Robert Frost (1874-1963)
Robert Frost’s highly accessible poetry--filled with the everyday sights and sounds of rural New England and conveyed in a down-to-earth voice--won him many accolades and devoted readers in his lifetime and has made him a favorite in and out of the classroom ever since.
After his death, however, the poet’s image as a grandfatherly farmer-sage was upended by his unsympathetic hand-picked biographer, Lawrance Thompson, who painted Frost as a heartless egotist. This “monster myth” has persisted, despite occasional attempts by scholars to offer a more objective perspective.
With the recent publication of the first of four volumes of a new collection of Frost’s personal correspondence, the celebrated poet’s muddled reputation may finally be getting a humanizing facelift. Many of the included letters to family, friends, and colleagues have never before been seen by the public, and some (like those discovered in a desk donated to a New Hampshire thrift shop) are new even to devoted Frost scholars, who look forward to gaining a more complete, nuanced picture of the poet as a human being.
Frost consciously kept his personal life out of the public eye, so even modern readers might be surprised to learn a few things about the author of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”* and “Mending Wall.”*
For instance, did you know that Frost…
- was born in San Francisco, California, on March 26, 1874?
- was named after General Robert E. Lee, Civil War hero of the South?
- wound up settling in Massachusetts when his family couldn’t afford the return trip to California after burying his father in New England?
- originally moved to the countryside, and even resided if Florida for a time, as a precaution against tuberculosis?
- (eventually) married his high school co-valedictorian, Elinor White?
- was upset that his fiancée insisted on staying in college and completing her teaching degree before marrying him?
- never actually completed a college degree, himself, but was awarded 44 honorary degrees over his lifetime and went on to teach at prestigious schools like Amherst and Harvard?
- went on a depression-fuelled journey south, and even considered killing himself, when his fiancée’s muted reaction to his gift of a booklet of his poems made him fear he’d lost her affections?
- grew so frustrated with the poetry establishment in the States that he moved his family to England in 1912 until the expanding shadow of the first World War brought them home in 1915?
- wrote many of his most-admired poems while living on a farm in New Hampshire, but didn’t publish a collection--or receive major critical and popular recognition as a poet--until he was 40 and living in England?
- was shaped by many personal tragedies, including the deaths of four of his six children (one of whom took his own life) and the commitment of his younger surviving daughter to a mental institution?
- won four Pulitzers and was asked to speak at John F. Kennedy’s presidential inauguration, yet was unsatisfied with his accomplishments because they did not include the Nobel Prize for literature?
To learn more about the life, works, and legacy of this great American poet, check out these and other resources from The Library’s collection.
"Robert Lee Frost"* (biographical article)
"The Road Back: Frost's Letters Could Soften a Battered Image"* (article)
"Robert Frost" *(biographical article)
"Robert Frost: A Life" by Jay Parini (book)
"The Letters of Robert Frost, Volume 1: 1886-1920" edited by Donald Sheehy, Mark Richardson, and Robert Faggen (book)
"The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems, Complete and Unabridged" edited by Edward Connery Lathem (book)
"The Collected Prose of Robert Frost" edited by Mark Richardson (book)
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