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Frost, Robert

Category: Poet

Robert  Frost ( 1874 – 1963) was one of the most popular and critically respected American poets of his generation.  He was honored frequently during his lifetime, receiving four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry.

Frost was born in San Francisco. His mother was of Scottish descent, and his father descended from Nicholas Frost of Tiverton, Devon.  After college,  Frost returned home to teach and to work at various jobs – including helping his mother teach , delivering newspapers, and working in a factory as an arclight carbon filament changer. He did not enjoy these jobs, feeling his true calling was poetry.

Robert and his wife Elinor
The Frost family in Bridgewater, New Hampshire.

Frost attended Harvard University from 1897–1899, but he left voluntarily due to illness. Shortly before dying, Robert's grandfather purchased a farm for Robert and his wife Elinor in Derry, New Hampshire; and Robert worked the farm for nine years, while writing early in the mornings and producing many of the poems that would later become famous. Ultimately his farming proved unsuccessful and he returned to the field of education as an English teacher.

 

In 1912 Frost sailed with his family to Great Britain, settling first in Beaconsfield, a small town outside London. His first book of poetry, A Boy's Will, was published the next year.

As World War I began, Frost returned to America in 1915 and bought a farm in Franconia, New Hampshire, where he launched a career of writing, teaching and lecturing. This family homestead served as the Frosts' summer home until 1938.

Robert Frost's personal life was plagued with grief and loss. In 1885 when Frost was 11, his father died of tuberculosis, leaving the family with just eight dollars.

Frost's mother died of cancer in 1900.

In 1920, Frost had to commit his younger sister Jeanie to a mental hospital, where she died nine years later. Mental illness apparently ran in Frost's family, as both he and his mother suffered from depression, and his daughter Irma was committed to a mental hospital in 1947. Frost's wife, Elinor, also experienced bouts of depression. 

Elinor and Robert Frost had six children: 

  • son Elliot (1896–1904) -  died of cholera
  • daughter Lesley Frost Ballantine (1899–1983) survived Robert
  • son Carol (1902–1940) -  committed suicide
  • daughter Irma (1903–1967) survived Robert
  • daughter Marjorie (1905–1934), died as a result of puerperal fever after childbirth
  • daughter Elinor Bettina  - died just three days after her birth in 1907

Only Lesley and Irma outlived their father. Frost's wife, who had heart problems throughout her life, developed breast cancer in 1937, and died of heart failure in 1938.

Frost was 86 when he performed a reading of his well-known poem "The Gift Outright" at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy on January 20, 1961.

Frost died in Boston two years later, on January 29, 1963, of complications from prostate surgery.  His epitaph quotes the last line from one of his poems:

"I had a lover's quarrel with the world."

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