“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life — It goes on”
– Robert Frost
Robert Lee Frost (March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963) was an American poet. His work frequently employed settings from rural life in New England in the early twentieth century. A popular and often-quoted poet, Frost was honored frequently during his lifetime, receiving four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry.
Robert Frost was born in San Francisco, California. Frost’s father was a teacher and later an editor of the San Francisco Evening Bulletin. After his death on May 5, 1885, the family moved across the country to Lawrence, Massachusetts.
Although known for his later association with rural life, Frost grew up in the city and published his first poem in his high school’s magazine. He attended Dartmouth College for two months, but returned home to teach and to work at various jobs – including helping his mother teach.
In 1894 Robert Frost sold his first poem, “My Butterfly: An Elegy” (published in the November 8, 1894, edition of the New York Independent) for $15.
He married Elinor Miriam White, at Harvard University in 1895. Robert’s grandfather purchased a farm for Robert and Elinor in Derry, New Hampshire. Robert worked the farm for nine years; writing early in the mornings and producing many of the poems that would later become famous. Ultimately his farming proved unsuccessful and he returned to the field of education as an English teacher at New Hampshire’s Pinkerton Academy from 1906 to 1911, then at the New Hampshire Normal School (now Plymouth State University) in Plymouth, New Hampshire.
After spending 3 years in England, Frost returned to America in 1915 and bought a farm in Franconia, New Hampshire. There he launched a career of writing, teaching, and lecturing. During the years 1916–20, 1923–24, and 1927–1938, Frost taught English at Amherst College, in Massachusetts, notably encouraging his students to account for the sounds of the human voice in their writing.
In 1924, Robert Frost won his first Pulitzer Prize for his poem: “New Hampshire: A Poem With Notes and Grace Notes.” Ironically enough, it was as he was finishing this poem that he came up with “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” This latter poem was the inspiration for American composer Randall Thompson’s choral work, “Frostiana: Seven Country Songs,” which was originally performed in 1959 with Thompson conducting and with Frost in attendance. Frost received his 2nd Pulitzer Prize for Robert Frost Collected Poems in 1931. This collection contains 5 of the poems used in the Thompson piece. In 1943, Frost received his 4th Pulitzer for A Witness Tree, where the other two poems can be found.
Although he never graduated from college, Frost received over 40 honorary degrees, including ones from Harvard, Princeton, Oxford and Cambridge universities; and was the only person to receive two honorary degrees from Dartmouth College.
Robert Frost was 86 when he spoke and performed a reading of his poetry at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy on January 20, 1961. He died in Boston two years later, on January 29, 1963, of complications from prostate surgery. He was buried at the Old Bennington Cemetery in Bennington, Vermont. His epitaph quotes a line from one of his poems: “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”
Robert Frost’s personal life was plagued with grief and loss. His father died of tuberculosis, leaving the family with just eight dollars. 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, who had heart problems throughout her life, developed breast cancer in 1937, and died of heart failure in 1938.
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 (1903–1967); daughter Marjorie (1905–1934, died as a result of puerperal fever after childbirth); and daughter Elinor Bettina (died just three days after her birth in 1907).