Considered one of the greatest poets in American literature, Robert Frost was an American poet and playwright whose works are still widely read and studied today. His ability to capture the beauty and complexity of everyday life, and his use of colloquial speech, has made him one of the most popular and respected poets of the literary canon.
Frost remains the only poet to have won four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry, and was honoured with further accolades before his death aged 88 in 1963.
Here are 10 facts about Robert Frost, unofficial poet laureate of the United States.
1. Robert Lee Frost was born on 25 March 1874 in San Francisco
He was the son of Isabelle Moodie and William Prescott Frost Jr, both of whom were teachers. Frost’s father tragically died of tuberculosis when he was 11 years old, leaving his family with just $8 to survive on. They moved across the country to Massachusetts to live with his grandparents, although Frost had to work various odd jobs to support the family.
2. He attended Dartmouth College for just two months
Frost left the prestigious East Coast school without graduating. He later attended Harvard University, but again did not complete his studies. Later in life, Frost would be a visiting professor at several prestigious universities including Amherst College, Harvard University and Dartmouth College.
3. He began writing poetry at a young age
After his brief time at college, Frost returned to help his mother at the school, deliver newspapers and work in a lamp factory. It was during this time Frost realised his true calling was to write poetry. His first poem, “My Butterfly,” was published in 1894 in the New York Independent newspaper. Age 20, Frost had started his journey as a professional poet with a check for $15, equivalent in purchasing power today to about $522.
4. In 1895 Frost married Elinor Miriam White
Elinor was a fellow student at their high school. In fact, the future pair shared the title of class valedictorian when they graduated in 1892. Riding high from the publishing of his first poem, Frost proposed. But Elinor insisted on finishing her own college degree at St Lawrence before they got married.
As Frost’s sweetheart, Elinor was a major inspiration for much of Frost’s work including the poem “The Subverted Flower”. Together they had six children, of which only Lesley and Irma outlived their parents.
5. He was a farmer
Before his death, Frost’s grandfather bought a farm for Robert and Elinor in Derry, New Hampshire. Frost worked the farm for some nine years, waking at dawn to write many of the poems he would later become famous for.
Ultimately, however, farming proved unsuccessful for Frost. He soon returned to education as an English teacher, encouraging his students to reflect the sounds and intonations of spoken language in their writing. He called his colloquial approach to writing “the sound of sense”.
6. Frost struggled to get his poems published in the United States
Discouraged by American magazines’ constant rejection of his work, Frost uprooted his family to England where he found more professional success, with two books published A Boy’s Will (1913) and North of Boston (1914) there. It was also in England Frost expanded his literary circle, becoming a close friend of poet and novelist Edward Thomas who inspired his famous poem “The Road Not Taken” after a walk they took together in Dymock.
Having established a reputation across the pond, Frost returned to the United States in 1915 a celebrated literary figure. An American edition of North of Boston was published the same year, and periodicals that had once turned away his work now clamoured for it.
7. He suffered with depression
Born to an alcoholic father and a mother who managed depression, Frost was plagued throughout his life by the effects of mental illness on both himself and those closest to him. He committed his sister Jeanie to a Maine state mental hospital in 1920 where she died 9 years later, his son Carol died by suicide in 1940, and his daughter Irma was committed to a mental hospital in 1947.
Poetry remained Frost’s way of making sense of the world.
8. The State of Vermont named a mountain after him
Ripton, the town of his legal residence, name a mountain after Frost, who remains the only poet to have been awarded four Pulitzer Prizes. In 1924, Frost won his first Pulitzer for New Hampshire: A Poem with Notes and Grace Notes.
His most famous poems include “The Road Not Taken,” “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “Mending Wall,” “The Death of the Hired Man” and “After Apple-Picking.” Frost was also nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature 31 times, and was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.
9. He did not just write poetry
Frost’s play “A Way Out” was produced in New York City in 1918. He also wrote several prose works including an autobiography, “The Education of Henry Adams”.
10. He read a poem at the inauguration of President Kennedy in 1961
Kennedy was a big fan of Frost’s poetry, often reciting the final lines from “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” to end many of his campaign speeches, “But I have promises to keep/And miles to go before I sleep”.
Frost wrote a poem called “Dedication” especially for Kennedy’s inauguration, but the day’s bright sunlight made it almost impossible to read. Instead, he recited “The Gift Outright”, which Kennedy had originally asked him to read. Kennedy had also requested the final line be changed from “Such as she was. Such as she would become,” to “Such as she was. Such as she will become”, inspiring hope in the new administration.
Frost died in Boston on 29 January 1963 after developing complications from prostate surgery, and was buried in the Old Bennington Cemetery in Bennington, Vermont alongside his wife Elinor and four of their children. Frost’s epitaph reads “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world”, the last line of his poem “The Lesson for Today”.