Reader's Encyclopedia

Frost, Robert (1874 - 1963)

American poet. Although Frost was born in San Francisco, he is best known for his verse dealing with New England life and character. Frost moved east in 1885, attended Dartmouth and Harvard for brief intervals, and held various odd jobs. From 1900 to 1905 he farmed in New Hampshire. But poetry was his real vocation and, in 1912, after his failure to be published in the U.S., he went to England, where for three years he wrote poetry, talked with poets, and published two collections, A Boy's Will (1913) and North of Boston (1914). The latter book contains several of Frost's best - known poems, including Mending Wall, The Death of the Hired Man, "Home Burial," and "A Servant to Servants."

Back in America in 1915, Frost began to gather a reputation, after the American publication of North of Boston. Maintaining his creative independence, aloof from the poetic movements of the day, he next published Mountain Interval (1916), a volume containing The Road Not Taken, "An Old Man 's Winter Night," and Birches. With New Hampshire (1923), there is the first indication of Frost's awareness of himself as poet, as he says in the title poem, he is " a creature of literature. " There is also present a tone of irony that had earlier been muted. " The Axe - Helve, " Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, and " Two Witches " appear in this volume.

A Further Range saw the introduction of contemporary concerns in Frost's poetry and the beginning of his later tendency toward abstract philosophizing, which was to result in the two verse dramas A Masque of Reason (1945) and A Masque of Mercy (1947). Frost's other collections include West - Running Brook (1928), A Witness Tree (1942), Steeple Bush (1947), Complete Poems (1949), and In the Clearing (1962).

Frost is often seen as opposed to the main tendencies of modern poetry. He is the clear, simple, moral poet who sings of rural, democratic joys and who is, above all, the lover of nature. But although Frost is perhaps most closely akin to Emerson and Emily Dickinson, he clearly learned much from modern poetic movements. If he is the positive poet of rural America, he is also the chronicler of the dark night of the human soul, the sophisticated poet, full of irony and ambiguity. He wrote in traditional verse forms, but within the poems he created a tension of thought and feeling, reinforced by tension between colloquial speech and traditional metrics, that is unmatched in American poetry. The poem, as he said in the essay "The Figure a Poem Makes," is "a momentary stay against confusion. "As an American equivalent of the poet laureate, Frost participated in the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in 1961, reading his poem "The Gift Outright" at the ceremony. Frost received numerous public honors and awards, including four Pulitzer Prizes; only the Nobel Prize, which he openly coveted, eluded him.

Frost's Complete Poems appeared in 1967. Selected Letters (1964), edited by Lawrance Thompson, was followed by a complete edition, Letters (ed Arnold Grade), in 1972. Thompson, as Frost's chosen biographer, completed two volumes on the poet's life (1966, 1970); the final volume (1976) was finished by R. H. Winnick after Thompson's death.