943 for his collection A Witness Tree(1942). All his children were married and he spent
much time with them and his grandchildren, though it was not long before the heavy blows of
loss struck again; his beloved daughter Marjorie died in 1934 after the birth of her first child, and
in 1938 Elinor died of a heart attack. In 1940 Carol committed suicide.
Leaving the Stone House and The Gulley behind, in 1939 Frost bought the HomerNoble Farm in
Ripton, Vermont for his summer residence, located near the Bread Loaf School. He occupied the
cabin on the property ‘Than smoke and mist who better could appraise, The kindred spirit of an
inner haze?’ (―A Cabin in the Clearing‖) while his friends and colleagues the Morrisons stayed
in the main house. Collected Poems(1939) was followed by A Masque of Reason (play,
1945), Steeple Bush (1947), A Masque of Mercy (play, 1947), Complete Poems (1949), and In
the Clearing (1962). At the Inauguration of American President John F. Kennedy on 20 January
1961, Frost recited his poem ―The Gift Outright‖ (1942).
Robert Frost died on the 29th of January 1963 in Boston, Massachusetts. ‘Safe!, Now let the
night be dark for all of me. Let the night be too dark for me to see, Into the future. Let what will
be, be.’ (―Acceptance‖) He lies buried in the family plot in the Old Bennington Cemetery behind
the Old First Congregational Church near Shaftsbury, Vermont. His gravestone reads ‗I Had A
Lover‘s Quarrel With The World‘.
Just nine months after Frost‘s death, Kennedy gave a speech at Amherst College, singing Frosts‘
praises and speaking on the importance of the Arts in America. Later he said;
―The death of Robert Frost leaves a vacancy in the American spirit....His death impoverishes us
all; but he has bequeathed his Nation a body of imperishable verse from which Americans will
forever gain joy and understanding.‖
Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc 2006. All Rights
The above biography is copyrighted. Do not republish it without permission.
Robert Lee Frost (March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963) was an American poet. He is highly
regarded for his realistic depictions of rural life and his command of American colloquial
speech. His work frequently employed settings from rural life in New England in the early
twentieth century, using them to examine complex social and philosophical themes. A popular
and often-quoted poet, Frost was honored frequently during his lifetime, receiving four Pulitzer
Prizes for Poetry.
Robert Frost, circa 1910
Robert Frost was born in San Francisco, California, to journalist William Prescott Frost, Jr., and
Isabelle Moodie. His mother was of Scottishdescent, and his father descended from Nicholas
Frost of Tiverton, Devon,England, who had sailed to New Hampshire in 1634 on
Frost's father was a teacher and later an editor of the San Francisco Evening Bulletin (which later
merged with the San Francisco Examiner), and an unsuccessful candidate for city tax collector.
After his death on May 5, 1885, the family moved across the country to Lawrence,
Massachusetts, under the patronage of (Robert's grandfather) William Frost, Sr., who was an
overseer at a New England mill. Frost graduated from Lawrence High School in 1892.  Frost's
mother joined the Swedenborgian church and had him baptized in it, but he left it as an adult.
Although known for his later association with rural life, Frost grew up in the city, and published
his first poem in his high school's magazine. He attended Dartmouth College for two months,
long enough to be accepted into the Theta Delta Chifraternity. Frost returned home to teach and
to work at various jobs – including helping his mother teach her class of unruly boys, delivering
newspapers, and working in a factory as a lightbulb filament changer. He did not enjoy these
jobs, feeling his true calling was poetry.
"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life — It goes on" -- Robert Frost
This is a stone wall at Frost's farm inDerry, New Hampshire, however, Frost was inspired to
write "Mending Wall" by various walls he saw in Fife, Scotland.
In 1894 he sold his first poem, "My Butterfly: An Elegy" (published in the November 8, 1894,
edition of the New York Independent) for $15. Proud of his accomplishment, he proposed
marriage to Elinor Miriam White, but she demurred, wanting to finish college (at St. Lawrence
University) before they married. Frost then went on an excursion to the Great Dismal
Swamp in Virginia, and asked Elinor again upon his return. Having graduated, she agreed, and
they were married at Lawrence, Massachusetts on 19 December 1895.(Thompson and Meyers)
Frost attended Harvard University from 1897-1899, but left voluntarily due to
illness. Shortly before dying, Robert's grandfather purchased a farm for Robert and Elinor
in Derry, New Hampshire; and Robert worked the farm for nine years, while writing early in the
mornings and producing many of the poems that would later become famous. Ultimately his
farming proved unsuccessful and he returned to the field of education as an English teacher at
New Hampshire'sPinkerton Academy from 1906 to 1911, then at the New Hampshire Normal
School (now Plymouth State University) in Plymouth, New Hampshire.
In 1912 Frost sailed with his family to Great Britain, settling first in Beaconsfield, a small town
outside London. His first book of poetry, A Boy's Will, was published the next year. In England
he made some important acquaintances, including Edward Thomas (a member of the group
known as the Dymock Poets),T.E. Hulme, and Ezra Pound. Although Pound would become the
first American to write a (favorable) review of Frost's work, Frost later resented Pound's attempts
to manipulate his American prosody. Frost met or befriended many contemporary poets in
England, especially after his first two poetry volumes were published in London in 1913 (A Boy's
Will) and 1914 (North of Boston).
The Robert Frost Farm in Derry, New Hampshire, where he wrote many of his poems, including
"Tree at My Window" and "Mending Wall."
As World War I began, Frost returned to America in 1915 and bought a farm in Franconia, New
Hampshire, where he launched a career of writing, teaching, and lecturing. This family
homestead served as the Frosts' summer home until 1938, and is maintained today as The Frost
Place, a museum and poetry conference site. During the years 1916–20, 1923–24, and 1927–
1938, Frost taught English at Amherst College, in Massachusetts, notably encouraging his
students to account for the sounds of the human voice in their writing.
For forty-two years – from 1921 to 1963 - Frost spent almost every summer and fall teaching at
the Bread Loaf School of English of Middlebury College, at its mountain campus at Ripton,
Vermont. He is credited as a major influence upon the development of the school and its writing
programs; the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference gained renown during Frost's time there.[citation
The college now owns and maintains his former Ripton farmstead as a national historic site
near the Bread Loaf campus. In 1921 Frost accepted a fellowship teaching post at the University
of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where he resided until 1927; while there he was awarded a lifetime
appointment at the University as a Fellow in Letters. The Robert Frost Ann Arbor home is now
situated at The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Frost returned to Amherst in 1927.
In 1940 he bought a 5-acre (2.0 ha) plot in South Miami, Florida, naming it Pencil Pines; he
spent his winters there for the rest of his life.
Harvard's 1965 alumni directory indicates Frost received an honorary degree there. Although he
never graduated from college, Frost received over 40 honorary degrees, including ones
from Princeton, Oxford and Cambridge universities; and was the only person to receive two
honorary degrees from Dartmouth College. During his lifetime, the Robert Frost Middle School
in Fairfax, Virginia, the Robert L. Frost School in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and the main library
of Amherst College were named after him.
The Frost family grave in Bennington Old Cemetery
Frost was 86 when he spoke and performed a reading of his poetry at the inauguration
of President John F. Kennedy on January 20, 1961. He died in Boston two years later, on January
29, 1963, of complications from prostate surgery. He was buried at the Old Bennington
Cemetery in Bennington, Vermont. His epitaph quotes a line from one of his poems: "I had a
lover's quarrel with the world."
Frost's poems are critiqued in the Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford University
Press) where it is mentioned that behind a sometimes charmingly familiar and rural façade,
Frost's poetry frequently presents pessimistic and menacing undertones which often are either
unrecognized or unanalyzed.
One of the original collections of Frost materials, to which he himself contributed, is found in the
Special Collections department of the Jones Library in Amherst, Massachusetts. The collection
consists of approximately twelve thousand items, including original manuscript poems and
letters, correspondence, and photographs, as well as audio and visual recordings. The Archives
and Special Collections at Amherst College also holds a collection of his papers.
Robert Frost's personal life was plagued with grief and loss. In 1885 when Frost was 11, his
father died of tuberculosis, leaving the family with just eight dollars. Frost's mother died of
cancer in 1900. In 1920, Frost had to commit his younger sister Jeanie to a mental hospital,
where she died nine years later. Mental illness apparently ran in Frost's family, as both he and his
mother suffered from depression, and his daughter Irma was committed to a mental hospital in
1947. Frost's wife, Elinor, also experienced bouts of depression.
Elinor and Robert Frost had six children: son Elliot (1896–1904, died of cholera); daughter
Lesley Frost Ballantine (1899–1983); son Carol (1902–1940, committed suicide); daughter Irma
(1903–1967); daughter Marjorie (1905–1934, died as a result of puerperal fever after childbirth);
and daughter Elinor Bettina (died just three days after her birth in 1907). Only Lesley and Irma
outlived their father. Frost's wife, who had heart problems throughout her life, developed breast
cancer in 1937, and died of heart failure in 1938.
Robert Frost (1874-1963), four-time Pulitzer Prize winning American poet, teacher and lecturer
wrote many popular and oft-quoted poems including ―After Apple-Picking‖, ―The Road Not
Taken”, “Home Burial” and “Mending Wall”;
Daughter: Elinor Bettina Frost (1907)
What Robert Frost did... and why you should care
"Three years ago, a young New Hampshire schoolmaster went over to England, lived in
retirement for a while, and published a volume of poems which won him many friends in a quiet
way," wrote the Boston Herald in 1915. "Some time ago, another volume of verse went to the
same publisher and one morning Robert Frost found himself famous."1
This is the simplified version of how a New Hampshire farmer became America's poet—the one
whose clear, elegant verse spoke of things as powerful and inscrutable as nature itself. Robert
Frost, who was born in 1874 and died 88 years later as one of the most famous men in America,
doesn't fit neatly into any single chapter of a poetry anthology. His poetry captures the best of the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It struck out on a bold, fresh course, while never veering from
the confines of verse and meter. His poems are about a specific place—America's New
Like his placid images that hinted at darker truths beneath, Robert Frost's personal life belied the
beauty of his poetry. Frost struggled with depression, and saw many of the people he loved
destroyed by mental illness. He lost four of his six children. In the poem "Home Burial," the
father of the dead child speaks words that could have been Frost's: "I shall laugh the worst laugh
I ever laughed. / I'm cursed. God, if I don't believe I'm cursed."2
You have probably been forced to read and parse the meaning of "Stopping by Woods on a
Snowy Evening" in English class. You may have seen lines from "A Road Not Taken"
emblazoned on coffee mugs and journals. That's kid stuff. Now get ready to learn the real Robert
Mar 26, 1874
Robert Frost Born
Robert Lee Frost is born in San Francisco to William Prescott Frost, Jr., and Isabelle Moodie.
May 5, 1885
Frost's father, journalist William Prescott Frost, Jr., dies of tuberculosis. With no money to
support themselves, Frost, his mother, and his younger sister Jeanie move across the country to
Massachusetts, to be cared for by his paternal grandparents.
High School Graduation
Frost graduates as co-valedictorian of Lawrence High School in Lawrence, Massachusetts. He
enrolls at Dartmouth College, but returns home after only a semester, to teach and work at
Nov 8, 1894
First Published Poem
Frost's first published poem, "My Butterfly: An Elegy," appears in the New York Independent.
He receives fifteen dollars for his work.
Dec 19, 1895
Marries Elinor Miriam White
Frost marries his Elinor Miriam White, his classmate and co-valedictorian at Lawrence High
Sep 25, 1896
Elliott Frost Born
Robert and Elinor Frost's first child, a son named Elliott, is born.
Robert Frost enrolls at Harvard College, where he studies liberal arts.
Frost drops out of Harvard before he can get a degree, and moves back to Lawrence in order to
support his growing family.
Apr 28, 1899
Lesley Frost Born
The couple's second child, and first daughter, Lesley is born. Lesley is later one of only two
Frost children to outlive their father.
Jul 8, 1900
Elliott Frost Dies
Robert Frost's son Elliott dies of cholera, just two months shy of his fourth birthday.
Frost Takes Up Farming
The Frost family moves to a poultry farm in Derry, New Hampshire, purchased for Robert by his
paternal grandfather. A month later, Frost's mother Isabelle dies of cancer.
May 27, 1902
Carol Frost Born
The Frosts family's third child, son Carol, is born.
Jun 27, 1903
Irma Frost Born
Daughter Irma, Frost's fourth child, is born.
Mar 29, 1905
Marjorie Frost Born
Daughter Marjorie is born. She is the Frost family's fifth child.
Frost becomes an English teacher at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, a job he holds for the next five
Jun 18, 1907
Elinor Bettina Frost Born
Elinor gives birth to daughter Elinor Bettina, who sadly dies just days later. She is their sixth and
Frost Gives Up Farming
Robert Frost calls it quits and sells the poultry farm. He takes a job teaching English at New
Hampshire Normal School in Plymouth, New Hampshire.
Frosts Move to England
The Frost family moves to the United Kingdom in September. They live first in Scotland and
then outside London. Frost befriends several literary notables, including Edward
Thomas andEzra Pound.
First Book Published
A Boy's Will, Frost's first book of poetry, is published in England. (The American edition appears
two years later.)
May 15, 1914
Second Book Published
Frost's second book of poetry, North of Boston, is published.
Return to America
The Frosts move back to the United States as World War I begins. They settle on another farm,
this time in Franconia, New Hampshire.
Frost begins the first of three teaching stints at Amherst College, which take place 1917-1920,
1923-1925, and 1926-1938.
Moves to Vermont
The Frosts move to a home named Stone House in Shaftsbury, Vermont. They keep the
Franconia farm as a summer home.
Bread Loaf School
Frost spends the first of 42 summers lecturing at the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury
College, at the mountain campus in Ripton, Vermont.
Robert Frost wins his first Pulitzer Prize for the poetry collection New Hampshire. It includes his
famous poem "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening."
Sep 7, 1929
Frost's sister Jeanie dies in a mental hospital at the age of 52.
Frost wins his second Pulitzer Prize for his book Collected Poems.
May 2, 1934
Marjorie Frost Dies
Frost's daughter Marjorie dies of puerperal fever after childbirth, at the age of 29.
Wins Another Pulitzer
Frost wins his third Pulitzer Prize for the poetry collection A Further Range.
Mar 20, 1938
Elinor Frost Dies
Elinor Miriam White Frost, the poet's wife of 42 years, dies at the age of 65 from a heart attack.
Wins Poetry Awards
The Ralph Waldo Emerson Fellow in Poetry at Harvard and teaches there until 1943.
Oct 9, 1940
Carol Frost Dies
Frost's 38-year-old son Carol commits suicide.
Frost buys a house and moves to Cambridge, Massachusetts—his home for the rest of his life.
Wins Last Pulitzer
Frost wins his fourth and final Pulitzer Prize for the poetry collection A Witness Tree. In
September, he begins a six-year appointment as the George Ticknor Fellow in the Humanities at
Jan 20, 1961
Frost Reads at Inauguration
At the age of 86, Robert Frost reads at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. Blinded
by the harsh sunlight, he is unable to read "Dedication," the poem he prepared for the event.
Instead, he recites his poem "The Gift Outright" from memory.
Sep 7, 1962
Frost Meets Khrushchev
At President Kennedy's urging, Frost accepts an invitation to meet Nikita Khrushchev, the head
of the Soviet Union. The two discuss U.S.-Russia relations at Frost's bedside, since he fell ill on
Jan 29, 1963
Robert Frost Dies
Robert Frost dies in Boston at the age of 88 following complications from prostate surgery. He
is buried at the Old Bennington Cemetery in Bennington, Vermont.
America has a national bird (the bald eagle), a national flower (the rose), and a national
anthem (come on, you know this one). If the United States ever adopted a national poet, chances
are it would be Robert Frost. By the time Frost died in 1963 at the age of 88, an admiring public
had all but carved his face on Mount Rushmore. His poetry was beloved. Frost earned
the Pulitzer Prize a record four times. Though he never graduated from college, more than forty
universities and colleges have awarded him honorary degrees. Not only was Frost tapped to
speak at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy, but the handsome young President-elect was
actually worried that the crowd would be more interested in the august poet than in him.
Frost stood right at the crossroads of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He does not fit
neatly into any one era. He was one of the first poets to advocate for individualism in language,
before the idea was fashionable—in 1920, just as Frost was becoming famous, his British
contemporary T.S. Eliotpublished an essay called "Tradition and the Individual Talent" that
decried individualism in poetry. While experimentalist twentieth century poets were falling over
themselves to find new modes of expression, Frost reawakened readers to the power of the
pastoral, the classic symbols of nature and countryside. He insisted that his poems be written in
meter and verse ("I would as soon play tennis without a net,"3 he once said of free verse) but
allowed the particular meter to be determined by that poem's individual needs.
"You know, we don't need to be original or inventive," he once explained to one of his many
creative writing classes. "You don't need to find new things. Just take the old things you find
about you, the things people have known all their lives, and say them with your style."4 Frost's
style was a distinctly New England one, a voice informed by the years he spent as a farmer
before his poetry career took off. By combining the best of the old and new, Frost achieved
Though Frost's poetry often focuses on beautiful images—snow falling on quiet woods, gently
swaying birch trees—close readers of his poetry have often noted that his verse seems to hint at
something darker. The critic and writer Lionel
Trilling once called Frost's
"terrifying."5 Poetry also illuminated the darkness in Frost's own soul. The same guy who wrote
"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" could be depressed, jealous, vengeful, and unstable.
His life was rocked by tragedies and the mental illness and depression that ran through his
family, afflicting his parents, his sister, his wife, and two of his six children. Four of Frost's
All of these are things to keep in mind when you read Robert Frost. His poems are about nature
and the American Northeast, yes. But they are also about darkness, about the thin line that
separates humans from the wild, our personalities from the darkness of the subconscious. His
poems hint at something so intuitive, so primal, that it can hardly be put into words. That was
Frost's goal. "If poetry isn't understanding all, the whole world," Frost once, "then it isn't worth
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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: ROBERT FROST
Posted on October 1, 2011 by Sivan Butler-Rotholz
by Robert Frost
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Had worn them really about the same,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
And that has made all the difference.
(This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January
Robert Frost (March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963) was an American poet. He is highly regarded
for his realistic depictions of rural life and his command of American colloquial speech. His
work frequently employed settings from rural life in New England in the early twentieth century,
using them to examine complex social and philosophical themes. A popular and often-quoted
poet, Frost was honored frequently during his lifetime, receiving four Pulitzer Prizes for
Poetry. (Annotated biography of Robert Frost courtesy of Wikipedia.)
Editor’s Note: Every once in a while it‘s good to look back to the traditions and literary greats
that are the roots of modern American poetry. Today is one of those days.
A class I TA for recently did a close reading of today‘s poem. It was one of the best close
reading experiences I‘ve engaged in to date, and it inspired today‘s post.
We began with the reading the poem appears to offer on its face, the idea that choosing the road
less traveled in life is the better choice. On a second reading, and after hearing the poem read
aloud by Frost, students offered that the poem has a tone of regret. Finally, after much debate,
the class reached a consensus that the speaker in the poem is looking toward an unknown future,
knowing only that one day he‘ll see the choice he made in taking one path over the other as the
choice that made all the difference in his life.
I see genius in the very fact that a reader might garner one meaning on a cursory reading, that the
poem might then inspire debate among readers, and that, in the end, the group might conclude
that the poem was always meant to be open to multiple interpretations. After all, when we look
into our own future and contemplate what we‘ll one day say when recalling our past, what do we
really know at all?
letters to pal
CONCORD, New Hampshire (AP) — Writing from England as World War I got under way,
Robert Frost was more worried about his personal finances than the threat of war.
"This row was exciting at first. But it has lost some of its interest for us," the poet wrote to his
friend Ernest Silver in August 1914, just weeks after Great Britain declared war on Germany.
"Not that I think the Germans will come. I bet one of my little amateur bets that other day that
not one of them would set foot in England."
The letter is one of six recently donated to Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, where
Frost taught for a year before moving to England in 1912. His reputation as a poet grew after the
publication of his first book a year later, but Frost still worried about how he would provide for
his family upon returning to the United States.
"I wonder if I can count on your friendship to help me to some place where I can recoup. You
know the kind of thing I should like — something in the English department, if possible, where I
should have some energy to spare for my poetry," he wrote. "I can probably hang on another year
if I have to, but there will be the more need in the end of my finding work because by that time I
shall be in debt."
In another letter dated Feb. 2, 1915, Frost said he was considering moving to Vermont or Maine
to be near friends. "But money is really going to be short and we must go where we can go with
a reasonable chance of making ends meet," he wrote.
Frost, the celebrated New England poet known for such verse as "The Road Not Taken" and
"The Gift Outright," met Silver at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, where Silver was the high
school principal and Frost taught English. When Silver became the president of what was then
known as Plymouth Normal School, he invited Frost to come teach education and psychology.
But after a decade of teaching combined with unsuccessful farming, Frost's move to England
marked his shift toward poetry as a vocation, said Alice Staples, librarian for the archives and
special collections at Plymouth State. The letters come from a time in which Frost faced a choice
not unlike the dilemma posed in 1916's "The Road Not Taken," she said.
In England, Frost befriended other literary greats, including William Butler Yeats and Ezra
Pound. In a May 7, 1913, letter, he described Yeats' manner as being "like that of a man in some
dream he can't shake off," and called Pound "the dazzling youth who translates poetry from six
"Someone says he looks altogether too much like a poet to be a poet," Frost wrote of Pound. "He
lives in Bohemia from hand to mouth but he goes simply everywhere in great society."
Frost also described reading Yeats to students in Plymouth before meeting the poet overseas, a
detail Plymouth State University President Sara Jayne Steen found particularly striking.
"To think that he was bringing such a contemporary writer to the students and working with
them, and then to think how exciting that must've been for him, to be in a position where he
could meet and talk with the man he had just been teaching," Steen said.
The letters, which have not been published before, were donated privately to the university,
Steen said. To mark the 100th anniversary of Frost's time on campus, the school has set up a
display including audio of Frost reading his poetry along with photos and other memorabilia.
"There could hardly be anything more perfect in the centennial year of Robert Frost and Ernest
Silver coming to Plymouth than to have the letters that were part of that correspondence come to
us," Steen said.
Frost returned to the U.S. in 1915. In addition to his connection to Plymouth, the letters also
show how Frost's time in England solidified his identity as a New Englander, Staples said. (Frost
was born in California but moved to New England as a child.)
Though accustomed to New Hampshire's harsh winters, Frost complained that he'd rather be
stuck in snow than the mud that surrounded him that spring in England.
"My original theory was that mud here took the place of snow at home. It is worse than that.
Mud here takes the place of everything at home. ... We had three hours sunshine last week a
thing so remarkable that it set the ladies cooing over their tea, 'Don't you think the English is a
much maligned climate?'"
"I suppose the amount of it is that I am home-sick, and so not disposed to like anything foreign,"
he concluded. "Twenty-five years in New England have made very much of a damned Yankee of
Frost, who won four Pulitzer Prizes for poetry, died in 1963.
Robert Frost was born on March 26, 1874, in San Francisco. His father, William Prescott Frost,
Jr., had been born in New Hampshire, the state to which Robert Frost made his devious way
back. As a boy he tried to enlist in the Confederate army, a passionate displaced regionalism
which his son (appropriately named Robert Lee after the general) emulated, though he found it
necessary to change the region. William Frost determined to go west, but to earn money for a
year first as headmaster at a small private school in Pennsylvania. The school had only on other
teacher, Isabelle Moodie, a woman six years older than himself, whom he courted and married.
In may 1885 he died of tuberculosis; his instructions were that he be buried in Lawrence,
Massachusetts, and his widow discharged this wish and then remained in the East. Her son
attended high school there from 1888 to 1892. He was an excellent student of classics, and he
also began to be known as a poet. In the school another student of equal excellence was Elinor
White. Frost resolved to marry her, and it was characteristic of his tenacity that he succeeded in
doing so in spite of her delays and doubts. He won a scholarship to Dartmouth, and she went to
St. Lawrence College. Before a semester was over, Frost had dropped out. He had hoped to
persuade Elinor White to marry him at once, but she insisted upon waiting until she had finished
college. The ceremony did not occur until 1895.
In 1897 Frost decided he must have his Harvard education after all, and persuaded the authorities
to admit him as a special student (rather than a degree candidate). He was to say in later life that
this was a turning-point for him. At Harvard he could try himself against the cultural powers of
his time, and he could listen to philosophers like Santayana and James. But again, in March
1899, he withdrew of his own accord. On medical advice he thought he would live in the
country, and his grandfather bought him a farm in Derry, New Hampshire. These years, when
money was short and family life was especially difficult --- the Frosts had five children by 1905 -- were gloomy ones for Frost. He more than once meditated suicide. A lift came when in 1906
he took a teaching job at Pinkerton Academy. During the next five years he reformed its English
syllabus, directed plays, and wrote most of the poems later included in his first book.
In 1911 he sold his farm, and in October he took ship with his family to Glasgow and then went
on to London. There was little reason to hope that publication of his verse would be any easier in
England than in the United States, but a month after his arrival he submitted his poems to an
English publisher and had them accepted. A Boy's Will was published in 1913 and a second
book, North of Boston, in 1914.
In England Frost came to know the poets of the time. Ezra Pound introduced him to Yeats,
whom he had long admired, and Frost also met imagists like F. S. Flint and Amy Lowell and
became friendly with the Georgian poets. Among these last his closest friend was Edward
Thomas, in whom he recognized something like an alter ego. This pleasant idyll in England was
broken into by the war, which forced him to return in 1915 to the United States. There his luck
held: the publisher Henry Holt was easily persuaded to publish both his earlier books as well as
subsequent ones. Although Frost could not live on his poems, his poetry made him much sought
after by colleges and universities. In 1917 he began to teach at Amherst, and he kept up for many
years a loose association with this college, intermixed with periods as professor or poet-inresidence elsewhere. He was a frequent lecturer around the country and eventually became a
goodwill emissary to South America and then, at his friend President John F. Kennedy's request,
to the Soviet Union.
Frost's personal life was never easy. He demanded great loyalty and was quick to suspect friends
of treachery. In 1938 his wife died, and in 1940 a son committed suicide. Nonetheless he was
showered with honors. Perhaps the most conspicuous was, at John F. Kennedy's invitation, to
read a poem at the presidential inauguration ceremony in 1961. He had become by far the most
recognized poet in America by the time of his death, at the age of eighty-eight, on January 29,
Robert Frost, and the Road Less Traveled
American Minute with Bill Federer
―I shall be telling this with a sigh, Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a
wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference‖ wrote Robert
Frost in ―The Road Not Taken.‖
He first published poems in his high school bulletin and graduated co-valedictorian with the
woman he was to marry. Farming in New Hampshire, Frost wrote poetry and taught at several
schools. After a brief time in England, he taught at Amherst College, the University of Michigan
and Harvard. Robert Frost won four Pulitzer prizes, the U.S. Senate honored him with a
resolution, Eisenhower invited him to the White House and he read a poem at Kennedy‘s
inauguration. Frost was a consultant to the Library of Congress and received the Congressional
Gold Medal in 1960.
In ―Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,‖ Frost wrote:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I
sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.
Acquainted with the Night
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.
Came over houses from another street,
One luminary clock against the sky
I have been one acquainted with the night.
After Apple Picking
My long two-pointed ladder's sticking
Or just some human sleep.
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-crustSuch 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 cowsSome 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.
As I came to the edge of the woods,
Thrush music — hark!
Now if it was dusk outside,
Inside it was dark.
To dark in the woods for a bird
By sleight of wing
To better its perch for the night,
Though it still could sing.
The last of the light of the sun
That had died in the west
Still lived for one song more
In a thrush's breast.
Far in the pillared dark
Thrush music went —
Almost like a call to come in
To the dark and lament.
But no, I was out for stars;
I would not come in.
I meant not even if asked;
And I hadn't been.
Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.
The woods around it have it—it is theirs.
All animals are smothered in their lairs.
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.
And lonely as it is that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it be less—
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.
They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars—on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.
I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth—
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth—
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.
What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?—
If design govern in a thing so small.
Dust of Snow
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
Love at the lips was touch
As sweet as I could bear;
And once that seemed too much;
I lived on air
That crossed me from sweet things,
The flow of - was it musk
From hidden grapevine springs
Down hill at dusk?
I had the swirl and ache
From sprays of honeysuckle
That when they're gathered shake
Dew on the knuckle.
I craved strong sweets, but those
Seemed strong when I was young;
The petal of the rose
It was that stung.
Now no joy but lacks salt
That is not dashed with pain
And weariness and fault;
I crave the stain
Of tears, the aftermark
Of almost too much love,
The sweet of bitter bark
And burning clove.
When stiff and sore and scarred
I take away my hand
From leaning on it hard
In grass and sand,
The hurt is not enough:
I long for weight and strength
To feel the earth as rough
To all my length.
Fire and Ice
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbort know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighhours'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbours? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say '.Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me —
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, Good fences make good neighbours.
There was never a sound beside the wood but one,
And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground.
What was it it whispered? I knew not well myself;
Perhaps it was something about the heat of the sun,
Something, perhaps, about the lack of sound—
And that was why it whispered and did not speak.
It was no dream of the gift of idle hours,
Or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf:
Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak
To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows,
Not without feeble-pointed spikes of flowers
(Pale orchises), and scared a bright green snake.
The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.
My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make.
The Need of Being Versed in Country Things
The house had gone to bring again
To the midnight sky a sunset glow.
Now the chimney was all of the house that stood,
Like a pistil after the petals go.
The barn opposed across the way,
That would have joined the house in flame
Had it been the will of the wind, was left
To bear forsaken the place's name.
No more it opened with all one end
For teams that came by the stony road
To drum on the floor with scurrying hoofs
And brush the mow with the summer load.
The birds that came to it through the air
At broken windows flew out and in,
Their murmur more like the sigh we sigh
From too much dwelling on what has been.
Yet for them the lilac renewed its leaf,
And the aged elm, though touched with fire;
And the dry pump flung up an awkward arm;
And the fence post carried a strand of wire.
For them there was really nothing sad.
But though they rejoiced in the nest they kept,
One had to be versed in country things
Not to believe the phoebes wept. .
Not to Keep
They sent him back to her. The letter came
Saying . . . and she could have him. And before
She could be sure there was no hidden ill
Under the formal writing, he was in her sight —
Living. — They gave him back to her alive —
How else? They are not known to send the dead —
And not disfigured visibly. His face? —
His hands? She had to look — to ask,
"What was it, dear?" And she had given all
And still she had all — they had — they the lucky!
Wasn't she glad now? Everything seemed won,
And all the rest for them permissable ease.
She had to ask, "What was it, dear?"
Yet not enough. A bullet through and through,
High in the breast. Nothing but what good care
And medicine and rest — and you a week,
Can cure me of to go again." The same
Grim giving to do over for them both.
She dared no more than ask him with her eyes
How was it with him for a second trial.
And with his eyes he asked her not to ask.
They had given him back to her, but not to keep.
Nothing Gold can Stay
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
An Old Man's Winter Night
All out of doors looked darkly in at him
Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars,
That gathers on the pane in empty rooms.
What kept his eyes from giving back the gaze
Was the lamp tilted near them in his hand.
What kept him from remembering what it was
That brought him to that creaking room was age.
He stood with barrels round him - at a loss.
And having scared the cellar under him
In clomping there, he scared it once again
In clomping off; - and scared the outer night,
Which has its sounds, familiar, like the roar
Of trees and crack of branches, common things,
But nothing so like beating on a box.
A light he was to no one but himself
Where now he sat, concerned with he knew what,
A quiet light, and then not even that.
He consigned to the moon, such as she was,
So late-arising, to the broken moon
As better than the sun in any case
For such a charge, his snow upon the roof,
His icicles along the wall to keep;
And slept. The log that shifted with a jolt
Once in the stove, disturbed him and he shifted,
And eased his heavy breathing, but still slept.
One aged man - one man - can't keep a house,
A farm, a countryside, or if he can,
It's thus he does it of a winter night.
On Looking Up by Chance at the Constellations
You'll wait a long, long time for anything much
To happen in heaven beyond the floats of cloud
And the Northern Lights that run like tingling nerves.
The sun and moon get crossed, but they never touch,
Nor strike out fire from each other nor crash out loud.
The planets seem to interfere in their curves —
But nothing ever happens, no harm is done.
We may as well go patiently on with our life,
And look elsewhere than to stars and moon and sun
For the shocks and changes we need to keep us sane.
It is true the longest drout will end in rain,
The longest peace in China will end in strife.
Still it wouldn't reward the watcher to stay awake
In hopes of seeing the calm of heaven break
On his particular time and personal sight.
That calm seems certainly safe to last to-night.
Once by the Pacific
The shattered water made a misty din.
Great waves looked over others coming in,
And thought of doing something to the shore
That water never did to land before.
The clouds were low and hairy in the skies,
Like locks blown forward in the gleam of eyes.
You could not tell, and yet it looked as if
The shore was lucky in being backed by cliff,
The cliff in being backed by continent;
It looked as if a night of dark intent
Was coming, and not only a night, an age.
Someone had better be prepared for rage.
There would be more than ocean-water broken
Before God's last Put out the Light was spoken.
The buzz-saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,
Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.
And from there those that lifted eyes could count
Five mountain ranges one behind the other
Under the sunset far into Vermont.
And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,
As it ran light, or had to bear a load.
And nothing happened: day was all but done.
Call it a day, I wish they might have said
To please the boy by giving him the half hour
That a boy counts so much when saved from work.
His sister stood beside them in her apron
To tell them 'Supper'. At the word, the saw,
As if to prove saws knew what supper meant,
Leaped out at the boy's hand, or seemed to leap—
He must have given the hand. However it was,
Neither refused the meeting. But the hand!
The boy's first outcry was a rueful laugh.
As he swung toward them holding up the hand
Half in appeal, but half as if to keep
The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all—
Since he was old enough to know, big boy
Doing a man's work, though a child at heart—
He saw all spoiled. 'Don't let him cut my hand off
The doctor, when he comes. Don't let him, sister!'
So. But the hand was gone already.
The doctor put him in the dark of ether.
He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath.
And then — the watcher at his pulse took fright.
No one believed. They listened at his heart.
Little — less — nothing! — and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.
The Oven Bird
There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.
Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.
The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.
And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch-hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question 'Whither?'
Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?
The Road not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
He is that fallen lance that lies as hurled,
That lies unlifted now, come dew, come rust,
But still lies pointed as it ploughed the dust.
If we who sight along it round the world,
See nothing worthy to have been its mark,
It is because like men we look too near,
Forgetting that as fitted to the sphere,
Our missiles always make too short an arc.
They fall, they rip the grass, they intersect
The curve of earth, and striking, break their own;
They make us cringe for metal-point on stone.
But this we know, the obstacle that checked
And tripped the body, shot the spirit on
Further than target ever showed or shone.
The Sound of the Trees
I WONDER about the trees.
Why do we wish to bear
Forever the noise of these
More than another noise
So close to our dwelling place?
We suffer them by the day
Till we lose all measure of pace,
And fixity in our joys,
And acquire a listening air.
They are that that talks of going
But never gets away;
And that talks no less for knowing,
As it grows wiser and older,
That now it means to stay.
My feet tug at the floor
And my head sways to my shoulder
Sometimes when I watch trees sway,
From the window or the door.
I shall set forth for somewhere,
I shall make the reckless choice
Some day when they are in voice
And tossing so as to scare
The white clouds over them on.
I shall have less to say, But I shall be gone.
These pools that, though in forests, still reflect
The total sky almost without defect,
And like the flowers beside them, chill and shiver,
Will like the flowers beside them, soon be gone,
And yet not out by any brook or river,
But up by roots to bring dark foliage on.
The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and be summer woods—
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only yesterday.
Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening
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 little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
And miles to go before I sleep.
A Time To Talk
When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don't stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven't hoed,
And shout from where I am, What is it?
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.
[Compare with Incident]
The Tuft of Flowers
I went to turn the grass once after one
Who mowed it in the dew before the sun.
The dew was gone that made his blade so keen
Before I came to view the leveled scene.
I looked for him behind an isle of trees;
I listened for his whetstone on the breeze.
But he had gone his way, the grass all mown,
And I must be, as he had been,—alone,
'As all must be,' I said within my heart,
'Whether they work together or apart.'
But as I said it, swift there passed me by
On noiseless wing a 'wildered butterfly,
Seeking with memories grown dim o'er night
Some resting flower of yesterday's delight.
And once I marked his flight go round and round,
As where some flower lay withering on the ground.
And then he flew as far as eye could see,
And then on tremulous wing came back to me.
I thought of questions that have no reply,
And would have turned to toss the grass to dry;
But he turned first, and led my eye to look
At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook,
A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared
Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.
I left my place to know them by their name,
Finding them butterfly weed when I came.
The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
By leaving them to flourish, not for us,
Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him.
But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.
The butterfly and I had lit upon,
Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,
That made me hear the wakening birds around,
And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground,
And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
So that henceforth I worked no more alone;
But glad with him, I worked as with his aid,
And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;
And dreaming, as it were, held brotherly speech
With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.
'Men work together,' I told him from the heart,
'Whether they work together or apart.'
And would suffice.
What tree may not the fig be gathered from?
The grape may not be gathered from the birch?
It's all you know the grape, or know the birch.
As a girl gathered from the birch myself
Equally with my weight in grapes, one autumn,
I ought to know what tree the grape is fruit of.
I was born, I suppose, like anyone,
And grew to be a little boyish girl
My brother could not always leave at home.
But that beginning was wiped out in fear
The day I swung suspended with the grapes,
And was come after like Eurydice
And brought down safely from the upper regions;
And the life I live now's an extra life
I can waste as I please on whom I please.
So if you see me celebrate two birthdays,
And give myself out of two different ages,
One of them five years younger than I look—
One day my brother led me to a glade
Where a white birch he knew of stood alone,
Wearing a thin head-dress of pointed leaves,
And heavy on her heavy hair behind,
Against her neck, an ornament of grapes.
Grapes, I knew grapes from having seen them last year.
One bunch of them, and there began to be
Bunches all round me growing in white birches,
The way they grew round Leif the Lucky's German;
Mostly as much beyond my lifted hands, though,
As the moon used to seem when I was younger,
And only freely to be had for climbing.
My brother did the climbing; and at first
Threw me down grapes to miss and scatter
And have to hunt for in sweet fern and hardhack;
Which gave him some time to himself to eat,
But not so much, perhaps, as a boy needed.
So then, to make me wholly self-supporting,
He climbed still higher and bent the tree to earth
And put it in my hands to pick my own grapes.
"Here, take a tree-top, I'll get down another.
Hold on with all your might when I let go."
I said I had the tree. It wasn't true.
The opposite was true. The tree had me.
The minute it was left with me alone
It caught me up as if I were the fish
And it the fishpole. So I was translated
To loud cries from my brother of "Let go!
Don't you know anything, you girl? Let go!"
But I, with something of the baby grip
Acquired ancestrally in just such trees
When wilder mothers than our wildest now
Hung babies out on branches by the hands
To dry or wash or tan, I don't know which,
(You'll have to ask an evolutionist)—
I held on uncomplainingly for life.
My brother tried to make me laugh to help me.
"What are you doing up there in those grapes?
Don't be afraid. A few of them won't hurt you.
I mean, they won't pick you if you don't them."
Much danger of my picking anything!
By that time I was pretty well reduced
To a philosophy of hang-and-let-hang.
"Now you know how it feels," my brother said,
"To be a bunch of fox-grapes, as they call them,
That when it thinks it has escaped the fox
By growing where it shouldn't—on a birch,
Where a fox wouldn't think to look for it—
And if he looked and found it, couldn't reach it—
Just then come you and I to gather it.
Only you have the advantage of the grapes
In one way: you have one more stem to cling by,
And promise more resistance to the picker."
One by one I lost off my hat and shoes,
And still I clung. I let my head fall back,
And shut my eyes against the sun, my ears
Against my brother's nonsense; "Drop," he said,
"I'll catch you in my arms. It isn't far."
(Stated in lengths of him it might not be.)
"Drop or I'll shake the tree and shake you down."
Grim silence on my part as I sank lower,
My small wrists stretching till they showed the banjo strings.
"Why, if she isn't serious about it!
Hold tight awhile till I think what to do.
I'll bend the tree down and let you down by it."
I don't know much about the letting down;
But once I felt ground with my stocking feet
And the world came revolving back to me,
I know I looked long at my curled-up fingers,
Before I straightened them and brushed the bark off.
My brother said: "Don't you weigh anything?
Try to weigh something next time, so you won't
Be run off with by birch trees into space."
It wasn't my not weighing anything
So much as my not knowing anything—
My brother had been nearer right before.
I had not taken the first step in knowledge;
I had not learned to let go with the hands,
As still I have not learned to with the heart,
And have no wish to with the heart—nor need,
That I can see. The mind—is not the heart.
I may yet live, as I know others live,
To wish in vain to let go with the mind—
Of cares, at night, to sleep; but nothing tells me
That I need learn to let go with the heart.
Out walking in the frozen swamp one gray day
I paused and said, 'I will turn back from here.
No, I will go on farther - and we shall see'.
The hard snow held me, save where now and then
One foot went through. The view was all in lines
Straight up and down of tall slim trees
Too much alike to mark or name a place by
So as to say for certain I was here
Or somewhere else: I was just far from home.
A small bird flew before me. He was careful
To put a tree between us when he lighted,
And say no word to tell me who he was
Who was so foolish as to think what he thought.
He thought that I was after him for a feather—
The white one in his tail; like one who takes
Everything said as personal to himself.
One flight out sideways would have undeceived him.
And then there was a pile of wood for which
I forgot him and let his little fear
Carry him off the way I might have gone,
Without so much as wishing him good-night.
He went behind it to make his last stand.
It was a cord of maple, cut and split
And piled and measured, four by four by eight.
And not another like it could I see.
No runner tracks in this year's snow looped near it.
And it was older sure than this year's cutting,
Or even last year's or the year's before.
The wood was gray and the bark warping off it
And the pile somewhat sunken. Clematis
Had wound strings round and round it like a bundle.
What held it though on one side was a tree
Still growing, and on one a stake and prop,
These latter about to fall. I thought that only
Someone who lived in turning to fresh tasks
Could so forget his handiwork on which
He spent himself the labour of his axe,
And leave it there far from a useful fireplace
To warm the frozen swamp as best it could
With the slow smokeless burning of decay.
Robert Frost (1874 - 1963)
Robert Frost was born in San Francisco, California. His readers though, will always see him as a
New Englander where he has lived since age 10. Robert Frost was first introduced to words no
doubt by his father, a newspaper man. Mr. Frost never truly acclimated himself to college life,
leaving both Dartmouth and Harvard. He spent his time as a shoemaker, farmer, and a mill hand.
Finally, he began a teaching profession around age 37. It is from this point on that Robert Frost
began to write. He had earned himself a new title, author.
TIME Magazine has described Frost‘s work, ―His prosiest lines are
often lifted into verse by some piece of sly wit or canny wisdom, and at
its best his poetry is as strong and simple as his Vermont landscape.‖
Robert Frost was at his best embodying the character of Americans. He
came up with catch phrases and rules of thumb that are preached in
every American home such as ―good fences make good neighbors‖. His
poetry had a hint of drama, an element he was praised for. Poems like
Stopping by the Woods and Birches create the home town mentality.
Students around the United States recite his poetry daily. Despite being
known for his big head and belly, his works out weighed his attitude. He had no fancy technique
or process; rather, he watched the world and wrote.
Robert Frost was quoted saying, ―I like to entertain ideas. I like that word entertain.‖ That is
exactly what Mr. Frost was able to do so well, entertain. Robert Frost has obtained the Pulitzer
Prize several times, a cherished honor among authors, as well as numerous other achievements.
Frost also entertained the idea of how to keep his literacy alive saying, ―Who knows what will
survive? The limit of my ambition is to lodge a few pebbles where they will be hard to get rid
of.‖ Because of his attentiveness toward each poem little survived his own note pad. Once they
had an audience though, his poetry had no worries of diminishing. Robert Frost captivated
generations with his literacy genius
Meeting Robert Frost
Robert Frost, 1959 - Photo by Gordon Parks, LIFE
In 1960, when I was in my second year at the University of Virginia, poet Robert Frost came to
the Grounds for the dedication of the Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature that
had assembled the most complete collection of Frost‘s works ever brought together. There was
an elegant dinner at Carr‘s Hill, the U.Va. president‘s mansion, followed by what was expected
to be a brief appearance by Frost at Cabell Hall auditorium.
I must have had some ushering responsibilities that night, because I arrived early and secured
prime seats for myself and my roommate Ted Wolfe, who carried a volume of Frost‘s collected
works that he desperately wanted autographed. The auditorium filled to capacity, and then the
student overflow was allowed to occupy the wings of the stage where, grateful for their surprise
positions, they sat shoulder to shoulder on the hardwood floor. My duties done, I took my seat
next to Ted and waited for America‘s most awarded poet to arrive.
In 1960, Robert Frost was 86 years old and considered infirm. A few months following his
appearance at U.Va., in January 1961, Frost would recite his poem ―The Gift Outright‖ at
the John Kennedy presidential inauguration. He would be the first poet so honored, but his
appearance almost turned into a disaster. Supported to the podium, Frost attempted to read the
poem from a folded sheet of paper that he took from his inside coat pocket, but the cold winter
wind and the glare of the sun made the reading impossible. Frost struggled as a nation watched
in sympathetic horror. Then he put away the paper and recited the entire poem from memory.
The image of Frost‘s recovery and triumph is iconic in inauguration history and, for me, more
memorable than Kennedy‘s most quoted end note of that speech: ―Ask not what your country
can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.‖
The reason I so warmly embrace Frost‘s inauguration triumph over physical vulnerability and
potential humiliation is because I had witnessed his amazing strength that night in Cabell Hall. I
forget who introduced Frost. In memory, I see him enter the stage from the wings on the arm of
a black man dressed in what appeared to be a chauffeur‘s uniform. The students seated on the
floor slid on their behinds to make way. At the podium, Frost had three worn books of his
collected poetry. I had been told by one of the stage managers that Frost would speak for no
more than fifteen minutes. And how could he be expected to do more after such a long
ceremonial day? Looking at the old white-haired man bent with age, I guess most of us in the
audience expected the reading of a few poems and nothing more. Certainly there would be no
question and answer period that we had come to expect from our on-Grounds writer-inresidenceWilliam Faulkner.
Frost removed a folded sheet of paper from his inside suit coat pocket, considered its content,
and then returned it to the pocket. He had not said a word, and the audience paused in suspended
animation for what he might do next. Then in a very gentle, conversational voice, Frost
recounted how he had leaned back during the limousine ride to the auditorium, and through the
curved rear window, observed the evening star. He said that seeing it reminded him of how
important the evening star had been in his poetry, so he decided to put away his prepared
remarks and read a few of the poems inspired by that star.
He then began to search through the three books for the poems that came to mind, and a
remarkable transformation began to occur. As he read, his posture became more erect, his voice
stronger. And although he began reading a poem from an open book, by the second or third line,
his eyes came up, and he was reciting from memory. Oh, my God, the poetry came alive in an
experience of profound revelation. The familiar ones like ―Mending Wall,‖ ―The Road Not
Taken,‖ and ―Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening‖ were never so wonderfully satisfying,
and all the others so attuned to our youthful souls. Frost astounded us with his strength as a
lifetime of creative energy welled up in him. And then, with the last poem recited and more than
an hour passed, his gigantic aura receded, and his body slumped back into its previous form of
old age. In awe, even as we stood and applauded, we saw him helped across the stage as one
might support an invalid.
Ted grabbed my arm and begged me to take him backstage where Frost might autograph the
book he had brought. When we got near to Frost, he was still being supported by the same man
in the uniform as they made their way toward the exit. Considering his vulnerability, I was very
reluctant to bother Frost for an autograph, but Ted insisted. Imagine my audacity as I introduced
Ted to Frost and asked him to sign Ted‘s book. Frost only mumbled, and with a trembling hand
and stub-nosed pencil, he scrawled something almost illegible onto the title page of the book.
Seeing Frost backstage, it was impossible to believe that this was the same man who had held an
audience spellbound for over an hour. We could only rationalize that what we had witnessed
was a divine expression of the creative life force. Then, later at Kennedy‘s inauguration, we saw
the power again, and perhaps we wept at the natural wonder of a creative man like Robert Frost.
Robert Frost is my favourite poet (that might be because he's the only one I've actually read) but
I often get the feeling that I'm missing the whole point, or the picture... Either way, I was
wondering if you could tell me what you think Forst meant with a the following lines in Not
Quite Social (A Further Range): To punish me overcruelly wouldn't be right For merely giving
you once more gently proof That the city's hold on a man is no more tight Than when its walls
rose higher than any roof I don't know. I think poetry is difficult. I never know whether there's an
actual meaning behind (a part of) it or whether the poet simply chose a word that rhymes or
words that "feel right." It makes it dificult to enjoy. Anyway, thanks.
Two Look at two
hi, i have a project do on this poem i did a lot of research but was unable to find some certain
things i need. what is the tone/mood/structure of the poem? the theme? ( i have the general idea)
thesis statement? and also the speaker voice? thanks in advane
Posted By nick1407 at Tue 4 May 2010, 12:20 PM in Frost, Robert || 0 Replies
Interesting True Story about "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"
What follows is an interesting true story about Robert Frost and the correct interpretation of
"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." One of my best friends took a poetry class in
highschool (probably his freshman year). The class studied the aforementioned poem and the
teacher encouraged each student to try to interpret it. After the students had each come to a
conclusion as to what the poem signified, the the class discussed it. During the discussion the
teacher insisted that the poem was about contemplating committing suicide by running off into
the freezing woods. My friend was skeptical. He argued that perhaps Frost meant precisely what
he said: he was simply stopping by woods on a snowy evening and contemplating them. But the
teacher, standing on all her awesome authority as teacher, informed him in no uncertain terms
that he was in error. Time passed. One day this same teacher found herself at an English teachers
conference of some sort. During this time a her supervisor took her and several other fellow
teachers aside. He told them that there was someone very special there that he wanted them to
meet; they could ask questions, but they were to be very polite and not irritate this person. He led
them into a room, and there he was: Robert Frost in the flesh. They had a Q & A session,
discussing Frost's poetry. At that point the teacher asked Frost, What did he mean when he wrote
"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"? Was the speaker contemplating suicide? "No," was
Frost's answer: he meant exactly what he said--he was simply riding along on his horse one day
and stopped by woods... on a snowy evening. And that was all there was to it.
Posted By Il Dante at Fri 2 Apr 2010, 8:14 PM in Frost, Robert || 2 Replies
The Silken Tent
I found it really difficult to move from the physical to the psychological in Frost's poetry ; yet it
is interesting and with time I tend to like it especially for this very thing. At first I didn't like the
comparaison between a woman and a tent ! Not so romantic and a little humuliating after being
the man's temple , his star and so on ......I won't feel happy if a man called me " my tent ":p But I
think this is the point of view of the modern man .This is how he sees her now . He's more like a
vagabond . Therefore the tent is an excellent choice . From this perspective I really appreciate
how he gives great dimensions to the trivial and the common ; to let us appreciate what we didn't
appreciate before now .This new consciousness of things and details is really awesome. What I
still wondering about is his notion of the modern woman .By the end we noticed that this woman
is not free as we thought or as she thought herself to be. Is he saying the woman cannot be free
??? She is as in a field a silken tent At midday when a sunny summer breeze Has dried the dew
and all its ropes relent, So that in guys it gently sways at ease, And its supporting central cedar
pole, That is its pinnacle to heavenward And signifies the sureness of the soul, Seems to owe
naught to any single cord, But strictly held by none, is loosely bound By countless silken ties of
love and thought To everything on earth the compass round, And only by one's going slightly
taut In the capriciousness of summer air Is of the slightest bondage made aware.
Robert Frost holds a unique and almost isolated position in American letters. "Though his career
fully spans the modern period and though it is impossible to speak of him as anything other than
a modern poet," writes James M. Cox, "it is difficult to place him in the main tradition of modern
poetry." In a sense, Frost stands at the crossroads of nineteenth-century American poetry and
modernism, for in his verse may be found the culmination of many nineteenth-century tendencies
and traditions as well as parallels to the works of his twentieth-century contemporaries. Taking
his symbols from the public domain, Frost developed, as many critics note, an original, modern
idiom and a sense of directness and economy that reflect the imagism of Ezra Pound and Amy
Lowell. On the other hand, as Leonard Unger and William Van O'Connor point out inPoems for
Study, "Frost's poetry, unlike that of such contemporaries as Eliot, Stevens, and the later Yeats,
shows no marked departure from the poetic practices of the nineteenth century." Although he
avoids traditional verse forms and only uses rhyme erratically, Frost is not an innovator and his
Frost's theory of poetic composition ties him to both centuries. Like the nineteenth-century
Romantics, he maintained that a poem is "never a put-up job.... It begins as a lump in the throat,
a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a loneliness. It is never a thought to begin with. It is at its best
when it is a tantalizing vagueness." Yet, "working out his own version of the 'impersonal' view
of art," as Hyatt H. Waggoner observed, Frost also upheld T. S. Eliot's idea that the man who
suffers and the artist who creates are totally separate. In a 1932 letter to Sydney Cox, Frost
explained his conception of poetry: "The objective idea is all I ever cared about. Most of my
ideas occur in verse.... To be too subjective with what an artist has managed to make objective is
to come on him presumptuously and render ungraceful what he in pain of his life had faith he
To accomplish such objectivity and grace, Frost took up nineteenth-century tools and made them
new. Lawrence Thompson has explained that, according to Frost, "the self-imposed restrictions
of meter in form and of coherence in content" work to a poet's advantage; they liberate him from
the experimentalist's burden—the perpetual search for new forms and alternative structures. Thus
Frost, as he himself put it in "The Constant Symbol," wrote his verse regular; he never
completely abandoned conventional metrical forms for free verse, as so many of his
contemporaries were doing. At the same time, his adherence to meter, line length, and rhyme
scheme was not an arbitrary choice. He maintained that "the freshness of a poem belongs
absolutely to its not having been thought out and then set to verse as the verse in turn might be
set to music." He believed, rather, that the poem's particular mood dictated or determined the
Critics frequently point out that Frost complicated his problem and enriched his style by setting
traditional meters against the natural rhythms of speech. Drawing his language primarily from
the vernacular, he avoided artificial poetic diction by employing the accent of a soft-spoken New
Englander. In The Function of Criticism,Yvor Winters faulted Frost for his "endeavor to make
his style approximate as closely as possible the style of conversation." But what Frost achieved
in his poetry was much more complex than a mere imitation of the New England farmer idiom.
He wanted to restore to literature the "sentence sounds that underlie the words," the "vocal
gesture" that enhances meaning. That is, he felt the poet's ear must be sensitive to the voice in
order to capture with the written word the significance of sound in the spoken word. "The Death
of the Hired Man," for instance, consists almost entirely of dialogue between Mary and Warren,
her farmer-husband, but critics have observed that in this poem Frost takes the prosaic patterns of
their speech and makes them lyrical. To Ezra Pound "The Death of the Hired Man" represented
Frost at his best—when he "dared to write ... in the natural speech of New England; in natural
spoken speech, which is very different from the 'natural' speech of the newspapers, and of many
Frost's use of New England dialect is only one aspect of his often discussed regionalism. Within
New England, his particular focus was on New Hampshire, which he called "one of the two best
states in the Union," the other being Vermont. In an essay entitled "Robert Frost and New
England: A Revaluation," W. G. O'Donnell noted how from the start, in A Boy's Will, "Frost had
already decided to give his writing a local habitation and a New England name, to root his art in
the soil that he had worked with his own hands." Reviewing North of Boston in the New
Republic, Amy Lowell wrote, "Not only is his work New England in subject, it is so in
technique.... Mr. Frost has reproduced both people and scenery with a vividness which is
extraordinary." Many other critics have lauded Frost's ability to realistically evoke the New
England landscape; they point out that one can visualize an orchard in "After Apple-Picking" or
imagine spring in a farmyard in "Two Tramps in Mud Time." In this "ability to portray the local
truth in nature," O'Donnell claims, Frost has no peer. The same ability prompted Pound to
declare, "I know more of farm life than I did before I had read his poems. That means I know
Frost's regionalism, critics remark, is in his realism, not in politics; he creates no picture of
regional unity or sense of community. In The Continuity of American Poetry, Roy Harvey Pearce
describes Frost's protagonists as individuals who are constantly forced to confront their
individualism as such and to reject the modern world in order to retain their identity. Frost's use
of nature is not only similar but closely tied to this regionalism. He stays as clear of religion and
mysticism as he does of politics. What he finds in nature is sensuous pleasure; he is also sensitive
to the earth's fertility and to man's relationship to the soil. To critic M. L. Rosenthal, Frost's
pastoral quality, his "lyrical and realistic repossession of the rural and 'natural,'" is the staple of
Yet, just as Frost is aware of the distances between one man and another, so he is also always
aware of the distinction, the ultimate separateness, of nature and man. Marion Montgomery has
explained, "His attitude toward nature is one of armed and amicable truce and mutual respect
interspersed with crossings of the boundaries" between individual man and natural forces. Below
the surface of Frost's poems are dreadful implications, what Rosenthal calls his "shocked sense
of the helpless cruelty of things." This natural cruelty is at work in "Design" and in "Once by the
Pacific." The ominous tone of these two poems prompted Rosenthal's further comment: "At his
most powerful Frost is as staggered by 'the horror' as Eliot and approaches the hysterical edge of
sensibility in a comparable way.... His is still the modern mind in search of its own meaning."
The austere and tragic view of life that emerges in so many of Frost's poems is modulated by his