illustrated portrait of American poet Robert Frost

Robert Frost

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What is simple and what is complex in Robert Frost’s poetry?

Consider “Home Burial” as a poem about communication failure.

What evidence is there in individual Frost poems that the “I” of the poem does not necessarily represent the poet himself?

Frost wrote exclusively in meter, chiefly in iambic meter. How prevalent are variations and irregularities in the meter and what do they accomplish?

What examples of humor reinforcing seriousness can you find in Frost’s poems other than “Departmental”?

Doubts and fears are often expressed or implied in Frost’s poetry. Give several examples.

Other literary forms

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Although the majority of Robert Frost’s published work is poetry, it is worth noting that he published a one-act play titled A Way Out, in 1929. By this point in his career, Frost had established himself as a fine narrative poet capable of both monologue and dialogue within the poetic narrative mode and with a strong visual mind capable of creating powerful dramatic situations. Although Frost never made a serious effort to adapt these dramatic strengths to the stage, much of his poetic success lies with his sense of stage and dramatic persona. His only other literary publications include letters, particularly to his friend Louis Untermeyer, and lectures in which he discusses in detail his own work and poetic theory. He recorded many of his poems on records and film.


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Perhaps the most successful of American poets, Robert Frost reached a large and diversified readership almost immediately after the publication of North of Boston. He sustained both popular and critical acclaim throughout his entire career, which spanned fifty years and ended with his death in 1963, shortly after the publication of his last collection, In the Clearing. He is the only writer to have won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry four times (in 1924 for New Hampshire, in 1931 for the first Collected Poems, in 1937 for A Further Range, and in 1943 for A Witness Tree). He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1950 on publication of the Complete Poems but did not receive it, perhaps because the two preceding Nobel Prizes had been awarded to Americans: T. S. Eliot in 1948 and William Faulkner in 1949. Frost earned other awards, such as the Russell Loines Award (1931), the Gold Medal for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1939), the Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America (1941), an Academy of American Poets Fellowship (1953), and the Bollingen Prize for Poetry (1963). He served as the consultant in poetry (poet laureate) to the Library of Congress from 1958 to 1959 and was appointed poet laureate of Vermont in 1961.

Few American poets have laid claim to both an enormous critical and popular reputation. Much of Frost’s contribution to American literature came from his ability to speak in poetic but plain language to both common people and scholars and to observe ordinary occurrences with irony and wit. If modern American poetry began with Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson and evolved through Edgar Lee Masters, Robinson Jeffers, and Edwin Arlington Robinson, Frost’s poetry is the culmination, combining all elements of poetic craft and modern themes. Frost liberated American poets by proving the potential success of traditional forms, even during a period when form was giving way to free verse under the influence of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.

Frost’s most important contribution may be as the model for a clearly identifiable twentieth century American poet. Unlike the expatriate Americans, Frost never lost touch with American persistence, folk humor, plain speech, and attachment to the land. His pragmatic, clever intelligence never became pedantic, never abstract, condescending, or introverted, but remained full of mischief and horseplay. In both his poetry and his public image, although his private life was different, Frost embodied the American ideals of rugged gentleness, quiet reflection, and an unconquerable spirit. His poetry is compassionate without falling into sentimentality, and positive without being naïve.


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Burnshaw, Stanley. Robert Frost Himself. New York: George Braziller, 1986. Written by someone who had been an almost lifelong friend of Frost, this very personal biography is in part an attempt to redress the balance skewed in the definitive Lawrance Roger Thompson work. Includes a chronology, extensive notes, an accurate index, and a revealing collection of illustrations.

Faggen, Robert. Robert Frost and the Challenge of Darwin. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997. With copious evidence amassed for his argument, Faggen depicts Robert Frost as a poet of the first order and among the most challenging of the moderns.

Gerber, Philip L. Robert Frost. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1982. Begins with an objective biographical overview and follows with substantial chapters on technique, themes, theories, and accomplishments. Includes chronology, extensive notes and references, select bibliography, and index.

Lathem, Edward Connery. Robert Frost: A Biography. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1981. Condenses the three-volume “authorized” biography by Lawrance Roger Thompson into one volume, intended for the general reader. A meticulously researched and minutely recorded study of Frost, which many reviewers have judged personally biased. Solid on facts, this volume contains judgments which must be used with caution. It has no notes and a limited bibliography.

Meyers, Jeffrey. Robert Frost: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996. Shapes a long life into a vivacious character study based on the conflicts that seemed to drive Frost as well as do him damage. Includes bibliographical references and index.

Parini, Jay. Robert Frost: A Life. New York: Henry Holt, 1999.

Poirier, Richard. Robert Frost: The Work of Knowing. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977. This substantial scholarly work refrains from partial judgments and presents a balanced view of Frost and his work. Although it contains a biographical chapter, it concentrates mostly on the writings, which it analyzes lucidly. Contains chronology of writings, index, and a limited bibliography.

Potter, James L. The Robert Frost Handbook. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1980. A basic and widely used resource on Frost, this work is indispensable for both first readers and scholars. Contains chronologies of both life and works, guides to various approaches to the poems, discussions of various literary and cultural contexts, and technical analyses, as well as a complete annotated bibliography and an index.

Pritchard, William H. Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984. This measured, sophisticated, detailed approach to Frost’s life and work is another attempt to correct Thompson’s view. Unlike many scholarly biographies, this one is good for browsing and enjoyable for the general reader. Includes full notes and an index.

Thompson, Lawrance Roger, and R. H. Winnick. Robert Frost: A Biography. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1982. A one-volume, condensed version of an exhaustive, three-volume authorized biography originally published between 1966 and 1976.

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