Who Is Robert Frost? - Biography & Poems

Instructor: Jacob Erickson

Jacob has his master's in English and has taught multiple levels of literature and composition, including junior high, college, and graduate students.

This lesson will explore the life and work of Robert Frost. We'll look at the context, ideas, influence, and the critical response that surrounds Frost's work.

Who is Robert Frost?

'Two roads diverged in the wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by
' (18-19)

These lines appear in Robert Frost's poem, 'The Road Not Taken'. Even if you've read very little poetry, you're most likely somewhat familiar with this quote. This is because this poem, like much of Robert Frost's poetry, was and has remained particularly popular in American culture.

The career of Frost is notoriously marked by his acceptance within popular culture.
Robert Frost

The popularity that Frost experienced throughout his career is due in part to the definitively American settings and themes found in his poems. A tremendous amount of his work, for example, takes place in New England and features experiences that are commonly associated with the region. Likewise, the themes of Frost, such as individualism and the need to challenge social norms, resonate particularly well with the ideals that are at the heart of American ideology. Frost's success is truly impressive, and, in addition to the rest of Frost's lengthy list of accomplishments, he earned four Pulitzer prizes and served as the Poet Laureate for America from 1958 to 1959.

Life

Frost was born on March 26, 1874, in San Francisco. Following the death of his alcoholic father, he moved to Massachusetts in 1885. Although Frost was eager to become a poet, he dropped out of Dartmouth College after less than one full semester and went on to work in a handful of jobs in which he struggled to be successful.

One of the biggest failures Frost experienced was his inability to run a farm in New Hampshire that had been given to him by a family member. Although Frost wrote poems early in the morning on the farm, he decided to return to school, studying at Harvard as a special student. Again unsuccessful, Frost moved his wife and children to England because living there was considerably cheaper.

One of the most common settings in his poetry, New England is a particularly defining aspect of the poetry of Robert Frost.
New England

After two years in England, Frost had his first book of poems, A Boy's Will, published. While in England, Frost became friends with many notable poets, including Ezra Pound. Frost continued writing, published North of Boston in 1914, and in 1915 moved back to America. Living on a farm in New Hampshire, Frost continued to produce poetry at the same time as he taught English. Frost continued to write and teach at various colleges for the next few decades, being awarded fellowships and teaching positions at a handful of schools throughout America.

Frost was ultimately awarded so many honorary degrees that he famously sewed them into a blanket. His career continued to flourish throughout the rest of his life, and he even read at John F. Kennedy's presidential inauguration in 1961. He later died in 1963 from complications resulting from a surgical procedure.

Work

Frost's first publication, A Boy's Will (1913), was favorably received. The next year, Frost published North of Boston (1916), which, along with Mountain Interval and New Hampshire, established Frost as one of the most popular and respected American poets. Other influential collections include West-Running Brook and Fire and Ice. In total, there are over 30 collections of Frost's poems.

Despite his unusually popular reception by American readers, his critical responses were not unanimously positive. Like many writers, Frost's reputation in the academy had its ups and downs. Despite the generally undivided early praise for his work, some scholars came to view his poetry as simplistic and lacking the sophistication of other loftier poets. This argument has been challenged by those who claim that such a view overlooks the complexity of Frost's work; although the events and imagery might at first seem simplistic, defenders of Frost argue that a closer look reveals his ability to use paradox to explore different facets of seemingly obvious experiences. In fact, those who believe Frost to be a respectable poet point out that the seeming flaws of his work actually allow for some of the most profound and beautiful aspects of his poetry.

Style

At a time in which many poets had long abandoned formal meter, Frost was unique in his insistence that it is the foundation of poetry. Moreover, Frost believed that the restrictions formal meter introduced would actually help him produce more meaningful and nuanced poetry. Indeed, Frost's delicate use of meter can be seen in poems such as 'The Mending Wall,' one of his most popular works. It begins:

'Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it
' (1-2)

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