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Robert Frost, American Poet

Updated on July 17, 2016
Robert Frost, (1874-1963)
Robert Frost, (1874-1963) | Source

While the cover isn't the same, this is the book my 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. Now I regret that decision because, not only did it tie me to my grandmother, but the poems of Frost nourish the soul in a way I cannot fully explain--something that has to be intimately experienced by the reader.

Foreword

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


Memorial Hall at Harvard University
Memorial Hall at Harvard University | Source

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.

COMMENTARY

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.

COMMENTARY

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.


Just as field flowers bring delight to our eyes, so do the words of poetry delight our hearts.
Just as field flowers bring delight to our eyes, so do the words of poetry delight our hearts.

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.

© 2014 Marie Flint

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    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 2 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      A poet's poet.

      I learned so much researching this article. I had no idea, for example, that he had lived for a time near London.

      Forty-plus honorary degrees? Wow!

      Persons who can master one field of study during their lifetime amaze me, as I'm so different with my myriad of hobbies and interests.

      Another poem of Frost's of which I'm particularly fond is "The Pasture" written in 1915. The poem is terse, so I will share it here:

      I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;

      I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away

      (And wait to watch the water clear, I may):

      I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.

      I’m going out to fetch the little calf

      That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young,

      It totters when she licks it with her tongue.

      I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.

      I watched a many a calf being born on our farm, and the experience is just as Frost states. I can see my father in these words as he clears a ditch, puts out a block of salt for the animals, or assists a cow to deliver her calf.

      Frost's words are simple and direct. He appeals to the heart of Americans.

      He had more elaborate poems, too. I vaguely remember reading "The Milky Way is a Cowpath" and feeling as if I were floating through space from the words.

      Plays and prose were also written by Frost, but he is best remembered for his poetry. ***

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 2 years ago

      That was something Marie. I guess that he was one of your favorites because you really did a good job explaining his life and poems. I also liked the poem that you wrote and I am saying that it was beautifully done. I voted++, shared and G+ it.

      Kevin

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 2 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Mr. Frost's poetry does strike a chord in my heart, Kevin. Poetry is something that is read slowly, read out loud, and pondered. Poetry that appeals to the mind and the senses using expressions that are profoundly simple makes the reader go "Aaah!"

      One day I relinquished that book my grandmother had given me to a bookstore, and I could feel the energy at my heart drop. I compensated the feeling by remembering my yoga instructor's words, "The heart is a graveyard of desires." At some point, though, I believe the heart has to stop becoming a graveyard and be filled with the everlasting light of the Christos, that joy and harmony of creation.

      And, I think Mr. Frost guided me as I wrote that chat to him.

      Thank you for the read, comment, vote and share. Blessings!

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 2 years ago

      Funny, I used to think reading poetry out loud was just me.

      Kevin

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 2 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Poetry clubs specialize in poetry readings. The rhythm of the words is part of the poem-writing craft. You haven't read a poem until you've heard it out loud. So, you're certainly not alone, Kevin.

      Have a great day!

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      -Wonderful hub Marie, I always liked Robert Frost when studying poetry in school and the poems you featured are good examples of his popular works. I agree that hearing a poem read aloud is part of the poetry experience. I have been thinking that I may do that with selective poems of my own at some stage and include the videos on my hubs. Voted up.

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 2 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Readings of your original poetry on video sound like a wonderful idea, Jodah!

      Thank you for the visit, comment, and vote. Blessings!

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 2 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Thank you, Jelai, for your visit and kind words.

      Certainly, you may use this article for your class. I am honored for the opportunity to share my insights about Mr. Frost with a younger generation. In his simple words, there is the example of a pure heart. He is a poet worthy of study.

      Blessings!

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker suzettetaos 2 years ago from Taos, NM

      Beautiful hub on Robert Frost; be is one of my favorite poets. I, too have written a hub on Fost and chose the same two poems to analyze. I enjoyed reading this and your take on these two poems.

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 2 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Thank you for the visit, Suzette. I'll have to stop by and read your take on Mr. Frost. There are other hub articles about him as well.

      Blessings!

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Frost was my wife's favorite poet. I enjoy his works took, but am no expert on anything to do with poetry. I like it simple and plain. Thanks for this wonderful hub. I understand the man a little better and have gotten to read two poems I have for years been very fond of.

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 2 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      "Simple and plain" seemed to be the word choices of Frost, Chris. I think that's why so many Americans loved him, too.

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 2 years ago from london

      Very beautiful poetry, Marie. Frost I know of, and yes, he was an exquisite poet, and still is through your fingers and others too. I also loved your own poem and commentary.

      I must say that it was very interesting for me, as I am almost always inclined to go the spiritual way, but what you explained was quite logical and makes sense. Much peace.

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 2 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      When one grows up on a farm in mdc-Michigan, Manatita, one cannot help but be at least a little bit practical.

      Thank you for the read and comment. Peace to you too!

    • firstcookbooklady profile image

      Char Milbrett 11 months ago from Minnesota

      We were required to memorize the "Whose woods these are, I think I know" poem in 9th grade in the Minnesota town of St. Peter. Years later, I was writing on social media that the horse was not going to be too judgmental of 'Bob', then, later I found out that my mother's friends daughter had married Robert Frost's grandson, so my words were noted by their family, and they pointed out her and him in a photo in their living room when I visited recently... Ah, I meant nothing bad by it, and they forgave me... Love Robert Frost's poetry and am thankful that my teacher made us memorize his works.

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 10 months ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      @firstcookbooklady, I certainly wouldn't have taken offense to your statement. How nice to know of someone in the Frost bloodline!

      The memorization of poetry somehow gives us an anchor in life, I think. When confronted with loneliness or homesickness, an early childhood poem triggers feelings of friendship and belonging. You had a wonderful teacher!

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 10 months ago from london

      Interesting examination of Frost's work. I was tempted to say something in the first one, but he seems to leave it 'hanging' or open to different interpretations. You did well, I thought.

      The others are well chosen too. Much Love, Marie.

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 10 months ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Thank you, Manatita, for the visit and comment. I was able to acknowledge you during my grandson's nap.

      I took a personal approach in writing this hub article. As I have said within it, so much of Frost's poetry strikes a chord in my life.

      Blessings!

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