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Robert Frost (1874-1963)

An introduction to the life and work of Robert Frost.
by

Ed Tinney

on 18 May 2014

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Transcript of Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Robert Frost Biography Critical Reputation His Work "Persona of a New England Farmer-Poet"

Born in 1874 in San Francisco.
Father was a teacher and newspaper editor; mother was a teacher.
Moved to Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1885 with his widowed mother.
Married Elinor White, his co-valedictorian, in 1895.
Attended Dartmouth and Harvard.
Moved to a farm (purchased by his grandfather at his wife's request) in West Derry, New Hampshire in 1900.
Taught English at Pinkerton Academy, and English and psychology at Plymouth State University (then a teacher's college).
Sold his farm in 1911 and moved his family to England to write poetry full-time.
Adopted rural New England life as his special subject matter.
His first two books, A Boy's Will (1913) and North of Boston (1914), were published in London before they appeared in the United States.
Returned to America in 1915.
Popularity grew as he became a "Poet in Residence" at several colleges. Spent many summers at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference in Vermont.
Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1924, 1931, 1937, and 1943.
Recognized by special proclamation by the U.S. Senate on his birthday in 1950; a mountain in Vermont was named after him in 1955; sent on "good-will missions" to South America, England, and Russia by the State Department in 1954, 1957, and 1962. . Invited to read a poem at President Kennedy's inauguration in 1961. He had writen a new poem, "Dedication," but was unable to read it in the blinding sun of inauraguation day. Instead he recited an older poem, "The Gift Outright," from memory. Died in 1963 after prostate surgery. Buried in Bennington, Vermont. His epitaph reads, "I had a lover's quarrel with the world."
Lawrance Thompson's three-volume biography revealed that the poet had been a vain, vindictive, inordinately ambitious, and frequently cruel man in his private life who had caused great suffering to this family and friends. Thompson also emphasized that Frost's public and poetic stoicism had sometimes masked acute depression, self-doubt, and guilt and that he had suffered many personal miseries and tragedies. "Grafting New to Old"

Poetically, Frost can be considered a link between an older era and modern culture, and his relationship to literary modernism was equivocal.
Frost eschewed free verse and experimentation and wrote his poems in traditional rhymes and metrical forms like blank verse.
Frost wrote many poems which are dramatic narratives and can be appreciated, like prose fiction, for their characterizations and plot development.
Intellectually, Frost was the heir of 19th-century romantic individualism. he assumed the lone individual could question and work out his or her own relationships to God and existence.
Unlike Thoreau, Frost was never daring enough to challenge the social order boldly, and unlike Emerson, Frost did not embrace the poet as "seer" whose poem should contain truths analogous to religious revelations.
Frost wrote that a poem "begins in delight and ends in wisdom. . . . it runs a course of lucky events, and ends in a clarification of life--not necessarily a great clarification, such as sects and cults are founded on, but in a momentary stay against confusion." "Three Basic Elements"

PASTORAL: devotion to the land and the natural world. Though modern, his poetry is not urban; he was always deeply concerned with the relation between human beings and the natural environment. Frost was able to communicate both the limitations and the virtues of a rural, isolated, older America to an urban, academic audience.
COLLOQUIAL: poetic diction derived from unaffected American speech. Although Frost uses meter, including blank verse, his word choice is always drawn from the rural world that is his subject.
METAPHYSICAL: the use of physical reality to move into a world of spiritual reality. A poem should offer a "clarification of life. . . . a momentary stay against confusion." Pain and doubt is often just beneath the apparently calm surfaces of his poems.
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