“Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.”
I was introduced to Frost at a young age and the above poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” is the earliest poem that I remember learning in school. It’s one of the only poems I can still recite word for word. I figured since today is National Poetry Day I would post about one of my favorite poets.
Robert Frost was born in San Francisco, California, to journalist William Prescott Frost, Jr., and Isabelle Moodie. Frost’s father was a teacher and later an editor of the San Francisco Evening Bulletin (which later merged with The San Francisco Examiner), after his death on May 5, 1885 (leaving the family with only 8 dollars), the family moved across the country to Lawrence, Massachusetts to live with Robert’s grandfather William Frost, Sr., who was an overseer at a New England mill. He attended Lawrence High School, where he would publish his first poem in his high school’s magazine. After graduation in 1892, he attended Dartmouth College for two months, and was accepted into the Theta Delta Chi fraternity. He returned home shortly thereafter to teach and to work at various jobs, including helping his mother teach, delivering newspapers, and working in a factory maintaining carbon arc lamps, but he always felt his true calling was poetry.
In 1894 he sold his first poem, “My Butterfly. An Elegy” (published in the November 8, 1894, edition of the New York Independent) for $15 ($409 today). Proud of his accomplishment, he proposed marriage to Elinor Miriam White, she refused because she wanted to finish college before they married. Frost then went on an excursion to the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia and asked Elinor again upon his return. Having graduated, she agreed, and they were married at Lawrence, Massachusetts on December 19, 1895. They would have six children together: Elliot, Carol, Lesley, Irma, Marjorie, and Bettina. Sadly, only Lesley and Irma would outlive their father.
Frost decide to return to college by attending Harvard University from 1897 to 1899, but he left voluntarily due to illness. Shortly before his grandfather’s death, he purchased a farm for Robert and Elinor in Derry, New Hampshire; Frost worked the farm for nine years while writing early in the mornings and producing many of the poems that are now most widely known. His farming proved unsuccessful and he returned to the field of education as an English teacher at New Hampshire’s Pinkerton Academy from 1906 to 1911, then at the New Hampshire Normal School in Plymouth, New Hampshire. 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.
In 1915, during World War I, Frost returned to America, where Holt’s American edition of A Boy’s Will had recently been published, and bought a farm in Franconia, New Hampshire, where he made a career of writing, teaching, and lecturing. In 1924, he won the first of four Pulitzer Prizes for the book New Hampshire: A Poem with Notes and Grace Notes. He would win additional Pulitzers for Collected Poems in 1931, A Further Range in 1937, and A Witness Tree in 1943.
For forty-two years Frost spent almost every summer and fall teaching at the Bread Loaf School of English of Middlebury College, at its mountain campus at Ripton, Vermont. In 1921 Frost accepted a fellowship teaching post at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where he resided until 1927 when he returned to teach at Amherst. While teaching at the University of Michigan, he was awarded a lifetime appointment at the University as a Fellow in Letters. In 1940 he bought a 5-acre plot in South Miami, Florida, naming it Pencil Pines; he spent his winters there for the rest of his life.
Amazingly, he never graduated from college, but he received over 40 honorary degrees, including ones from Princeton, Oxford and Cambridge universities, and was the only person to receive two honorary degrees from Dartmouth College. In 1960, Frost was awarded a United States Congressional Gold Medal, “In recognition of his poetry, which has enriched the culture of the United States and the philosophy of the world,” which was finally bestowed by President Kennedy in March 1962. Also in 1962, he was awarded the Edward MacDowell Medal for outstanding contribution to the arts by the MacDowell Colony. Frost was 86 when he read his well-known poem “The Gift Outright” at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy on January 20, 1961.
On January 29, 1963, he passed away from complications following prostate surgery. He was buried at the Old Bennington Cemetery in Bennington, Vermont. His epitaph quotes the last line from his poem, “The Lesson for Today (1942): “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”
I am going to close with one of my favorites by him “The Road Not Taken”. I hope you enjoy. Please feel free to leave some of your favorites in the comments below.
“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!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
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.”