Robert Frost Biography

Robert Frost was a famous American poet and playwright, well known for his mastery over colloquial American language and the realistic portrayal of rural life in his poems. He is arguably one of the most popular poets of the early 20th century.

Quick Facts

Nickname: Frosty, Bob

Date of Birth: 26th March, 1874

Place of Birth:  San Francisco, California

Origin: Scottish-English

Profession: Poet, Playwright

Known for: Poet


Childhood and Growing Years

Robert Lee Frost was born in the year 1874 to father William Prescott Frost (Jr.) who was a journalist, and mother Isabelle Moodie. His father was English, and his mother was of Scottish descent. His father died due to tuberculosis when he was just around eleven, post which his family moved to Massachusetts to live with his paternal grandparents. He graduated in 1892 from Lawrence High School in Massachusetts.

He grew up in the city, and after graduating high school, he attended Dartmouth University for a few months. For the next decade, he worked various odd jobs including factory jobs and delivering newspapers, all the while continuing to write poetry.

He was able to sell his first poem in 1894, called “My Butterfly: An Elegy”. He got fifteen dollars for it, and was very happy about his achievement. He then proposed marriage to Elinor White, but she wanted to finish her college degree before saying yes. After she graduated, they were married in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1895.

He attended Harvard University for studying Liberal Arts there for two years (1897-1899), but it proved difficult to support his family and study at the same time, and his health was taking a turn for the worse, too. So he voluntarily left Harvard without finishing his degree.

He and Elinor then moved to a farm that his grandfather had bought for them, in New Hampshire. And this is where he worked for nine years, all the while never giving up on his writing. His attempt at farming was not too successful, and he was unhappy leading that life, so he moved back to the education sector, landing a job as an English teacher at the Pinkerton Academy in New Hampshire for five years. (1906-1911). He had 6 children with Elinor by this time, and two of them had died at a very early age, leaving him with just 4 children.

Claim to Fame

In 1912, Robert Frost had almost given up on finding a publisher for his poems; as he was almost 40 by then and only very few of his poems had been published by then. In August 1912, he sold the farm, and decided to start a new life with the proceeds in London, to try his hand one last time to get his poems published. The people in London were more receptive to his poetry, and he found quite a few takers. He made an acquaintance with Ezra Pound, who was a fellow American poet, and who introduced him to many people in the literary field and helped him get a few of his works published in magazines.

His first publication was A Boy’s Will in the year 1913,and it was well received and appreciated by readers and critics alike. Though it was written in traditional nineteenth-century language, the tone was informal and simple and something everyone could relate to. The success of A Boy’s Will cleared the way for his next publication North of Boston, which was published in 1914. This was mainly made up of blank verse, and catchy monologues and dramatic narratives which captivated the readers. He created a niche for himself with these two works, showing his prowess in lyrics as well as narrative.

He returned to the U.S with his family in 1915, and by then he and his poems were internationally known. He was not used to the limelight that his sudden fame brought to him, and he withdrew from the public eye for a few months on a farm in New Hampshire. But he couldn’t hide forever, and financial requirements took precedence over his shy demeanor and he started to accept requests for readings and lectures.

He taught for many years thereafter, accepting a residential teaching position fellowship at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where he taught until 1927.

For nearly 40 years (1921- 1963), he taught at the Bread Loaf School of English in Middlebury College in its Vermont Campus. He did a reading of his famous poem “The Gift Outright” at the presidential inaugural ceremony of John F. Kennedy when he was 86 years old. This was a first in American History.

He died on 26th January, 1963 in Boston. He was 88, and died of complications from a prostate surgery. He is currently buried in Bennington, Vermont at the Old Bennington Cemetery. His gravestone reads “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”

Awards and Nominations

He won four Pulitzer Prizes for volumes of his poems; in 1924, 1931, 1937 and 1943 for his collections; New Hampshire: A Poem With Notes and Grace Notes, Collected Poems, A Further Range and A Witness Tree.

He was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in the year 1962 by President Kennedy.

He received an honorary degree from Harvard in 1965. He also received honorary degrees from Cambridge, Oxford and Bates Universities. He was also the first person to ever get two honorary degrees from Dartmouth.

Personal Quotes

“A diplomat is a man who always remembers a woman’s birthday but never remembers her age.”

“A civilized society is one which tolerates eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity.”

“Always fall in with what you’re asked to accept. Take what is given, and make it over your way. My aim in life has always been to hold my own with whatever’s going. Not against: with.”

“By working faithfully eight hours a day you may eventually get to be boss and work twelve hours a day.”

“Education doesn’t change life much. It just lifts trouble to a higher plane of regard.”

“Forgive me my nonsense, as I also forgive the nonsense of those that think they talk sense.”

“I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering.”

“I hold it to be the inalienable right of anybody to go to hell in his own way.”

“Good fences make good neighbours.”

“You’ve got to love what’s lovable, and hate what’s hateable. It takes brains to see the difference.”

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