“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life — It goes on.” —Robert Frost
Today marks the 142nd birthday of the American poet Robert Lee Frost. Though Frost is most famous for his depictions of rural New England life, he was actually born in San Francisco. When he was eleven, his family relocated to Lawrence, Massachusetts after the death of his father. It was during high school that he first developed an interest in writing poetry. It was also where he met Elinor White, his co-valedictorian and future wife.
Frost’s career as a poet didn’t take off until he was well into his forties. After graduating high school, he spent several years attending Dartmouth and Harvard on and off, as well as taking odd jobs to support himself. By the time he and Elinor settled on a farm in New Hampshire, Frost had only had published one poem, “My Butterfly: an Elegy”, in the New York Independent. He received a total of $15 for it. 1
Frost and his family spent around nine years on the New Hampshire farm. Though he had no luck in getting his work published, he spent a lot of time writing, inspired by the New England landscape. This inspiration would be what fueled his writing for years, and produced some of his most beloved poems, including, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”
In 1912, Frost moved his family to England. He published several books of poetry including, A Boy’s Will and North of Boston. His work was heavily influenced by the poets Edward Thomas, Robert Graves, and Ezra Pound, all of whom Frost befriended upon moving to England. Thomas is credited with having inspired one of Frost’s most famous poems, “The Road Not Taken.” Ezra Pound assisted Frost in publishing his books by writing positive reviews for his work. 2
When World War I started, Frost returned to America as a renowned poet. His works had spread from England to the States, and journals were calling for more of it to be published. He and his family settled down on another farm in New Hampshire, and Frost began teaching at Dartmouth and Amherst College. He continued to publish, and soon became one of the most well known poets in America. He won four Pulitzer prizes over the course of twenty years, and in 1961 was named the Poet laureate of Vermont. He was also the first poet to read at a presidential inauguration, reading his poem “The Gift Outright” at President Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.
Though Robert Frost is best known for capturing rural life in his poetry, his work also included some deeper, darker themes. One of his most famous poems, “Fire and Ice,” discusses hate, desire, and the end of the world. Many of his other poems touch upon the themes of the individual’s place in existence. Much of his later work featured the same themes, but with an added skepticism and abstractness. It is because of this that people prefer to remember his earlier work.
His poetry is also famous for being misread. “The Road Not Taken” is notoriously known for being misinterpreted. Perhaps one of the most quoted poems in American culture, the poem is usually referred to as being about uniqueness, and choosing a path that goes against the mainstream. In actuality, Frost’s intention was the opposite. He wrote it as a statement about putting meaning where there is none, and shouldn’t be. The two paths he describes in the poem are equally traveled, and taking one over the other is not the adventure people make it out to be, but a necessary choice the traveler must make to continue on his way.
Misinterpreted or not, Robert Frost remains one of America’s most celebrated poets. His work is embedded in American culture, and his contributions to the literary world cannot be understated. As President John F. Kennedy stated in a speech at Amherst College:
“For Robert Frost was one of the granite figures of our time in America. He was supremely two things: An artist and an American. A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”
- From “Robert Frost.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.
- From “Robert Frost.” com A&E Networks Television. Web. 24. Mar. 2016.
Emily Cantor is a senior English major/Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies major with a concentration in Creative Writing. She is on the fiction panel at the Long River Review.