Robert Frost

by Jessica Reppert

Robert Lee Frost was born on March 26, 1874, in San Francisco, California. His father was from New England, but had hated it there because it had supported the Civil War during which his own father lost employment in the cotton mill economy. When Frost’s father left New England, he took a short stay in Lewistown, Pennsylvania, to teach. There, he married another teacher, a Scotswoman named Isabelle Moodie. They named their first son after the Southern Civil War General Robert E. Lee.

Frost’s father died in 1884. His burial had already been predetermined in New England, so Frost, his mother, and his sister, Jeanie, went east for the funeral. Afterwards, they could not afford to return to California, so they settled in Salem, Massachusetts, where his mother taught school.

Frost had never been much of a student before moving to New England. He had been a “city boy” and needed to get used to the drastic changes of life in Massachusetts. He soon “became a serious student and graduated from Lawrence High School as valedictorian and class poet in 1892. He enrolled at Darmouth College but soon left,” (Gale Biography).

Engaged to Elinor White, who had been his fellow valedictorian and was completing her college education, Frost moved from job to job. He worked in mills, at newspapers as a reporter, and as a teacher. No matter what job he was doing, he was always writing poetry. Frost sold his first poem, “My Butterfly,” to the New York Independent in 1894.

Frost wed Elinor in 1895 and tried to make teaching his career, helping his mother run a small private school in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where his first son was born. (Gale Biography) He tried again in 1897 to complete his college education, this time at Harvard, but after two years he left. With a new daughter to add to his family, he decided to try chicken farming to support them. In 1900, when Frost’s “nervousness was diagnosed as a forewarning of tuberculosis, he moved his poultry business to Derry, New Hampshire. There his first son soon died,” (Gale Biography). After all of his grief and suffering, Frost kept to his poetry and went back to teaching to support his family.

Finally, in 1912, Frost sold his farm and used an inheritance from his grandfather to move his family to England and focus on his poetry. They settled on a farm in Buckinghamshire. Frost published A Boy’s Will in 1913, which was well received. Frost next published North of Boston in 1914, and when he and his family returned to America in 1915 it was a best seller. Mountain Interval (1916), Selected Poems (1923), New Hampshire (1923), West Running Brook (1928), Collected Poems (1930), A Further Range (1936), and A Witness Tree (1942) all continued Frost’s poetic success.

One of Frost’s most well-known poems, “The Road Not Taken,” was published in Mountain Interval.

Frost became one of the first poets-in-residence on an American campus at Amherst in 1917. He taught there until 1920, receiving his master of arts in 1918. In 1920 he “cofounded the Bread Loaf School of English of Middlebury College, serving there each summer as lecturer and consultant. From 1921 to 1923 he was poet-in-residence at the University of Michigan,” (Gale Biography). Frost returned and settled at Amherst in 1926.

In 1957, Frost returned to England to receive doctoral degrees from Oxford and Cambridge. “In 1961, at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy, Frost recited ‘The Gift Outright,’ the first time a poet had honored a presidential inauguration,” (Gale Biography). He published his last volume of poetry, In the Clearing, in 1962.

Frost died on January 29, 1963, in Boston, Massachusetts, of complications following an operation. His resting place is in the family plot in Old Bennington, Vermont.

For more information on Robert Frost and his later years, check out his Gale Biography in Context.

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