Robert Frost : Life and Poetical Works

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Life of Robert Frost

      Robert Frost was born is San Francisco on 26th March, 1874. His family was from New England. Frost's mother was a poetess herself and wanted to name her son after Robert Burns, the great Scot poet (Frost's mother was a Scot). Frost's father wanted to name him after General Lee, hence Frost's full name is Robert Lee Frost. As a child, Frost was sickly and neurotic Frost's father died of tuberculosis when Frost was only eleven and the mother was apprehensive of a similar fate for him. Frost with his family went to New England to have his father's remains buried there. They had to settle down in Salem in New Hampshire because they had no money to return.

Robert Frost was born is San Francisco on 26th March, 1874. His family was from New England. Frost's mother was a poetess herself and wanted to name her son after Robert Burns, the great Scot poet (Frost's mother was a Scot). Frost's father wanted to name him after General Lee, hence Frost's full name is Robert Lee Frost.
Robert Frost

      To support the family, Frost's mother took up a teaching job. Frost joined Dartsmouth College in 1892. As early as his schooling in Lawrence High School, Frost displayed an intense pleasure in scholarship. Since 1892 onwards Frost tried to supplement his mother's meagre income with whatever he could earn. For this he did any kind of job from working in mills to newspaper reporting. However, he wrote poetry whenever he found time. The year 1894 saw the publication of his first poem My Butterfly in New York Independent and not very late after that he published six of his poems in a booklet entitled Twilight.

      In 1895, Robert Frost married his school-fellow Elinor White and tried to settle down as a school-teacher. He spent two years as a student at Harvard College, preparing himself for college-teaching. Then he felt that the academic atmosphere was not congenial to him. He tried to settle down to poultry-farming. In 1906, he suffered a severe and almost fatal attack of pneumonia - so much so that his doctor and Frost himself considered his survival a miracle. Since then onward Frost turned to writing of poetry more and more as a consolation. He did sell a few of his poems, occasionally. But due to financial troubles he turned back to his old love-school-teaching, tas time at Pinkerton Academy.

      In 1912, Robert Frost made the crucial decision of his life. He chose poetry for his vocation. He left for England with his wife and four children, after having sold his farm. They went to England and settled in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. Within six months of his arrival in England, Frost decided to publish a collection of his early poems. His first volume of lyrics was published by the first publisher to whom he offered. It was published in 1913 itself under the title A Boy's Will.

      Frost returned to America in 1915, bought a small farm in Franconia, New England, and hoped to live the quiet life of a farmer. But his fame called upon him to give several public lectures. Throughout his life he went about buying and developing several farms - in Vermont and then Florida. His poetic career was studded with honours such as membership in the American Academy and the award of the Pulitzer Prize. At the inauguration of President Kennedy, Frost was invited to recite his poem The Gift Outright. Robert Frost died in January 1963.

Works of Robert Frost: The Evolution of Poetic Genius


      (i) A Boy's Will (1913): A Boy's Will is Frost's first published volume of poems. The title of the collection is derived from one of Longfellow's poems:

...A boy's will is the wind's will And the thoughts of youth are long thoughts...

      This volume is an adumbration of the characteristics to be found later throughout Frost's poetry. The themes of the poems in this volume - nostalgia, stoicism, a feeling of unity with country things - are constant themes of Frost's poetry. With the passing of years it is only the approach that changes and becomes more direct and confident. Some poems like Mowing and Reluctance are difficult to date if one came across them at random. The best poems of this volume have germs of typically Frostian wedding of aphorism and description. Sometimes the moral is tagged on to the poem, but we should keep in mind that it is only a beginning. Frost's subtlety, clothed in an almost deceptive garb of simplicity is also clearly visible. "One feels that this man has seen and felt; seen with a revelatory, creative vision; felt personally and intensely; and he simply writes down, without confusion or affectation, the result there of. Rarely today is it our fortune to fall in with a new poet expressing himself in so pure a vein"

      (ii) North of Boston (1914): Frost's next volume of poetry was published only a year later in 1914. Within this period, the poetry of Robert Frost had acquired certain new features. In this volume, Frost's natural inclination towards the dramatic comes to the forefront. He reveals himself a master of the dramatic monologue and displays his interest in, and knowledge of, abnormal psychology. The Mountain, Home Burial, The Code are some poems that are ample evidence of Frost's capacity of handling conversation in verse forms. Amy Lowell points out very rightly that "Mr. Frost has reproduced both people and scenery with a vividness which is extraordinary". She was reviewing the volume entitled North of Boston.

      (iii) Mountain Interval (1916): This third volume of poems contains a much wider range of poems than any of the earlier volumes. It contains reflective lyrics, love poems, narrative pieces and aphoristic descriptive poems. Talking about his poems on natural objects, a well-known critic says"...poems on natural objects.. the poet is always concerned with them not as foci for mystical meditation or starting points of fantasy, but as things with which and on which man acts in the course of daily work of gaining a livelihood."

      (iv) New Hampshire (1923): This collection of poems was published in 1923, after an interval of seven years. This volume contains some of Frost's best-known poems. The prestigious Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening and The Need of Being Versed in Country Things are poems from this volume that have made a permanent place for themselves in anthologies of poems in the English language. Reflection and colloquialism, simplicity and reticence are qualities that are distinctly visible in this collection. Elizabeth Jennings feels that in New Hampshire Frost is revealed in his full powers. The sheer exultant energy in this book, the assurance, delight, and skill with different poetic forms are clearly displayed here. In later poems, Frost may go more deeply and more darkly into his overriding themes, pre occupations, and obsessions, but New Hampshire shows us at least the adumbrations of his finest later work. Nothing could surprise us after we have read this book - and nothing could surprise us simply because anything and everything now seems possible to the poet." Judging the prominent qualities of Frost's poetry as dispassionately as is humanly possible, Jennings goes on to say: "In the very simplicity of these lines we have the unaffected originality of Frost. With absolute freedom from contemporary fashions, technical trickery or the latest erudite, slang, Frost has created a poetry which is at once full of heat and humour, a poetry that belongs not only to the America of our own day but to the richest records of English verse."

     (v) West-Running Brook (1928): The title of the volume West-Running Brook is especially significant. The poet is like the West-Running Brook, in that, he entrusts himself to contraries. The brook too, runs towards the west, unlike other brooks that run to the east to flow into the ocean. The stoic theme of resistance and self-realization is there in many poems of the volume. Nature seems to have grown more aggressive, more hostile and man more cool, calm and heroic. These poems show Frost's varied interests in religion, astronomy and philosophical reflection. The sonnet Acquainted Uith the Night - a poem that has been admired even by critics like Yvor Winters - is included in this volume.

      (vi) A Further Range (1936): By the time A Further Range was published, Frost had already stepped into his sixty-second year. The volume contains poems that are categorised within two significant captions - taken Doubly and Taken Singly. The desire to sermonize had become a pestering obsession with him by now. "This is Frost at his most stubbornly schoolmasterish and also, perhaps, at his most unattractive. There is no subtlety here, no self- questioning, no doubt. We prefer a poet, even the greatest, when he is least assured about things, when his confidence is tempered by self-distrust and by indecision. It is not that vacillation is in itself poetically appealing, but rather that too overt an assertion, too knowledgeable and assured an attitude destroys that element in all poetry which is perhaps, the most satisfying and lasting. I mean an attitude of mind which can ask questions and, by simply asking, make a complete poetic statement".

      (vii) A Witness Tree (1942): A Witness Tree contains some of the best lyrics by Frost, among which The Silken Tent stands out. The Gift Outright is one of Frost's best poems and is generally acknowledged as the best patriotic poem on America. The Subverted Flower is a class in itself and stands apart from Frost's other poetry - it is a peep into man's constant struggle between instinct and thought.

      (vii) Steeple Bush: Steeple Bush is a volume in which Frost comes down heavily on the scientist who thinks himself capable of knowing anything and everything. In An Afterward to this volume there were only three poems.

      (ix) Two Masques: A Masque of Reason (1945). This poem seeks to get a straight answer from God for His bewildering treatment of Job and the rest of the human race. God tells Job, who is the representative of men, that he should not complain of any lack of design in the universe. He must have faith, because his limited intelligence cannot prove His mysteries. It is a dramatic poem on a large scale and is concerned with man's relation to God. A Masque of Mercy (1947), expresses the theme that the difficulties of this world serve as a trial ground for the progress of the human soul. Frost insists that man should not give way to fear that life is of no avail, but work with courage and faith in the field allotted to him. Masque of Mercy presents Frost as almost completed. The poet's own words are worthy of attention, "I have at last had the idea I needed for the final touch too". In this Masque the poet has the advantages of being more concise in verse. This poem is not precisely either a play or pure lyric: like Pope's An Essay on Man, though less didactic, it is a sauve poem. Marion Montgomery says about this masque: "Frost's latest comments on man's position are made in A Masque of Mercy. The two Masques satisfied the poet's soul to dabble in religious drama".

      (x) In The Clearing (1962): As a collection of verse, it has enjoyed the largest sale in America. The poems of In The Clearing have a unity of purpose and tone just as the eleven volumes that preceded his final book of poems were unified. The poet seeks a lasting clarification of his beliefs, an enduring rather than "a momentary stay against confusion". The collection represents the ripe wisdom of the poet. This 101 page volume was received with great admiration by the general public. W.G.O Donnell found the bardic tone of this volume as its distinctive quality. The volume is remarkable because of its lyricism, the excellence of blank verse, the music of the lines of the optimistic content of many poems. Jean Gould's words are notable in this connection: "The Frontispiece of the book, howevera lyrical stanza from Kitty Hawk seeks to be a positive statement of the poet's deeply religious feeling, more akin to the mysticism of Emerson, Thoreau or Emily Dickinson than to any organised religious or conventional concept of God".

      Conclusion: Thus we have seen that from the very early stages, Frost's works bear his stamp. Randall Jarrell feels that Frost's early and later works are very different. It is undeniable that Frost's works are recognizably his from the very beginning and continue to be so.

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