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Robert Frost Library

Robert Frost Library

The Robert Frost Library is the main collection of Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts, one of the premier liberal arts colleges in the nation. Named after the great poet Robert Frost, its main aim is to provide a congenial environment for research and study.The library is housed in a six-story, 120,000-square-foot building on the site of Walker Hill, which was home to the college’s Departments of Mathematics, Astronomy, and Natural Philosophy for many years.The library’s groundbreaking ceremony was held in October 1963. On that occasion, President John F. Kennedy spoke at the convocation. The library was opened to the public in 1965.One of the library's most interesting sections is Archives and Special Collections, on Level A. The College History room, reading room, and exhibition area also are on Level A.The Access Service Department and the Media Center are other important sections in the library. The Media Center caters to the classroom's media needs by maintaining an array of DVDs, videos, 16mm films, and laser discs.


Robert Frost

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Robert Frost, in full Robert Lee Frost, (born March 26, 1874, San Francisco, California, U.S.—died January 29, 1963, Boston, Massachusetts), American poet who was much admired for his depictions of the rural life of New England, his command of American colloquial speech, and his realistic verse portraying ordinary people in everyday situations.

When was Robert Frost born, and when did he die?

Robert Frost was born in 1874, and he died in 1963 at the age of 88.

Who were Robert Frost’s children, and when did they live?

Elliott was born in 1896 and died of cholera in 1900. Lesley lived 1899–1983. Carol was born in 1902 and committed suicide in 1940. Irma lived 1903–67. Marjorie was born in 1905 and died from childbirth in 1934. Elinor was born in 1907 and lived only three days.

What was Robert Frost known for?

Robert Frost was known for his depictions of rural New England life, his grasp of colloquial speech, and his poetry about ordinary people in everyday situations.

What were Robert Frost’s most famous poems?

Robert Frost’s most famous poems included “The Gift Outright,” “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “Birches,” “Mending Wall,” “The Road Not Taken,” and “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”

Frost’s father, William Prescott Frost, Jr., was a journalist with ambitions of establishing a career in California, and in 1873 he and his wife moved to San Francisco. Her husband’s untimely death from tuberculosis in 1885 prompted Isabelle Moodie Frost to take her two children, Robert and Jeanie, to Lawrence, Massachusetts, where they were taken in by the children’s paternal grandparents. While their mother taught at a variety of schools in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, Robert and Jeanie grew up in Lawrence, and Robert graduated from high school in 1892. A top student in his class, he shared valedictorian honours with Elinor White, with whom he had already fallen in love.

Robert and Elinor shared a deep interest in poetry, but their continued education sent Robert to Dartmouth College and Elinor to St. Lawrence University. Meanwhile, Robert continued to labour on the poetic career he had begun in a small way during high school he first achieved professional publication in 1894 when The Independent, a weekly literary journal, printed his poem “My Butterfly: An Elegy.” Impatient with academic routine, Frost left Dartmouth after less than a year. He and Elinor married in 1895 but found life difficult, and the young poet supported them by teaching school and farming, neither with notable success. During the next dozen years, six children were born, two of whom died early, leaving a family of one son and three daughters. Frost resumed his college education at Harvard University in 1897 but left after two years’ study there. From 1900 to 1909 the family raised poultry on a farm near Derry, New Hampshire, and for a time Frost also taught at the Pinkerton Academy in Derry. Frost became an enthusiastic botanist and acquired his poetic persona of a New England rural sage during the years he and his family spent at Derry. All this while he was writing poems, but publishing outlets showed little interest in them.

By 1911 Frost was fighting against discouragement. Poetry had always been considered a young person’s game, but Frost, who was nearly 40 years old, had not published a single book of poems and had seen just a handful appear in magazines. In 1911 ownership of the Derry farm passed to Frost. A momentous decision was made: to sell the farm and use the proceeds to make a radical new start in London, where publishers were perceived to be more receptive to new talent. Accordingly, in August 1912 the Frost family sailed across the Atlantic to England. Frost carried with him sheaves of verses he had written but not gotten into print. English publishers in London did indeed prove more receptive to innovative verse, and, through his own vigorous efforts and those of the expatriate American poet Ezra Pound, Frost within a year had published A Boy’s Will (1913). From this first book, such poems as “Storm Fear,” “The Tuft of Flowers,” and “Mowing” became standard anthology pieces.

A Boy’s Will was followed in 1914 by a second collection, North of Boston, that introduced some of the most popular poems in all of Frost’s work, among them “Mending Wall,” “The Death of the Hired Man,” “Home Burial,” and “After Apple-Picking.” In London, Frost’s name was frequently mentioned by those who followed the course of modern literature, and soon American visitors were returning home with news of this unknown poet who was causing a sensation abroad. The Boston poet Amy Lowell traveled to England in 1914, and in the bookstores there she encountered Frost’s work. Taking his books home to America, Lowell then began a campaign to locate an American publisher for them, meanwhile writing her own laudatory review of North of Boston.

Without his being fully aware of it, Frost was on his way to fame. The outbreak of World War I brought the Frosts back to the United States in 1915. By then Amy Lowell’s review had already appeared in The New Republic, and writers and publishers throughout the Northeast were aware that a writer of unusual abilities stood in their midst. The American publishing house of Henry Holt had brought out its edition of North of Boston in 1914. It became a best-seller, and, by the time the Frost family landed in Boston, Holt was adding the American edition of A Boy’s Will. Frost soon found himself besieged by magazines seeking to publish his poems. Never before had an American poet achieved such rapid fame after such a disheartening delay. From this moment his career rose on an ascending curve.

Frost bought a small farm at Franconia, New Hampshire, in 1915, but his income from both poetry and farming proved inadequate to support his family, and so he lectured and taught part-time at Amherst College and at the University of Michigan from 1916 to 1938. Any remaining doubt about his poetic abilities was dispelled by the collection Mountain Interval (1916), which continued the high level established by his first books. His reputation was further enhanced by New Hampshire (1923), which received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. That prize was also awarded to Frost’s Collected Poems (1930) and to the collections A Further Range (1936) and A Witness Tree (1942). His other poetry volumes include West-Running Brook (1928), Steeple Bush (1947), and In the Clearing (1962). Frost served as a poet-in-residence at Harvard (1939–43), Dartmouth (1943–49), and Amherst College (1949–63), and in his old age he gathered honours and awards from every quarter. He was the poetry consultant to the Library of Congress (1958–59 the post was later styled poet laureate consultant in poetry), and his recital of his poem “The Gift Outright” at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in 1961 was a memorable occasion .


Robert Frost

Robert Frost was born in San Francisco, but his family moved to Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1884 following his father&rsquos death. The move was actually a return, for Frost&rsquos ancestors were originally New Englanders, and Frost became famous for his poetry&rsquos engagement with New England locales, identities, and themes. Frost graduated from Lawrence High School, in 1892, as class poet (he also shared the honor of co-valedictorian with his wife-to-be Elinor White), and two years later, the New York Independent accepted his poem entitled &ldquoMy Butterfly,&rdquo launching his status as a professional poet with a check for $15.00. Frost's first book was published around the age of 40, but he would go on to win a record four Pulitzer Prizes and become the most famous poet of his time, before his death at the age of 88.

To celebrate his first publication, Frost had a book of six poems privately printed two copies of Twilight were made&mdashone for himself and one for his fiancee. Over the next eight years, however, he succeeded in having only 13 more poems published. During this time, Frost sporadically attended Dartmouth and Harvard and earned a living teaching school and, later, working a farm in Derry, New Hampshire. But in 1912, discouraged by American magazines&rsquo constant rejection of his work, he took his family to England, where he found more professional success. Continuing to write about New England, he had two books published, A Boy&rsquos Will (1913) and North of Boston (1914), which established his reputation so that his return to the United States in 1915 was as a celebrated literary figure. Holt put out an American edition of North of Boston in 1915, and periodicals that had once scorned his work now sought it.

Frost&rsquos position in American letters was cemented with the publication of North of Boston, and in the years before his death he came to be considered the unofficial poet laureate of the United States. On his 75th birthday, the US Senate passed a resolution in his honor which said, &ldquoHis poems have helped to guide American thought and humor and wisdom, setting forth to our minds a reliable representation of ourselves and of all men.&rdquo In 1955, the State of Vermont named a mountain after him in Ripton, the town of his legal residence and at the presidential inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961, Frost was given the unprecedented honor of being asked to read a poem. Frost wrote a poem called &ldquoDedication&rdquo for the occasion, but could not read it given the day&rsquos harsh sunlight. He instead recited &ldquoThe Gift Outright,&rdquo which Kennedy had originally asked him to read, with a revised, more forward-looking, last line.

Though Frost allied himself with no literary school or movement, the imagists helped at the start to promote his American reputation. Poetry: A Magazine of Verse published his work before others began to clamor for it. It also published a review by Ezra Pound of the British edition of A Boy&rsquos Will, which Pound said &ldquohas the tang of the New Hampshire woods, and it has just this utter sincerity. It is not post-Miltonic or post-Swinburnian or post Kiplonian. This man has the good sense to speak naturally and to paint the thing, the thing as he sees it.&rdquo Amy Lowell reviewed North of Boston in the New Republic, and she, too, sang Frost&rsquos praises: &ldquoHe writes in classic metres in a way to set the teeth of all the poets of the older schools on edge and he writes in classic metres, and uses inversions and cliches whenever he pleases, those devices so abhorred by the newest generation. He goes his own way, regardless of anyone else&rsquos rules, and the result is a book of unusual power and sincerity.&rdquo In these first two volumes, Frost introduced not only his affection for New England themes and his unique blend of traditional meters and colloquialism, but also his use of dramatic monologues and dialogues. &ldquoMending Wall,&rdquo the leading poem in North of Boston, describes the friendly argument between the speaker and his neighbor as they walk along their common wall replacing fallen stones their differing attitudes toward &ldquoboundaries&rdquo offer symbolic significance typical of the poems in these early collections.

Mountain Interval marked Frost&rsquos turn to another kind of poem, a brief meditation sparked by an object, person or event. Like the monologues and dialogues, these short pieces have a dramatic quality. &ldquoBirches,&rdquo discussed above, is an example, as is &ldquoThe Road Not Taken,&rdquo in which a fork in a woodland path transcends the specific. The distinction of this volume, the Boston Transcript said, &ldquois that Mr. Frost takes the lyricism of A Boy&rsquos Will and plays a deeper music and gives a more intricate variety of experience.&rdquo

Several new qualities emerged in Frost&rsquos work with the appearance of New Hampshire (1923), particularly a new self-consciousness and willingness to speak of himself and his art. The volume, for which Frost won his first Pulitzer Prize, &ldquopretends to be nothing but a long poem with notes and grace notes,&rdquo as Louis Untermeyer described it. The title poem, approximately fourteen pages long, is a &ldquorambling tribute&rdquo to Frost&rsquos favorite state and &ldquois starred and dotted with scientific numerals in the manner of the most profound treatise.&rdquo Thus, a footnote at the end of a line of poetry will refer the reader to another poem seemingly inserted to merely reinforce the text of &ldquoNew Hampshire.&rdquo Some of these poems are in the form of epigrams, which appear for the first time in Frost&rsquos work. &ldquoFire and Ice,&rdquo for example, one of the better known epigrams, speculates on the means by which the world will end. Frost&rsquos most famous and, according to J. McBride Dabbs, most perfect lyric, &ldquoStopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,&rdquo is also included in this collection conveying &ldquothe insistent whisper of death at the heart of life,&rdquo the poem portrays a speaker who stops his sleigh in the midst of a snowy woods only to be called from the inviting gloom by the recollection of practical duties. Frost himself said of this poem that it is the kind he&rsquod like to print on one page followed with &ldquoforty pages of footnotes.&rdquo

West-Running Brook (1928), Frost&rsquos fifth book of poems, is divided into six sections, one of which is taken up entirely by the title poem. This poem refers to a brook which perversely flows west instead of east to the Atlantic like all other brooks. A comparison is set up between the brook and the poem&rsquos speaker who trusts himself to go by &ldquocontraries&rdquo further rebellious elements exemplified by the brook give expression to an eccentric individualism, Frost&rsquos stoic theme of resistance and self-realization. Reviewing the collection in the New York Herald Tribune, Babette Deutsch wrote: &ldquoThe courage that is bred by a dark sense of Fate, the tenderness that broods over mankind in all its blindness and absurdity, the vision that comes to rest as fully on kitchen smoke and lapsing snow as on mountains and stars&mdashthese are his, and in his seemingly casual poetry, he quietly makes them ours.&rdquo

A Further Range (1936), which earned Frost another Pulitzer Prize and was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, contains two groups of poems subtitled &ldquoTaken Doubly&rdquo and &ldquoTaken Singly.&rdquo In the first, and more interesting, of these groups, the poems are somewhat didactic, though there are humorous and satiric pieces as well. Included here is &ldquoTwo Tramps in Mud Time,&rdquo which opens with the story of two itinerant lumbermen who offer to cut the speaker&rsquos wood for pay the poem then develops into a sermon on the relationship between work and play, vocation and avocation, preaching the necessity to unite them. Of the entire volume, William Rose Benét wrote, &ldquoIt is better worth reading than nine-tenths of the books that will come your way this year. In a time when all kinds of insanity are assailing the nations it is good to listen to this quiet humor, even about a hen, a hornet, or Square Matthew. . And if anybody should ask me why I still believe in my land, I have only to put this book in his hand and answer, &lsquoWell-here is a man of my country.&rsquo&rdquo Most critics acknowledge that Frost&rsquos poetry in the 1940s and ཮s grew more and more abstract, cryptic, and even sententious, so it is generally on the basis of his earlier work that he is judged. His politics and religious faith, hitherto informed by skepticism and local color, became more and more the guiding principles of his work. He had been, as Randall Jarrell points out, &ldquoa very odd and very radical radical when young&rdquo yet became &ldquosometimes callously and unimaginatively conservative&rdquo in his old age. He had become a public figure, and in the years before his death, much of his poetry was written from this stance.

Reviewing A Witness Tree (1942) in Books, Wilbert Snow noted a few poems &ldquowhich have a right to stand with the best things he has written&rdquo: &ldquoCome In,&rdquo &ldquoThe Silken Tent,&rdquo and &ldquoCarpe Diem&rdquo especially. Yet Snow went on: &ldquoSome of the poems here are little more than rhymed fancies others lack the bullet-like unity of structure to be found in North of Boston.&rdquo On the other hand, Stephen Vincent Benet felt that Frost had &ldquonever written any better poems than some of those in this book.&rdquo Similarly, critics were let down by In the Clearing (1962). One wrote, &ldquoAlthough this reviewer considers Robert Frost to be the foremost contemporary U.S. poet, he regretfully must state that most of the poems in this new volume are disappointing. . [They] often are closer to jingles than to the memorable poetry we associate with his name.&rdquo Another maintained that &ldquothe bulk of the book consists of poems of &lsquophilosophic talk.&rsquo Whether you like them or not depends mostly on whether you share the &lsquophilosophy.&rsquo&rdquo

Indeed, many readers do share Frost&rsquos philosophy, and still others who do not nevertheless continue to find delight and significance in his large body of poetry. In October, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered a speech at the dedication of the Robert Frost Library in Amherst, Massachusetts. &ldquoIn honoring Robert Frost,&rdquo the President said, &ldquowe therefore can pay honor to the deepest source of our national strength. That strength takes many forms and the most obvious forms are not always the most significant. . Our national strength matters but the spirit which informs and controls our strength matters just as much. This was the special significance of Robert Frost.&rdquo The poet would probably have been pleased by such recognition, for he had said once, in an interview with Harvey Breit: &ldquoOne thing I care about, and wish young people could care about, is taking poetry as the first form of understanding. If poetry isn&rsquot understanding all, the whole world, then it isn&rsquot worth anything.&rdquo

Frost&rsquos poetry is revered to this day. When a previously unknown poem by Frost titled &ldquoWar Thoughts at Home,&rdquo was discovered and dated to 1918, it was subsequently published in the Fall 2006 issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review. The first edition Frost&rsquos Notebooks were published in 2009, and thousands of errors were corrected in the paperback edition years later. A critical edition of his Collected Prose was published in 2010 to broad critical acclaim. A multi-volume series of his Collected Letters is now in production, with the first volume appearing in 2014 and the second in 2016.

Robert Frost continues to hold a unique and almost isolated position in American letters. &ldquoThough his career fully spans the modern period and though it is impossible to speak of him as anything other than a modern poet,&rdquo writes James M. Cox, &ldquoit is difficult to place him in the main tradition of modern poetry.&rdquo In a sense, Frost stands at the crossroads of 19th-century American poetry and modernism, for in his verse may be found the culmination of many 19th-century tendencies and traditions as well as parallels to the works of his 20th-century contemporaries. Taking his symbols from the public domain, Frost developed, as many critics note, an original, modern idiom and a sense of directness and economy that reflect the imagism of Ezra Pound and Amy Lowell. On the other hand, as Leonard Unger and William Van O&rsquoConnor point out in Poems for Study, &ldquoFrost&rsquos poetry, unlike that of such contemporaries as Eliot, Stevens, and the later Yeats, shows no marked departure from the poetic practices of the nineteenth century.&rdquo Although he avoids traditional verse forms and only uses rhyme erratically, Frost is not an innovator and his technique is never experimental.

Frost&rsquos theory of poetic composition ties him to both centuries. Like the 19th-century Romantic poets, he maintained that a poem is &ldquonever a put-up job. . It begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a loneliness. It is never a thought to begin with. It is at its best when it is a tantalizing vagueness.&rdquo Yet, &ldquoworking out his own version of the &lsquoimpersonal&rsquo view of art,&rdquo as Hyatt H. Waggoner observed, Frost also upheld T.S. Eliot&rsquos idea that the man who suffers and the artist who creates are totally separate. In a 1932 letter to Sydney Cox, Frost explained his conception of poetry: &ldquoThe objective idea is all I ever cared about. Most of my ideas occur in verse. . To be too subjective with what an artist has managed to make objective is to come on him presumptuously and render ungraceful what he in pain of his life had faith he had made graceful.&rdquo

To accomplish such objectivity and grace, Frost took up 19th-century tools and made them new. Lawrance Thompson has explained that, according to Frost, &ldquothe self-imposed restrictions of meter in form and of coherence in content&rdquo work to a poet&rsquos advantage they liberate him from the experimentalist&rsquos burden&mdashthe perpetual search for new forms and alternative structures. Thus Frost, as he himself put it in &ldquoThe Constant Symbol,&rdquo wrote his verse regular he never completely abandoned conventional metrical forms for free verse, as so many of his contemporaries were doing. At the same time, his adherence to meter, line length, and rhyme scheme was not an arbitrary choice. He maintained that &ldquothe freshness of a poem belongs absolutely to its not having been thought out and then set to verse as the verse in turn might be set to music.&rdquo He believed, rather, that the poem&rsquos particular mood dictated or determined the poet&rsquos &ldquofirst commitment to metre and length of line.&rdquo

Critics frequently point out that Frost complicated his problem and enriched his style by setting traditional meters against the natural rhythms of speech. Drawing his language primarily from the vernacular, he avoided artificial poetic diction by employing the accent of a soft-spoken New Englander. In The Function of Criticism, Yvor Winters faulted Frost for his &ldquoendeavor to make his style approximate as closely as possible the style of conversation.&rdquo But what Frost achieved in his poetry was much more complex than a mere imitation of the New England farmer idiom. He wanted to restore to literature the &ldquosentence sounds that underlie the words,&rdquo the &ldquovocal gesture&rdquo that enhances meaning. That is, he felt the poet&rsquos ear must be sensitive to the voice in order to capture with the written word the significance of sound in the spoken word. &ldquoThe Death of the Hired Man,&rdquo for instance, consists almost entirely of dialogue between Mary and Warren, her farmer-husband, but critics have observed that in this poem Frost takes the prosaic patterns of their speech and makes them lyrical. To Ezra Pound &ldquoThe Death of the Hired Man&rdquo represented Frost at his best&mdashwhen he &ldquodared to write . in the natural speech of New England in natural spoken speech, which is very different from the &lsquonatural&rsquo speech of the newspapers, and of many professors.&rdquo

Frost&rsquos use of New England dialect is only one aspect of his often discussed regionalism. Within New England, his particular focus was on New Hampshire, which he called &ldquoone of the two best states in the Union,&rdquo the other being Vermont. In an essay entitled &ldquoRobert Frost and New England: A Revaluation,&rdquo W.G. O&rsquoDonnell noted how from the start, in A Boy&rsquos Will, &ldquoFrost had already decided to give his writing a local habitation and a New England name, to root his art in the soil that he had worked with his own hands.&rdquo Reviewing North of Boston in the New Republic, Amy Lowell wrote, &ldquoNot only is his work New England in subject, it is so in technique. . Mr. Frost has reproduced both people and scenery with a vividness which is extraordinary.&rdquo Many other critics have lauded Frost&rsquos ability to realistically evoke the New England landscape they point out that one can visualize an orchard in &ldquoAfter Apple-Picking&rdquo or imagine spring in a farmyard in &ldquoTwo Tramps in Mud Time.&rdquo In this &ldquoability to portray the local truth in nature,&rdquo O&rsquoDonnell claims, Frost has no peer. The same ability prompted Pound to declare, &ldquoI know more of farm life than I did before I had read his poems. That means I know more of &lsquoLife.&rsquo&rdquo

Frost&rsquos regionalism, critics remark, is in his realism, not in politics he creates no picture of regional unity or sense of community. In The Continuity of American Poetry, Roy Harvey Pearce describes Frost&rsquos protagonists as individuals who are constantly forced to confront their individualism as such and to reject the modern world in order to retain their identity. Frost&rsquos use of nature is not only similar but closely tied to this regionalism. He stays as clear of religion and mysticism as he does of politics. What he finds in nature is sensuous pleasure he is also sensitive to the earth&rsquos fertility and to man&rsquos relationship to the soil. To critic M.L. Rosenthal, Frost&rsquos pastoral quality, his &ldquolyrical and realistic repossession of the rural and &lsquonatural,&rsquo&rdquo is the staple of his reputation.

Yet, just as Frost is aware of the distances between one man and another, so he is also always aware of the distinction, the ultimate separateness, of nature and man. Marion Montgomery has explained, &ldquoHis attitude toward nature is one of armed and amicable truce and mutual respect interspersed with crossings of the boundaries&rdquo between individual man and natural forces. Below the surface of Frost&rsquos poems are dreadful implications, what Rosenthal calls his &ldquoshocked sense of the helpless cruelty of things.&rdquo This natural cruelty is at work in &ldquoDesign&rdquo and in &ldquoOnce by the Pacific.&rdquo The ominous tone of these two poems prompted Rosenthal&rsquos further comment: &ldquoAt his most powerful Frost is as staggered by &lsquothe horror&rsquo as Eliot and approaches the hysterical edge of sensibility in a comparable way. . His is still the modern mind in search of its own meaning.&rdquo

The austere and tragic view of life that emerges in so many of Frost&rsquos poems is modulated by his metaphysical use of detail. As Frost portrays him, man might be alone in an ultimately indifferent universe, but he may nevertheless look to the natural world for metaphors of his own condition. Thus, in his search for meaning in the modern world, Frost focuses on those moments when the seen and the unseen, the tangible and the spiritual intersect. John T. Napier calls this Frost&rsquos ability &ldquoto find the ordinary a matrix for the extraordinary.&rdquo In this respect, he is often compared with Emily Dickinson and Ralph Waldo Emerson, in whose poetry, too, a simple fact, object, person, or event will be transfigured and take on greater mystery or significance. The poem &ldquoBirches&rdquo is an example: it contains the image of slender trees bent to the ground temporarily by a boy&rsquos swinging on them or permanently by an ice-storm. But as the poem unfolds, it becomes clear that the speaker is concerned not only with child&rsquos play and natural phenomena, but also with the point at which physical and spiritual reality merge.

Such symbolic import of mundane facts informs many of Frost&rsquos poems, and in &ldquoEducation by Poetry&rdquo he explained: &ldquoPoetry begins in trivial metaphors, pretty metaphors, &lsquograce&rsquo metaphors, and goes on to the profoundest thinking that we have. Poetry provides the one permissible way of saying one thing and meaning another. . Unless you are at home in the metaphor, unless you have had your proper poetical education in the metaphor, you are not safe anywhere.&rdquo


Poetry and Power: Robert Frost's Inaugural Reading

When Robert Frost became the first poet to read in the program of a presidential inauguration in 1961, he was already well regarded in the capital: he read and dined at the White House the Attorney General assisted his successful campaign to release Ezra Pound, who was under indictment for treason, from St. Elizabeth's Hospital he was offered the Consultant in Poetry position by the Library of Congress and the United States Senate passed a resolution naming Frost "America's great poet-philosopher." In the words of the poet William Meredith, the decision to include Frost in the inauguration "focused attention on Kennedy as a man of culture, as a man interested in culture." Kennedy's decision to include Frost, however, was more likely a personal gesture to the poet, who was responsible for much of the momentum early in the President's campaign.

On Marth 26, 1959, prior to a gala to celebrate his 85th birthday, Frost gave a press conference at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City. Among the questions asked was one concerning the alleged decline of New England, to which Frost responded: "The next President of the United States will be from Boston. Does that sound as if New England is decaying?" Pressed to name who Frost meant, he replied: "He's a Puritan named Kennedy. The only Puritans left these days are the Roman Catholics. There. I guess I wear my politics on my sleeve."

The national press picked up Frost's prediction that the junior Senator from Massachusetts, who had not formally declared his candidacy, would be elected the next President. Less than a month later, Kennedy wrote Frost, stating: "I just want to send you a note to let you know how gratifying it was to be remembered by you on the occasion of your 85th birthday. I only regret that the intrusion of my name, probably in ways which you did not entirely intend, took away some of the attention from the man who really deserved it—Robert Frost."

Frost repeated his prediction in many, if not most, of the lectures and public appearances he gave over the subsequent months, and continued to endorse the candidate whenever possible. Kennedy in return quoted from the final stanza of Frost's poem "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" at the close of many of his campaign speeches: "But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep."

In response to the news that Kennedy had won the election, Frost called the outcome "a triumph of Protestantism—over itself."

Stewart L. Udall, who had met Frost during his tenure as poetry consultant at the Library of Congress, and who was invited by Kennedy to serve as Secretary of the Interior, suggested Frost take part in the inauguration ceremonies. Kennedy jokingly responded, "Oh, no. You know that Robert Frost always steals any show he is part of."

Kennedy's invitation came to Frost by telegraph and the poet answered by the same means the following day:

Kennedy asked if Frost planned to recite a new poem. If not, could he recite "The Gift Outright," a poem Frost called "a history of the United States in a dozen [actually, sixteen] lines of blank verse." Kennedy also requested changing the phrase in the last line to "such as she will become" from "such as she would become." Frost agreed. The original last line, which Frost claims to have written in the middle of the Great Depression, was first published in the spring 1942 issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review and read, "Such as she was, such as she might become." It seemed appropriate that Frost agreed to further change the poem to reflect the optimism surrounding the new Presidency.

As inauguration day approached, however, Frost surprised himself by composing a new poem, "Dedication" (later retitled "For John F. Kennedy His Inauguration"), which he planned to read as a preface to the poem Kennedy requested. But on the drive to the Capitol on January 20, 1961, Frost worried that the piece, typed on one of the hotel typewriters the night before, was difficult to read even in good light. When he stood to recite the poem, the wind and the bright reflection of sunlight off new fallen snow made the reading the poem impossible. He was able, however, to recite "The Gift Outright" from memory.

Though Frost was somewhat embarassed by his faltering, it made for a memorable and dramatic moment. The Washington Post reported that Frost "stole the hearts of the Inaugural crowd," somewhat as Kennedy had jokingly predicted.

Before leaving, Frost called on the new President and First Lady at the White House to receive Kennedy's thanks for participating in the event. He presented Kennedy with a manuscript copy of the "Dedication" poem, on which he wrote: "Amended copy. And now let us mend our ways." He also gave the President the advice: "Be more Irish than Harvard. Poetry and power is the formula for another Augustan Age. Don't be afraid of power."

At the foot of the typed thank-you letter Kennedy sent, he wrote, "It's poetry and power all the way!"


Legacy

Frost was the most widely admired and highly honoured American poet of the 20th century. Amy Lowell thought he had overstressed the dark aspects of New England life, but Frost’s later flood of more uniformly optimistic verses made that view seem antiquated. Louis Untermeyer’s judgment that the dramatic poems in North of Boston were the most authentic and powerful of their kind ever produced by an American has only been confirmed by later opinions. Gradually, Frost’s name ceased to be linked solely with New England, and he gained broad acceptance as a national poet.

It is true that certain criticisms of Frost have never been wholly refuted, one being that he was overly interested in the past, another that he was too little concerned with the present and future of American society. Those who criticize Frost’s detachment from the “modern” emphasize the undeniable absence in his poems of meaningful references to the modern realities of industrialization, urbanization, and the concentration of wealth, or to such familiar items as radios, motion pictures, automobiles, factories, or skyscrapers. The poet has been viewed as a singer of sweet nostalgia and a social and political conservative who was content to sigh for the good things of the past.

Such views have failed to gain general acceptance, however, in the face of the universality of Frost’s themes, the emotional authenticity of his voice, and the austere technical brilliance of his verse. Frost was often able to endow his rural imagery with a larger symbolic or metaphysical significance, and his best poems transcend the immediate realities of their subject matter to illuminate the unique blend of tragic endurance, stoicism, and tenacious affirmation that marked his outlook on life. Over his long career, Frost succeeded in lodging more than a few poems where, as he put it, they would be “hard to get rid of,” among them “The Road Not Taken” (published in 1915, with its meaning disputed ever since). He can be said to have lodged himself just as solidly in the affections of his fellow Americans. For thousands he remains the only recent poet worth reading and the only one who matters.


Canaday Center

Modernism is a period in literary history which started around the early 1900s and continued until the early 1940s. Modernist writers in general rebelled against clear-cut storytelling and formulaic verse from the 19th century. Instead, many of them told fragmented stories which reflected the fragmented state of society during and after World War I.

Many Modernists wrote in free verse and they included many countries and cultures in their poems. Some wrote using numerous points-of-view or even used a “stream-of-consciousness” style. These writing styles further demonstrate the way the scattered state of society affected the work of writes at that time.

Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman are thought to be the mother and father of the movement because they had the most direct influence on early Modernists. Some time after their deaths, the Imagist poets began to gain importance. The University of Toledo’s Canaday Center has a rich collection of poetry and critical work from that era.

Imagist poets generally wrote shorter poems and they chose their words carefully so that their work would be rich and direct. The movement started in London, where a group of poets met and discussed changes that were happening in poetry. Ezra Pound soon met these individuals, and he eventually introduced them to H.D. and Richard Aldington in 1911. In 1912, Pound submitted their work to Poetry magazine. After H.D.’s name, he signed the word "Imagiste" and that was when Imagism was publicly launched. Two months later, Poetry published an essay which discusses three points that the London group agreed upon. They felt that the following rules should apply when writing poetry:

  1. Direct treatment of the "thing," whether subjective or objective.
  2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
  3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.

In the following month’s issue, Pound’s two-line poem “In a Station at the Metro” was published. In addition to the previously published works of Aldington and H.D., it exemplifies the tenets of Imagism in that it is direct, written with precise words, and has a musical tone which does not depend on a specific rhythm:

In a Station at the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd

Petals on a wet, black bough.

Over the next four years, four anthologies of Imagist poetry were published. They included work by people in that London group (Pound, F.S. Flint, H.D., and Aldington), but they also contained the works of Amy Lowell, William Carlos Williams, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, and Marianne Moore.

World War I broke out soon after the height of Imagism. Some poets, like Aldington, were called to serve the country, and this made the spread of Imagism difficult—as did paper shortages as a result of the war. Eventually, war poets like Wilfred Owen grew in popularity as people shifted their attention to the state of the world.

After the war ended, a sense of disillusionment grew, and poems like T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” showed the way poetry had shifted. This infamous poem contains various narratives and voices that change quickly from one topic to another. This style of poetry differed greatly from the slow and focused poetry of the Imagists. Visit this link to read the poem in its entirety.

Within a few years, many Modernist writers moved overseas. There was an exciting expatriate scene in Paris which included Pound, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein,and Mina Loy. These writers held and attended literary salons. Poets such as E.E. Cummings, Hart Crane, and William Carlos Williams also attended these salons at times.

Not all Modernist poets followed the writers who were making revolutionary changes to the world of poetics. Marianne Moore, for example, wrote some form poetry, and Robert Frost once said that writing free verse was "like playing tennis without a net." Additionally, writers who had gained popularity toward the end of the Modernist era were inspired by less experimental poets such as Thomas Hardy and W.B. Yeats.

By the 1950s, a new generation of Postmodern poets came to the forefront. Adding “post” in front of the word "Modern" showed that this new period was different than the one before it, yet was influenced by it. The Modernist ideas of Imagism and the work of William Carlos Williams, for example, continue to have a great influence on writers today.


Littoral | key west life of letters

“Key West, unfortunately, is becoming rather literary and artistic.”—Wallace Stevens. Photo of Robert Frost and Stevens at the Casa Marina Hotel in Key West, ca. 1940, reproduced by permission of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

“Robert Frost was on the beach this morning and is coming to dinner this evening.” So did Wallace Stevens write to his wife Elsie in February of 1935 from the Casa Marina, a hotel on the Atlantic Ocean where he spent part of each winter in Key West for nearly 20 years. Frost and Stevens today are broadly acknowledged as literary peers, but in 1935 the two poets’ reputations were leagues apart. Frost had won the Pulitzer Prize twice, while Stevens had published only a single volume, Harmonium, more than a decade earlier. While Stevens had earned the approval of influential readers including Poetry editor Harriet Monroe, Frost was not among them, once complaining that he didn’t like Stevens’s work “because it purports to make me think.”

While he craved the sort of literary acclaim that Frost routinely garnered, in Depression-era Key West Stevens would have seen his fellow Harvard alum as an equal. After all, Stevens was a highly successful businessman and a familiar semi-resident of the town where Frost was but a first-time tourist. Welcoming Frost to the neighborhood, Stevens presented him with a bag of sapodillas, the sweet tropical fruits of which he’d grown fond in Cuba and Key West, and planned to share conch chowder, another local staple, with Frost that night.

Before the dinner could take place, Stevens and his friend Judge Arthur Powell hosted a cocktail party. As he sometimes did in Key West, Stevens had too much to drink. He later wrote to Monroe, saying “the cocktail party, the dinner with Frost, and several other things became all mixed up, and I imagine that Frost has been purifying himself by various exorcisms ever since.” The two poets apparently argued, and Frost was so scandalized by the evening that he gossipped about Stevens’s drunken behavior to a lecture audience at the University of Miami.

When Frost’s gossip got back to Stevens later that summer, he apologized, insisting he was only being “playful,” and would “treasure the memory” of their meeting, which, he reminded Stevens, “I was in a better condition than you to appreciate.” Eager to smooth things over, Frost continues, “Take it from me there was no conflict at all but the prettiest kind of stand-off. You and I and the judge found we liked one another. And you and I really like each other’s works. At least down underneath I suspect we do. We should. We must. If I’m somewhat academic (I’m more agricultural) and you are somewhat executive, so much the better: it is so we are saved from being literary and deployers of words derived from words.”

Frost’s easy disdain for “words derived from words” and poetry that “purports to make me think” suggests how far apart were the sensibilities of the two poets. For Stevens, the author of poems like “The World as Meditation” and “Men Made out of Words,” Frost’s presence had begun to spoil the “paradise” where Stevens once relished a freedom to “do as one pleases.” “Key West is no longer quite the delightful affectation it once was,” he wrote to Philip May from the Casa Marina. “Who wants to share green cocoanut ice cream with these strange monsters who snooze in the porches of this once forlorn hotel.” To Monroe, he wrote “Key West, unfortunately, is becoming rather literary and artistic.”

Against his better judgement, Stevens was back at the Casa Marina five years later. The place had become “furiously literary,” with the comings and goings of literati so well known that a young Elizabeth Bishop went to “the ‘fancy’ hotel” one day looking for him, she wrote, “almost provided with opera glasses.” Frost was there again, too, traveling with his official biographer, Lawrance Thompson, who set down for posterity the argument between the poets. Echoing Frost’s letter to Stevens five years earlier, Thompson’s account further caricatures the divergent poetics of these incongruous masters:

“The trouble with you, Robert, is that you’re too academic.”

“The trouble with you, Wallace, is that you’re too executive.”

“The trouble with you, Robert, is that you write about– subjects.”

“The trouble with you, Wallace, is that you write about– bric-a-brac.”

Stevens never again returned to Key West. In 1954, not long before Stevens died, he rebuffed an invitation to attend Frost’s 80th birthday celebration at Amherst, saying coolly “I do not know his work well enough to be either impressed or unimpressed.” It is hard to imagine that Stevens had not read Frost, and Jay Parini suggests instead that the two “worked from such contradictory, even exclusive, aesthetics that neither could really read the other with much satisfaction.” And so Frost, who wanted “to get away from earth awhile / And then come back to it and begin over,” and Stevens, for whom “Reality is the beginning not the end,” would share sapodillas and conch chowder but remain isolated from one another’s poetry, in which each was the other’s only peer.


Robert Frost Library - History

The Cambridge History of American Poetry

Abstract

Robert Frost seems like a traditional poet. Robert Frost thus seems like a literary anomaly. Born three years after Marcel Proust, one before Thomas Mann, and two before F.T. Marinetti, Frost appears to stand apart from the modernist ranks that these and other writers constitute. Ezra Pound urged poets to "make it new," but Frost distrusted an age that "ran wild in the quest of new ways to be new." While William Carlos Williams broke from iambic pentameter to explore free verse, Frost composed in metered lines and found new uses for the sonnet while Wallace Stevens wrote philosophical tercets about a "supreme fiction," Frost wrote poetic narratives about witches and hired men while T.S. Eliot moved to London to analyze urban malaise through verse that quotes great European literature, and Langston Hughes moved to Harlem to write of African American experience in poems adapting jazz and blues, Frost settled in New England to write about rural couples in lines using their own colloquialisms. While Eliot insisted that poetry of his time "must be difficult," Frost wrote verse that was lucid.

Comments

This published version is made available on Dickinson Scholar with the permission of the publisher. For more information on the published version, visit Cambridge University Press's Website.

© 2015 by Cambridge University Press. All rights reserved Reprinted with permission

Recommended Citation

Phillips, Siobhan. "Robert Frost and Tradition." In The Cambridge History of American Poetry, edited by Alfred Bendixen and Stephen Burt, 519-41. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015.


Listen to Robert Frost Read His Poems

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…" is the start of perhaps one of the best-known, most-quoted poems in American history. While the poem, Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," might have become favorite fodder for inspirational quotes and posters, a reading of the whole piece reveals it offers a much more ambiguous message about uncertainty and the stories we tell ourselves.

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David C. Ward, senior historian at the National Portrait Gallery explores the poem here, but the true meaning also becomes clear with a listen to Frost reading his own work. The poet's voice is a little croaky and tired-sounding as his traveler contemplates those two roads. Sighs and hesitations convey the real message.

To hear a literary work in the author's own voice is a treat and can ignite new feelings about the words. That's the pleasure in listening to Frost  narrate  a collection of his own poems curated by Open Culture. Writer and musician Josh Jones explains that the collection is now available as two Spotify albums. One was created in 1951 by the The National Council of Teachers of English, the other comes from Harper Audio and was recorded in 1956 . Both offer a chance to re-evaluate what you thought you knew about the famous poet. Jones writes:

Frost is a prickly, challenging, even somewhat devious character whose pleasingly musical lines and quaint, pastoral images lure readers into poems that harbor much less cheerful attitudes than they expect to find, and much more complex and mature ideas. 

In "Mending Wall," Frost sounds almost accusatory as he tells of the gaps in a stone wall.  "No one has seen them made or heard them made," he complains. Then he admonishes the stones that he and a neighbor have replaced, telling them to: "stay where you are until our backs are turned!"

Also featured are readings of "Nothing Gold Can Stay," "Fire and Ice," "Birches," and others. There's even some overlap between the two collections, so those with a keen ear can compare the variations between different readings.

About Marissa Fessenden

Marissa Fessenden is a freelance science writer and artist who appreciates small things and wide open spaces.


Robert Frost Library - History

Actor J.T. Turner will perform his one-man show, “Robert Frost: Light and Dark.” Robert Frost was described by a friend as "a good poet, but a bad man". America's great poet comes to life in this highly-praised one-man show. Robert Frost relates stories of his life, the tragedy as well as the humor and he reads some of his most popular poems, including Mending Wall, Birches, Nothing Gold Can Stay, Late Walk, Desert Places, Road Not Taken and Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. For fans of Frost's work this is a remarkable and intimate journey through the life of the Pulitzer Prize winning poet. Learn more about JT Turner HERE.

This living history performance will take place on the library's back lawn. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own blankets or chairs. In case of inclement weather, the performance will take place in the library’s Fairgrieve Wing. Sponsored by the Friends of the Library.

The library will be bringing authors to life this summer on Wednesday nights at 6:30pm, with Ralph Waldo Emerson (July 3), Julia Ward Howe (July 10), Robert Frost (July 17), Charles Dickens (July 24), Herman Melville (July 31), and Rudyard Kipling (August 7) all scheduled to visit.


Watch the video: Robert Frost reads The Road Not Taken (December 2021).