Robert Lee Frost (March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963) was an American poet. He is highly regarded for his realistic depictions of the rural life and his command of American colloquial speech. His work frequently employed themes from the early 1900s rural life in New England, using the setting to examine complex social and philosophical themes. A popular and often-quoted poet, Frost was honored frequently during his lifetime, receiving four Pulitzer Prizes.
Robert Frost was born in San Francisco, California on March 26, 1874. His mother, Isabelle Moodie Frost, was of Scottish descent; his father, William Prescott Frost, Jr., was a descendant of colonist Nicholas Frost from Tiverton, Devon, England who had sailed to New Hampshire in 1634 on the Wolfrana.
Frost's father was a good teacher, and later an editor of the San Francisco Evening Bulletin (which was eventually merged into the San Francisco Examiner), and an unsuccessful candidate for the city tax collector. The road not taken for young Robert might have been as a Californian editor rather than a New England poet, but William Frost Jr. died May 5, 1885, debts were settled, and the family moved to Lawrence, Massachusetts where William Frost, Sr., was an overseer at a New England mill. Frost graduated from Lawrence High School in 1892. Frost's mother joined the Swedenborgian church and had him baptized in it, but he left it as an adult.
Despite his later association with rural life, Frost lived in the city, and published his first poem in the Lawrence high school magazine. He attended Dartmouth College, long enough to be accepted into the Theta Delta Chi fraternity. Frost returned home to teach and to work at various jobs including delivering newspapers and factory labor. He did not enjoy these jobs at all, feeling his true calling as a poet.
In 1894 he sold his first poem, "My Butterfly: An Elegy" (published in the November 8, 1894 edition of the New York Independent) for fifteen dollars. Proud of this accomplishment, he proposed marriage to Elinor Miriam White, but she refused, wanting to finish college (at St. Lawrence University) before they married. Frost then went on an excursion to the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia, and asked Elinor again upon his return. Having graduated, she agreed, and they were married in Harvard University, which he attended for two years.
He did well, but left to support his growing family. Grandfather Frost purchased a farm for the young couple in Derry, New Hampshire, shortly before his death. Frost worked on the farm for nine years. He wrote early in the mornings, producing many of the poems that would later become famous. His attempts at farming were not successful, and Frost returned to education as an English teacher at Pinkerton Academy from 1906 to 1911, then at the New Hampshire Normal School (now Plymouth State University) in Plymouth, New Hampshire.
In 1912, Frost sailed with his family to Great Britain, living first in Glasgow, before settling in Beaconsfield, outside London. His first book of poetry, A Boy's Will, was published the next year. In England he made some important acquaintances, including Edward Thomas (a member of the group known as the Dymock Poets), T.E. Hulme, and Ezra Pound. Pound would become the first American to write a (favorable) review of Frost's work. Surrounded by his peers, Frost wrote some of his best work while in England.
As World War I began, Frost returned to America in 1915. He bought a farm in Franconia, New Hampshire, where he launched a career of writing, teaching, and lecturing. The family homestead at Franconia, which served as his summer home until 1938, is maintained as a museum and poetry conference site. From 1916-20, 1923-24, and 1927-1938, Frost was an English professor at Amherst College, encouraging his students to account for the sounds of the human voice in their craft. Starting in 1921, and for the next 42 years (with three exceptions), Frost spent his summers and into late fall teaching at the Bread Loaf School of English of Middlebury College in Ripton, Vermont. The college now owns and maintains Robert Frost's farm as a national historic site near the Bread Loaf campus. From 1921-22, Frost moved to Ann Arbor to accept a fellowship teaching at the University of Michigan. In 1924, Robert Frost accepted a lifetime appointment at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor as a Fellow in Letters where he resided until 1927. Frost's Ann Arbor home is now at The Henry Ford. In January 1927, Frost returned to Amherst. In 1940 Frost bought a five acre property in South Miami, Florida. He called the place Pencil Pines and spent the winters there for the rest of his life. Frost was 86 when he spoke at the inauguration of President Kennedy on January 20, 1961. He died a little more than two years later, from a blood clot in the lungs. This was a complication from prostate surgery in December 1962. He died in Boston, on January 29, 1963. He was buried at the Old Bennington Cemetery in Bennington, Vermont. His epitaph reads, "I had a lover's quarrel with the world."
Harvard's 1965 alumni directory indicates his having received an honorary degree there; Frost also received honorary degrees from Bates College and Oxford and Cambridge universities, and he was the first to receive two honorary degrees from Dartmouth College. During his lifetime, the Robert Frost Middle School in Fairfax, Virginia, as well as the main library of Amherst College, were named after him.
In the "Anthology of Modern American Poetry", published by Oxford University Press, Frost's poems are critiqued and it is mentioned that behind their sometimes charmingly familiar and rural façade, frequently lie pessimistic and menacing undertones which are not often analyzed or recognized.
Robert Frost's personal life was plagued with grief and loss. His father died of tuberculosis in 1885, when Frost was 11, leaving the family with just $8. Frost's mother died of cancer in 1900. In 1920, Frost had to commit his younger sister, Jeanie, to a mental hospital, where she died nine years later. Mental illness apparently ran in Frost's family, as both he and his mother suffered from depression, and his daughter Irma was committed to a mental hospital in 1947. Frost's wife, Elinor, also experienced bouts of depression.
Elinor and Robert Frost had six children: son Elliot (1896-1904, died of cholera), daughter Lesley Frost Ballantine (1899-1983), son Carol (1902-1940, committed suicide), daughter Irma (1903-?), daughter Marjorie (1905-1934, died as a result of puerperal fever after childbirth), and daughter Elinor Bettina (died three days after birth in 1907). Only Lesley and Irma outlived their father. Frost's wife, who had heart problems throughout her life, developed breast cancer in 1937, and died of heart failure in 1938.