Robert Frost, American Poet
Myy grandmother had presented to me as a high school graduation gift. After having it several years, I exchanged it at a book store for another subject of which I was interested. I regretted that decision because, not only had the Frost book tied me to my grandmother, but the poems of Frost nourished my soul in a very intimate way. The Complete Works of Robert Frost
A Chat with Robert Frost
Mr. Frost, I didn’t know you were
San Franciscan and now wonder how
Your life had been had you grown up there.
Two years in that City made me know
Anything goes, 90 years later.
We both went east when our fathers died.
Unlike you, success eluded me.
I still write, but know I would have tried
To finish my degree, had I been your baby.
Only three-fourths done--you would have sighed.
Yet, life moved on, and how events shaped us!
Of all your poems, I am very fond.
Grandmother placed your book in my trust;
That book I no longer have around,
Tho' reading your deep words are a must.
They remind me of those days gone by
When my grandfather fought WWI
And had Molly, the horse, pull the sleigh,
And times I’d walk the woods at day’s done.
Be my friend and muse to guide my way!
A Recap of Some Events in Frost's Life (1874-1899)
- born in San Francisco, California, on March 26, 1874
- May 5, 1885 - death of father
- 1885 - move to Lawrence, Massachusetts
- baptized Swedenborgian
- 1892 graduate of Lawrence High School (first poem published in high school magazine)
- enrolled at Dartmouth College (attended two months)
- member Theta Delta Chi
- 1894 published poem "My Butterfly, an Elegy" (New York Independent)
- December 19, 1895, married Elinor Miriam White
- 1897-1899 attended Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Frost's Two Most Popular Poems
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
This was the first poem of Robert Frost's to which I had become acquainted. High school English in the late 1960s often covered literary poetry. I personally relate to this poem because I grew up in the Midwest on a family farm. Yellow leaves during the fall season always struck a chord in my heart, wherein there was a yearning for summer to never end, yet an excitement to seeing friends again at school and being involved in studies and extracurricular activities.
I've always interpreted this poem as one of self-examination. Frost seemed to be wondering, if only for a moment, whether he had made the best of his life. Although he doesn't specify, the "more worn" path that he didn't take may have been a dream of running his own business. Certainly, farming wasn't a popular career path at the time, and, as the video mini-bio mentioned, he wasn't good at farming. So, what else did the "more worn" path mean? One hint that Frost gives is that the paths were worn about the same. So, another writing career, perhaps as a novelist? Perhaps. Critics and biographers can only speculate about Frost's inner desires and observations.
His life as a poet is the path he had taken and, indeed, the man did make a difference.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Winters in the Midwest and the New England area are very similar. As a second generation American and member of a farming family, I closely relate to the imagery of this poem. My grandmother had a lampshade in her living room by the rocker. The scene on the lampshade was of a horse drawing a sleigh through a woods, and the crafted images were all in green.
I chuckle a bit at "He gives his bells a shake / To ask if there is some mistake." I can just see a dappled gray horse with its lengthy mane shaking his head and hear those jingle bells delicately ringing on his harness. I might differ with Mr. Frost as to whether the animal is really asking about a mistake or whether it's just shaking the snow from his mane during an opportune time. The personification, though, adds to the intimacy of the relationship of the driver to the horse, and, as intelligent as horses can be, who am I to argue?
There's something about Frost's character in this poem with the words, "But I have promises to keep." Promises to keep tells us Frost was a man of his word. Verbal agreement in my hometown area was just as good as a written contract, so I relate to this fatherly characteristic.
I studied this poem at Michigan State University as a freshman, and my American Thought and Language instructor pointed out the deeper meaning of the last line, "And miles to go before I sleep." Sleep, in its latter use, symbolized death.
It's simply a thoughtful, heart-felt poem invoking nostalgia.
More Events in Frost's Life (1900-1963)
- circa 1900, inherited farm in Derry, New Hampshire
- 1906-1911, served as English teacher at Pinkerton Academy and New Hampshire Normal School (Plymouth State University)
- 1912, moved to Beaconsfield, England
- 1913, published A Boy's Will, his poetry collection in book form
- 1914, published North of Boston and onset of WWI
- 1915, purchased farm in Franconia, New Hampshire
- 1916–20, 1923–24, and 1927–1938, taught English at Amherst College, Massachusetts
- 1921-27, fellowship teaching, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and received Fellow in Letters award
- 1921-63, taught at Bread Loaf School of English (Middlebury College), Ripton, Vermont
- 1924, Pulitzer Prize (New Hampshire: A Poem with Notes and Grace Notes)
- 1931, Pulitzer Prize (Collected Poems)
- 1937, Pulitzer Prize (Further Range)
- 1940, purchased acreage (Pencil Pines) in South Miami, Florida
- 1943, Pulitzer Prize (A Witness Tree)
- 1960, Congressional Medal of Honor
- 1961, recited "The Gift Outright" at President Kennedy's Inaugural Address
- 1963, died of surgery complications for prostate cancer and buried in Bennington, Vermont
Author's note: Resources state that Robert Frost received over 40 honorary degrees from distinguished universities and colleges. One from Harvard University was awarded in 1965, two years after his death.
Resources and Credits
http://www.poetryfoundation.org (Words to Robert Frost's Poems)
http://www.wunderground.com/wximage/NorthLight/104 (Image of the Winter Woods)
The words to "A Chat with Robert Frost" and the photographs (2) of the grassy road into the woods and the wild flowers are my own work. You can find another Robert Frost poem at the end of my article The Stealthy Groundhog or Musing Marmot.
© 2014 Marie Flint