Photo by Deanna Kalian ’20
Robert Frost and his family lived in this Derry, NH farmhouse from 1900-1911 before moving to England in 1912.
BY DEANNA KALIAN ’20
“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” Penned by Robert Frost in the preface of his “Collected Poems,” this quote encapsulates his poetic thought process. Frost’s poems vividly capture a variety of emotions from unbridled joy to terrible sadness. Frost drew much of his inspiration from his own life, which was filled with hardships. According to the Academy of American Poets, Frost was born on March 26, 1874 in San Francisco, where his family lived until he was 11. When his father died of tuberculosis, Frost’s mother promptly moved the family to Lawrence, Massachusetts. New England ultimately gave Frost the inspiration for some of his best-known poems — a fact that is evident even to casual readers.
“I haven’t read much Frost,” said Lydia Solodiuk ’20. “So I just have a general impression of him as a very classic American poet. His poetry seems very representative of a now-gone classic New England.”
Frost’s interest in poetry developed in high school, according to Encyclopedia Brittanica. He pursued his education at Dartmouth College in 1892 and later at Harvard University. However, he never obtained a degree and spent many years as a teacher and editor for the Lawrence “Sentinel,” a local newspaper. In 1894, Frost’s first professional publication, “My Butterfly: An Elegy” appeared in The Independent, a New York newspaper. According to the Library of Congress, the poem contained many outdated conventions, like the use of the archaic “thee” and “thine,” which Frost would eventually abandon in favor of his own unique style. The following year Frost married his highschool sweetheart, Elinor White.
Married life presented difficulties for the young couple. According to the U.S. National Park Services Registry of Historic Places, the couple moved to a farm in Derry, New Hampshire in 1900. Frost supported his family by teaching and farming, neither of which brought financial security or happiness to the blossoming poet. However, the rural landscape became his muse, inspiring poems such as “Flower Gathering,” “A Late Walk” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Farm life also furnished Frost with material for his darkest poems. The Registry of Historic Places said Frost and Elinor’s firstborn, Elliot, died of cholera at just four years old. Overwhelmed by grief and guilt, Frost penned somber poems such as “Home Burial” and “Despair.”
Frost moved his family to England in 1912. In 1913, David Nutt and Co., a British publishing company, published Frost’s first poetry collection, “A Boy’s Will.” A year later they published his second collection, “North of Boston.” Henry Holt and Co. published American editions of his two poetry books and his next collection, “Mountain Interval,” in 1916.
Frost became a professor of English at Amherst College in 1917, and taught on and off at the college until 1938. That same year, he officially became a Ralph Waldo Emerson Fellow in poetry at Harvard University.
In between 1917 and 1938, Frost relocated multiple times between Vermont and Michigan, earning the title as Poet in Residence at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. According to the Academy of American Poets, Henry Holt and Co. continued to publish Frost’s work. The works included “Selected Poems” and “New Hampshire,” for which Frost received a Pulitzer Prize the next year. Four years later, Holt and Co. published “West-Running Brook,” then “Collected Poems” in 1930, the year Frost joined the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He received two more Pulitzers for “Collected Poems” and “A Further Range,” published in 1936.
Amid these monumental successes, personal tragedy repeatedly struck. According to the Library of Congress, Frost’s daughter Marjorie died in childbirth in 1934 and his wife died of cancer in 1938. In 1940, Frost’s son Carol committed suicide, and Frost moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts the next year. In 1943, Frost received his fourth Pulitzer for “A Witness Tree,” published in 1942. He published five more collections between 1945 and 1962. According to a CBS special on John F. Kennedy, Frost became so renowned that in 1961, President Kennedy invited him to read at his inauguration. Frost continued to travel and recite his poetry all over the world, until he died on Jan. 29, 1963.
Robert Frost’s poetry continues to enthrall readers with its pastoral landscape and fervent emotional imagery. “I see Robert Frost as a transcendentalist poet who captured the spirit of New England,” said Emilia Norbert ’20.
Mount Holyoke College Professor of English Christopher Benfey said, “Frost is a tricky poet who liked leaving traps for his readers. We all think we’re supposed to take the road less traveled by, but Frost tells us that those two roads were really about the same.” Professor Benfey explained that, despite Frost being a widely-read poet, readers often struggle to interpret his poetry. “I like a little essay he wrote [...] based on his years of teaching at Amherst College,” said Benfey. “‘We go to college,’ he says, ‘to be given one more chance to learn to read in case we haven’t learned in high school.’”