Robert Frost

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Frost, Robert,

1874–1963, American poet, b. San Francisco. Perhaps the most popular and beloved of 20th-century American poets, Frost wrote of the character, people, and landscape of New England in a spare, solidly American language, but his lyrical yet frequently bleak, dramatic, and often deeply symbolic verse goes far beyond regional poetry.

He was taken to Lawrence, Mass., his family's home for generations, at the age of 10. After studying briefly at Dartmouth, he worked as a bobbin boy in a cotton mill, a cobbler, a schoolteacher, and a journalist; he later entered Harvard but left after two years to try farming. In 1912 he went to England, where he received his first acclaim as a poet. After the publication of A Boy's Will (1913) and North of Boston (1914), he returned to the United States, settling on a farm near Franconia, N.H. Frost taught and lectured at several universities, including Amherst, Harvard, and the Univ. of Michigan. In later life he was accorded many honors; he made several goodwill trips for the U.S. State Dept., and in 1961 he recited his poem "The Gift Outright" at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy.

Among Frost's volumes of poetry are New Hampshire (1923), West-running Brook (1928), Collected Poems (1930), A Further Range (1936), A Witness Tree (1942), Steeple Bush (1947), and In the Clearing (1962). A Masque of Reason (1945) and A Masque of Mercy (1947) were blank verse plays. Although his work is rooted in the New England landscape, Frost was no mere regional poet. The careful local observations and homely details of his poems often have deep symbolic, even metaphysical, significance. His poems are concerned with human tragedies and fears, his reaction to the complexities of life, and his ultimate acceptance of his burdens. Frost was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1924, 1931, 1937, and 1943. Frost's critical reputation has recently rebounded after a period when his poetry was often criticized for being old-fashioned.


See his complete poems (1967) and collected poems, prose, and plays (1995, ed. by R. Poirier and M. Richardson); his letters, ed. by A. Grade (1972) and ed. by D. Sheehy et al. (vol. 1, 2014); biographies by M. L. Mertens (1965), L. R. Thompson (3 vol., 1966–76, vol. III with R. H. Winnick), W. H. Pritchard (1985), S. Burnshaw (1986), J. Meyers (1996), and J. Parini (1999); studies by R. A. Brower (1963), F. Lentricchia (1975), R. Poirier (1977), and T. Kendall (2012).

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Frost, Robert (Lee)

(1874–1963) poet, teacher; born in San Francisco. He studied at Dartmouth College (1892) and Harvard (1897–99) but never took a degree. He was a mill worker and teacher (1892–97), a farmer in New Hampshire (1900–12), and lived in England (1912–15); his first volume of poems, A Boy's Will, was published there (1913). Upon his return to New Hampshire he settled on a farm but he taught at many universities and colleges in the ensuing years. He was a founder of the Bread Loaf School, Middlebury, Vt., (1920) and was poetry consultant to the Library of Congress (1958). He was often honored for his work, and in later years he cultivated the image of America's poet laureate; this climaxed when he read his poem "A Gift Outright" at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy (1961). Although those who knew him best admitted that he could be prickly, even nasty, none denied his achievements as a poet. His work is distinguished by its everyday language, New England settings, and the natural world, as in North of Boston (1914). Individual poems, such as "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," "Mending Wall," and "The Death of a Hired Man," have ensured his popularity as well as critical acclaim.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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