Born in San Francisco, California in 1875, Robert (Lee) Frost was the son of school teachers. His father, who had sympathies with the South, christened his son Robert Lee. After the death of her husband, Frost’s mother took the children back to New England where, for eight generations, his forefathers had lived. Although Frost ultimately became known as the interpreter of New England, his poems which later became famous were unanimously rejected by the magazines of the day and he remained completely unknown for 20 years, yet still kept writing.
Frost entered Harvard in 1897 and after two years began to teach there, following in the footsteps of his parents. He also made shoes, edited a weekly paper and in 1900 became a farmer at Derry, New Hampshire, where he labored for 11 years to make a scant living.
In 1912 he sailed with his wife and four children to England where he finally began to move in literary circles and wrote most of his longer narrative poems. He took his work to a publisher with few hopes, but his “A Boy’s Will” was accepted and published in 1913. Finally Frost was recognized as one of the authentic voices of modern poetry. A book, “North of Boston,” followed in 1914, intensely American, but also published in England, then reprinted in the United States.
Frost left America an unknown writer. When he returned with his family to New Hampshire in 1915, he was famous. Honors were awarded to him and within 10 years several universities conferred degrees upon him. He became “professor in residence” at Amherst and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for the best volume of poetry published that year, the first of four Pulitzer Prizes he would win.
He was invited to read a poem at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration and blinded by the sun could not read the script he had prepared, so recited a poem by heart, “The Gift Outright,” (below) a poem he had written 20 years earlier. Robert Frost died in his sleep January 30, 1963 — he was 88 years old.
Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The Woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The Gift Outright
The land was ours before we were the land’s.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia;
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.