Robert Frost:  A Lone Wolf

Updated on April 1, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Robert Frost

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Introduction

Robert Frost is America's most beloved poet. He considered himself a "lone wolf." While other poets were clinging to schools of poetry, he clung only to poetry itself. He did not begrudge or judge other poets for clinging to schools of thought regarding poetry, but he did not mind revealing that his first love was for the art itself.

Early Years

Robert Lee Frost was born on March 26, 1874, in San Francisco, California to William and Isabelle Moody Frost. His father was a teacher and a journalist, and his mother was a teacher. He was named after General Robert E. Lee.

When Robert Lee was eleven years old, his father died of tuberculosis. To honor his father’s wish to be buried where he had been born, Robert, his mother and sister relocated across the country to Lawrence, Massachusetts, where they lived with his paternal grandfather, William Prescott Frost; his mother resumed school teaching to support her children.

With both parents having been teachers, it naturally followed that Robert Lee would spend at least some time in the classroom himself. He had been exposed to the writings of Shakespeare, Robert Burns, and William Wordsworth through his parents’ library.

Robert Lee excelled in other high school subjects in addition to literary studies, including history, botany, Latin, and Greek. He also played football, and graduated at the head of his class.

After graduating from Lawrence High School, he enrolled in Dartmouth, but he soon discovered that college life did not interest him so he after only a few months, he dropped out. He also worked for a time in a mill, and he then taught Latin at the same school where his mother had taught in Methuen, Massachusetts.

Writing Poetry

Frost discovered his enthusiasm for writing poetry in high school. He succeeded in writing a poem titled “La Noche Triste," which was published in the his high school newspaper in 1890. He then was encouraged to continue to compose poems whether he was working in a mill, farming, or teaching.

In 1894, his poem, “My Butterfly: An Elegy” was accepted by a New York magazine, the Independent. He was paid $15.00 for that poem. His dedication to poetry writing thus became a permanent feature of his life.

After his marriage to his high school sweetheart, who also served as his co-valedictorian at their graduation ceremony, the couple lived on a farm in New Hampshire, where Frost enjoyed being a part-time farmer. Some of his most famous poems were inspired by his experiences on the farm: “Mending Wall,” which he wrote while in England is an example.

A Lone Wolf

The poems of Robert Frost defy easy categorization. He objected to being called a nature poet because he insisted that all his poems take the human heart and soul as their themes. They are not merely lovely pictures of flowers, birds, and trees.

While other poets were being grouped in schools of poetry through poetic theory, Frost objected to being included in any group, claiming that he was a "lone wolf." He felt that if poets needed that kind of thing, they should do it, but he preferred to remain independent.

Robert Frost - Mini Biography

Life Sketch of Robert Frost

Robert Frost's father, William Prescott Frost, Jr., was a journalist, living in San Fransisco, California, when Robert Lee Frost was born on March 26, 1874; Robert's mother, Isabelle, was an immigrant from Scotland. The young Frost spent eleven years of his childhood in San Fransisco. After his father died of tuberculosis, Robert's mother moved the family, including his sister, Jeanie, to Lawrence, Massachusetts, where they lived with Robert's paternal grandparents.

Robert graduated in 1892 from Lawrence High School, where he and his future wife, Elinor White, served as co-valedictorians. Robert thEn made his first attempt to attend college at Dartmouth College; after only a few months, he returned to Lawrence and began working a series of part-time jobs.

Elinor White, who was Robert's high school sweetheart, was attending St. Lawrence University when Robert proposed to her. She turned him down because she wanted to finish college before marrying. Robert then relocated to Virginia, and then after returning to Lawrence, he again to proposed to Elinor, who had now completed her college education. The two married on December 19, 1895. Their first child, Eliot, was born the following year.

Robert then made another attempt to attend college; in 1897, he enrolled in Harvard University, but because of health issues, he had to leave school again. Robert rejoined his wife in Lawrence, and their second child Lesley was born in 1899 . The family then moved to a New Hampshire farm that Robert's grandparents had acquired for him. Thus, Robert's farming phase commenced as he attempted to farm the land and continue his writing. His first poem to appear in print, “My Butterfly," had been published on November 8, 1894, in The Independent, a New York newspaper.

The next twelve years proved a difficult time in Frost's personal life, but a fertile one for his writing. The Frosts' first child, Eliot, died in 1900 of cholera. The couple, however, went on to have four more children, each of which suffered from mental illness to suicide. The couple's farming endeavors continued to result in unsuccessful attempts. Frost became well adjusted to rustic life, despite his miserable failure as a farmer.

Frost's writing life took off in a splendid fashion, and the rural influence on his poems would later set the tone and style for all of his works. However, despite the success of his individual published poems, such "The Tuft of Flowers" and "The Trial by Existence," he could not find a publisher for his collections of poems.

Relocation to England

It was because of his failure to find a publisher for his collections of poems that Frost sold the New Hampshire farm and moved his family to England in 1912. This moved proved to be life-line for the young poet. At age 38, he secured a publisher in England for his collection, A Boy's Will, and soon after North of Boston.

In addition to finding a publisher for his two books, Frost became acquainted with Ezra Pound and Edward Thomas, two important poets of the day. Both Pound and Thomas reviewed Frost's two book favorably, and thus Frost's career as a poet moved forward.

Frost's friendship with Edward Thomas was especially important, and Frost has remarked that the long walks taken by the two poet/friends had influenced his writing in a marvelously positive manner. Frost has credited Thomas for his most famous poem, "The Road Not Taken," which was sparked by Thomas' attitude regarding not being able to take two different paths on their long walks.

Returning to America

After World War 1 broke out in Europe, the Frosts set sail back to the United States. The brief sojourn in England had had useful consequences for the poet's reputation, even back in his native country. American Publisher, Henry Holt, picked up Frost's earlier books, and then come out with his third, Mountain Interval, a collection that had been written while Frost was still residing in England.

Frost was treated to the delicious situation of having the same journals, such as The Atlantic, soliciting his work, even though they had rejected that same work a couple of years earlier.

The Frosts once again became owners of a farm located in Franconia, New Hampshire, which they purchased in 1915. The end of their traveling days were over, and Frost continued his writing career, as he taught intermittently at a number of colleges, including Dartmouth, University of Michigan, and particularly Amherst College, where he taught regularly from 1916 until 1938. Amherst's main library is now the Robert Frost Library, honoring the long-time educator and poet. He also spent most summers teaching English at Middlebury College in Vermont.

Frost never completed a college degree, but over his entire lifetime, the revered poet accumulated more than forty honorary degrees. He also won the Pulitzer Prize four times for his books, New Hampshire, Collected Poems, A Further Range, and A Witness Tree.

Frost considered himself a "lone wolf" in the world of poetry because he did not follow any literary movements. His only influence was the human condition in a world of duality. He did not pretend to explain that condition; he only sought to create little dramas to reveal the nature of the emotional life of a human being.

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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