Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: Frost helped renew popular interest in American poetry by refusing to write in the academic modernist style that was popular at the time. Instead, he wrote about nature and rural life in a traditional yet complex style that appealed to a wide audience.
Robert Frost was born in 1874 in San Francisco, California, not the New England with which he was later so closely associated. His father, William Prescott Frost, Jr., was a native of Lawrence, Massachusetts, and a graduate of Harvard College. However, he was something of an adventurer and wandered to the West Coast in search of a more lively environment and a career in journalism or law. Frost spent most of his early days in San Francisco and returned for good to New England and Lawrence only when his father died in 1886.
Frost’s mother taught school in Salem, New Hampshire, in order to support her family. She was not a very good teacher, and Frost was embarrassed that his mother taught in a nearby school. He did well at school and became attracted to a young girl in his class named Elinor White. She was very bright and came from a wealthier family than Frost’s. They graduated from Lawrence High School as covaledictorians. Their relationship in both the early and the later years was troubled. When Elinor went to college and Frost stayed in Lawrence, he thought she had fallen in love with another young man. He demanded she leave college, but she refused. Frost was in deep despair and went to the Great Dismal Swamp to kill himself but fortunately failed in his attempt. Elinor finally agreed to quit college, and they were married after some opposition from her family.
Frost did not have many prospects. He attended Harvard for a short time but did not get a degree. He also taught school, although his teaching primarily consisted of keeping discipline. He published a few poems in the local newspaper but could not support himself and his growing family with his poetry. His grandfather was wealthy and helped Frost and his family, but he was wary of Frost’s inability to find a vocation. He established Frost and his family on a farm, where Frost raised poultry and sold eggs, but this was a failure. When the grandfather died, he left Frost a legacy and a farm. However, the legacy was held in trust: He received five hundred dollars per year, and eight hundred dollars were held for future disbursement. After living on a farm with limited success, Frost took the family to England in 1912 and settled in the rural village of Beaconsfield, where he hoped to devote his time to poetry.
Frost brought together some of his old poems while he was in England and went unannounced to David Nutt, an English publisher. Nutt liked the poems and agreed to publish Frost’s first collection, A Boy’s Will (1913). The title, from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, suggests the dreamy days of youth. However, while the book does stress the experience of a young man, it includes a number of poems that are directly connected to classical literature. The most significant poem in this group is “The Trial by Existence,” in which Frost borrowed the myth of the recycling of souls from Vergil’s Aeneid (29-19 b.c.e.; English translation, 1553) and made it into a poem about humans heroically struggling with their ignorance about their origins and nature. “A Tuft of Flowers,” one of the best poems in the book, is taken from a group of rural poems and is about the daily labor of the rural world. The speaker first feels his isolation from others, but when he sees the “tuft of flowers” spared by a mower, he recognizes that “Men work together/ Whether they work together or alone.” The book received both positive and negative reviews in England. However, the most important one was written by poet Ezra Pound in Poetry magazine; Pound helped establish Frost’s reputation, and he tried to make Frost into a disciple. Frost, however, was not interested in Pound’s style and wanted to create and manage his own reputation.
While Frost was still in England, he published his second book of poems, North of Boston (1914). This was a much better book, and it included such important poems as “The Death of the Hired Man” and “After Apple Picking.” The book was especially well received in New England, since the dramatic monologues were by distinctly New England speakers. During this period Frost became very close to the English poet Edward Thomas. They lived near each other and shared some poetic concepts and styles. Thomas later died in action during World War I.
After publishing two books of poetry, Frost knew it was time to return to the United States and try to make his living through poetry. The news of his success had preceded him, and he was seen as an important young American poet who had been recognized by the British critics. Frost settled with his family on a farm near Franconia, New...
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IntroductionRobert Frost probably has the most name recognition of any American poet ever. His best-known works include “The Road Not Taken” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” both of which have become synonymous with the genre of nature poetry. Frost, though, was much more than just a nature poet. “Home Burial,” for example, deals with overwhelming grief after the death of a child. “Fire and Ice,” while somewhat tongue-in-cheek, considers the apocalyptic end of the world. And some of his poems, such as “The Oven Bird,” are a complex treatment of a difficult rhyme scheme, proving that Frost could technically match anyone in form. Furthermore, Frost helped form the conception of Americans as tough, self-sufficient individuals. This New England native, often called the “Icon of Yankee Values,” remains the quintessential American poet.
- Robert Frost won the Pulitzer Prize four times, more than any other poet in history.
- The often-quoted line “good fences make good neighbors” comes from Frost’s poem “Mending Wall.”
- Frost resented being seen only as a “nature” poet, often remarking to people that he only wrote two poems in his entire life that were totally nature-based.
- At the age of 87, a frail Robert Frost delivered a poem to honor John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. Although he had written a poem specifically for the occasion, bitter cold and his health caused him to stumble. He ended up reciting flawlessly from memory “The Gift Outright.”
- Robert Frost died in 1963 at the age of 89, and he had a sense of humor right to the end. His tombstone reads: “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”
Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The poetry of Frost has accomplished a feat rare in the twentieth century: It has received both critical acclaim and widespread popular acceptance. His poetry expresses common emotional and sentient experiences so simply and directly that its authenticity affects readers without expertise in reading poetry; the subtlety of his thought and the sublimity of his art are appreciated by those who ponder his work. The rural character or meditative speaker in a Frost poem represents not merely a person the poet has met or a mood he has felt but humanity in the process of being itself or discovering itself.
Biography (Magill's Literary Annual 2000)
Some famous writers, like Samuel Johnson, were fortunate in their choice of a sympathetic biographer, notably James Boswell, while others, such as Edgar Allan Poe, have had their reputations suffer as the result of a hostile biographer, in Poe’s case, Rufus Griswold. Frost’s choice of Lawrance Thompson, then a young Princeton English professor, as his “official biographer” had unfortunate repercussions after Frost’s death when Thompson produced a massive, three-volume biography that was suffused with clear malice and dislike. Thompson set out to demolish Frost’s public persona as a kindly, white-haired New England poet and offered instead a monster of selfishness and egotism who used friends and family to his own ends....
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Biography (Magill Book Reviews)
Robert Frost was not fortunate in his posthumous biographical treatment. A series of debunking biographies by Lawrance Thompson and Jeffrey Meyer called into question his character and integrity, presenting him as a monster of selfishness and egotism. Now Robert Frost: A Life, a revisionist biography by Middlebury College professor Jay Parini, attempts to set the record straight.
While not breaking any new ground, Parini’s biography of Frost offers a fair and balanced treatment of the poet’s life. In particular, Parini shows what tremendous courage and resourcefulness Frost showed in redeeming a life of hardships through his commitment to poetry. His art may well have saved him from madness. Parini...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
A native of New Hampshire and a graduate of Harvard University, Robert Lee Frost’s father, William Prescott Frost, moved to San Francisco in 1873 to escape post-Civil War bitterness against the South. Shortly before his untimely death at thirty-five, William Prescott requested that he be buried in New England. Fulfilling this request, Robert, his sister Jeanie Florence, and their mother accompanied the casket across the country to Massachusetts. Because they could not afford the return trip, the Frosts settled in Salem, New Hampshire, when Robert was eleven years old. In 1892, Robert Frost graduated as co-valedictorian from Lawrence High School and entered Dartmouth College to study law. He dropped out, however, before completing...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
There is more than passing significance in the anomaly that this decidedly New England poet was born in San Francisco. Robert Lee Frost frequently admitted that when he settled in New England at the age of eleven, he so prided himself on being a California city dweller that he felt a decided hostility toward the region “north of Boston” and toward Yankee taciturnity. Perhaps it was the shock of newness that sharpened his response to so much that he later came not only to admire but also to capture with such accurate precision in his poems.
Frost’s father, William Prescott Frost, was a native of New Hampshire who...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Famed as a New England poet, Robert Lee Frost was actually born in San Francisco on March 26, 1874, and named for a great Confederate general. His father, William Prescott Frost, Jr., was a footloose journalist who, as a teenager, had tried to run away from his Lawrence, Massachusetts, home and join the Confederate Army. After he died in 1885, his wife, Isabelle Moodie Frost, brought their young son, Rob, and daughter, Jeanie, back to Lawrence, where her late husband’s parents still lived.
Frost’s poem “Once by the Pacific” demonstrates that the West Coast did help shape the poet’s imagination, but he grew to...
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