Robert Frost (Robert Lee Frost) Biography
(1874–1963), (Robert Lee Frost), New York Independent, Twilight, A Boy's Will, North of Boston
American poet, born in San Francisco; he grew up in Lawrence, Massachusetts, after the death of his father, a newspaper editor originally from New England, and was educated at Lawrence High school, where he was elected ‘class poet’ in his final year. He attended Dartmouth College in 1892 and, having worked as a cobbler, a farmer, and editor of a local newspaper, studied at Harvard from 1897 to 1899. Following the appearance of one of his poems in the New York Independent in 1894 he privately published Twilight (1894) and began to concern himself with making his reputation as a poet. Receiving no encouragement in America, he travelled to Britain in 1912 and became acquainted with a number of the poets associated with the Georgian movement; he was closest to Edward Thomas, encouraging him as a poet and later describing him as ‘the only brother I ever had’. Two collections of his poetry, A Boy's Will (1913) and North of Boston (1914), which firmly determine the New England regionalism of his œuvre, appeared in England to favourable critical receptions; on his return to the USA in 1915 he was recognized as an established literary figure, a position he consolidated with the publication of Mountain Interval (1916). He took up residence on a farm in New Hampshire and between 1916 and 1950 recurrently held posts as a visiting professor of English and writer-in-residence at numerous American universities. His first three volumes contain a high proportion of his best-known work, including ‘Mending Wall’, ‘Death of the Hired Man’, ‘Birches’, and ‘The Road Not Taken’; the conversational individuality of tone and diction in such poems remained his identifying characteristic. The tensions between the realism and directness of his verse and its loyalty to conventional forms make Frost's achievement one of unusually effective mediation between tradition and innovation. His many subsequent collections include New Hampshire (1923), in which political elements were added to his predominantly descriptive and contemplative idioms, The Lone Striker (1933), Steeple Bush (1947), Aforesaid (1954), and In the Clearing (1962). The Complete Poems was published in 1968. Frost enjoyed enormous popularity in America as a benevolent purveyor of versified common sense, rural lore, and evocations of natural order, impressions catered for by more anodyne poems like ‘The Pasture’. Much of his work, however, reveals an imaginative attraction towards sinister depths of melancholy consistent with the fears of insanity and temptations to suicide apparent in his Selected Letters (1965, edited by Lawrance Thompson). Elsewhere, his sceptically fatalistic manner combines with a laconically unsentimental compassion to produce the many poems of which ‘Out, Out—’ is perhaps the typifying example. The verse-dramas A Masque of Reason (1942) and A Masque of Mercy (1951) are the principal manifestations of the theological and philosophical preoccupations evident in his work from the 1940s onward; he remained, however, capable of producing poems with the disturbing impact of ‘The Draft Horse’ to the end of his career. His standing in his later years is indicated by the fact that he won the Pulitzer Prize three times, received more than forty honorary degrees, and served as President Kennedy's cultural emissary. Lawrance Thompson's biography of Frost appeared in three volumes in 1967, 1971, and 1977.