A son to a journalist and diehard democrat father and a schoolteacher mother, Robert Lee Frost was born in 1874 at San Francisco in the state of California, and passed on in mid 20th century in the year 1963 (Waggoner 87). He lost his father, William Frost, at a tender age of eleven years and his mother, Isabelle Moody, who had stopped teaching, took over as the breadwinner of the family. This meant that she had to return to her teaching career to ensure that she was able to support the family. Frost’s family lived in Lawrence in Massachusetts at the farm of Robert Frost’s grandfather, William Prescott Frost. William schooled Robert Frost and in 1892, Robert graduated from high school.
After graduating from high school, Frost enrolled to Dartmouth College for the next several months. However, owing to the family background hardships, he chose to do odd jobs and was employed in diverse sectors over a period of ten years from the time he was enrolled at Dartmouth. He worked in a textile mill and also as a teacher of Latin at the school where his mother taught in Methuen, in Massachusetts. It was also during this period that he started his passion, poetry; and one of his early works, “My Butterfly”, was published by the New York Independent in the year 1894. Within that period, he privately printed five other poems and continued teaching Latin. He also had magazines published his works. Frost wrote poems about love, and in the year 1895, he was love struck and married Elinor White, who was his former schoolmate and together they were blessed with six children.
Between 1897 and 1899, Frost attended Harvard University, but he left the university without graduating and resumed his menial jobs. Frost shifted to New Hampshire, where he earned his living as a farmer, a teacher, and as a cobber. He continued to pen his poems while looking for newspapers and magazines to publish them. He even sent them to The Atlantic Monthly, but they were turned down with The Atlantic Monthly citing that they did not have a place for his rigorous verse, which was an insult to the way Frost had formatted his works, which were short and terse poems.
Frost sold his farm and together with his wife and his children moved to England in 1912. While in England, he published the first collection of his poems, “A Boy’s will”, at an advanced age of 39 years. This collection, and the many more that followed, depicted the human tragedies and fears that he had faced from the time of his younger years, how he reacted to the challenges and complexities of his life, and how he ultimately resigned to those burdens and hardships. “A Boy’s will” was immediately followed by the release of another collection, “North Boston”, which hit the world headlines and propelled Frost to global recognition in literature works. This collection contained some of his best-known works and it gained international reputation. Some of the poems contained in this collection were “Home Burial”, “Mending wall”, “After Apple Picking” as well as the “The Wood-pile”. As was his poetry trend, these poems derived most of their theme from Frost’s life: his everyday jobs, his recurrent losses and well as his loneliness.
Rupert Brooke, an English poet, influenced Frost deeply to write his poems. Frost admiration for his works was no secret to anyone. England formed his rock-solid foundation for the writings, and it is evident that nature featured a lot in many of his writings (Waggoner). His poems expressed known and daily occurring emotions as well as his daily experiences, and were written in understandable language that affected every common reader (Magill 716-728). Jason also noted that Frost applied ambiguity in his poems, in which he helped people relate his works to their lives (1337). Frost once said, in one of his pieces, “The Writing” ,that a poem began in delight and ended in wisdom, which implied that as much as the poem was meant to educate, it also had social lesson that the reader had to learn from.
In the following year, Frost returned to United States of America and purchased a farm in Franconia in New Hampshire, where he continued with his poetry prowess. News of his works spread like fire. The Atlantic Monthly editor asked for some of his poems and Frost without relenting gave them the poems that they had rejected before. This showed a great hypocrisy of the media that were not publishing works of little known people, but were going for the people of influence in that time.
In addition to writing, Frost continued to teach at Amherst College of Arts and Letters and during this period, he churned out his third collection of poetry – “Mountain Interval”. This collection also followed the footsteps of the previous collections that showed his deep regards for Mother Nature and his respects for people aspirations. He used imagery from the everyday life such as stars, houses, trees and brooks, among others. An example of a Frost’s poem that was inspired by nature in this collection was “Birches”. The speaker is said to have seen some birch trees that were being blown over by an ice storm. This reminded him (speaker) of time when he was a child and was swinging on the trees. In this piece, he has included unique and easily distinguishable comparisons of the ice storm and the child playing on the trees (Magill 722-723).
Other notable verses in this collection were “The Hill wife”, “The Oven Bird”, and “The Road Not Taken”. Many readers loved these pieces because they found them friendly to follow and did not have tangled wording, and were easy to read and to penetrate into the poet’s mind and deeper realities. The rhythms used by Frost as well as his vocabulary were from ordinary and normal speech and were the free dialogue verses.
In the year 1920, Frost bought a farm near Middlebury College in Shaftsbury, Vermont, where he was one of the founders of the Bread Loaf School and Conference of English (Horn 26). It is during this period that his personal life began to take toll of his family. Apparently, mental illness run through his genealogy, as his younger sister had suffered bouts of mental illness and later died. Frost was no exception, he suffered from depression, and his self-denial led him to hold on the hope that he would be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Two of his daughters also suffered mental breakdowns and so did his wife Elinor. Frost’s son, Carol, who wanted to emulate his father as a poet, could not handle the frustrations and committed suicide. Apart from these, Frost lost three other children in his lifetime. What is more, his wife, who had suffered from heart problems throughout her life, was diagnosed with breast cancer and later succumbed to heart failure in 1937. After the death of Elinor, Frost fell in love with his secretary cum advisor, Kay Morrison, whom he had employed. To Kay he dedicated one of his best love pieces, “A Witness Tree”. The tribulations in Frost’s life showed that although his pieces inspired many, he was immune to their teachings: a classical example of a doctor not being able to treat himself.
Between the years 1957 and 1961, Frost had travelled to England, Israel, and Greece. He also recited two of his poems during the inaugural ceremony for the then American President, John Kennedy in 1961 (Frank 78). In ironical twist, the nature he seemed to love and adore hindered him, when the extreme sun and windy conditions could not allow him to read “The Preface” at the event. However, he was a smart old man and recited from memory “The Gift Outright”, one of his old poems. Frost was made a goodwill ambassador and this saw him travel to the Soviet Union in 1962, where he held a long conversation with the then Premier Nikita Khrushchev, of whom he talked as being smart, brave, and not far-headed. From that travel, it was alleged that Frost had said that Khrushchev had insinuated that the United States of America “was too liberal fight”, words that caused great discomfort in the capital, Washington.
During his lifetime, he was a highly esteemed poet of the 20th century. He was granted with a record of four Pulitzer Prizes in the years 1924 for “New Hampshire”, 1931 for “Collected Poems”, 1937 for “Further Range” and 1943 for “A Witness” (Parini 23) . He was awarded a Gold Medal of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in the year 1938 as well as a silver Medal of the Poetry Society of America in 1938. In 1950, he was given the Huntington Hartford Foundation award. What many people would arguably agree is that his highlight was when he performed at the inauguration of John Fitzgerald Kennedy ceremony in 1961. Other recognized awards were the Loines Prize for Poetry in 1931, the Mark Twaine Medal in 1937, and he was a chosen Pot Laureate of Vermont by The State League of Women’s Clubs.
Perhaps the most distinguishable thing the university and colleges could do was to recognize Frost for his artistic work, and that they did for he was conferred with forty-four honorary degrees, despite not being conferred with an academic degree. In addition to the awards, the United States Senate also paid him tribute in 1950 as well as the American Academy of Poets tribute in 1950. In 1949, he was appointed Saimpson Lecturer for life by the Amherst College and the Library of Congress made him poetry consultant. Perhaps the best reward that has been awarded to him is that his entire life and his works are used as manuscripts in the literature world and is forever etched in the annals of history.
His life was never short of controversies, as he once said that he had a lover’s quarrel with the world. His showed his diverse, independent, half-humorous as well as elusive view of the world he lived in, which can be judged from him comments, such as “˜he was never serious apart from the times when he was fooling’ (Thompson 26). Critics have sharply pointed out that his works lacked the seriousness needed to tackle both political and social problems of the 1930s. Biographers in the later times have created a contradicting and complex picture of Frost. One of his biographers, Lawrence Thompson, presents him as being cruel, anti-intellectual, angry man and a misanthrope. These descriptions are contradicted by Jay Parin, who portrays him as man who needs to be sympathized with, as he describes him as a loner who loved company and always felt that he was separated from his wife and children and was withdrawn into lost thoughts.
In one of his poems, “Out, Out”, Frost describes a young boy whose death while cutting wood was unpredictable. The opening scene of the poem gives a Vermont dusk setting with the boy sawing the wood away. He manages to make light of his work, but darkness falls before the work is done. Frost is giving the impression that that day’s job may have been easy, but still the hard part was to come. The story gets a twist when the saw the boy was using jumped out his grasp, and the boy is left for dead, not even the doctors could redeem him. The bottom line of this poem generally gave a philosophical view that the results that one wanted to achieve in life could not be attained if one took the hardest path. Maybe just this poem truly reflected his life.
Frost died on January 29, 1963 at the age of eighty-eight years – a man full of wisdom that had achieved so much despite having difficulties in his life. His reward to the enthusiasts of his work was that life was a journey whose difference can be made by the choices they make. Robert Lee Frost left a legacy that no other poet of his times could fit. He shall be remembered as a great poet, whose works fill literature libraries of colleges and universities worldwide.