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About this poet

Robert Frost was born on March 26, 1874, in San Francisco, where his father, William Prescott Frost Jr., and his mother, Isabelle Moodie, had moved from Pennsylvania shortly after marrying. After the death of his father from tuberculosis when Frost was eleven years old, he moved with his mother and sister, Jeanie, who was two years younger, to Lawrence, Massachusetts. He became interested in reading and writing poetry during his high school years in Lawrence, enrolled at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1892, and later at Harvard University in Boston, though he never earned a formal college degree.

Frost drifted through a string of occupations after leaving school, working as a teacher, cobbler, and editor of the Lawrence Sentinel. His first published poem, "My Butterfly," appeared on November 8, 1894, in the New York newspaper The Independent.

In 1895, Frost married Elinor Miriam White, whom he'd shared valedictorian honors with in high school and who was a major inspiration for his poetry until her death in 1938. The couple moved to England in 1912, after they tried and failed at farming in New Hampshire. It was abroad that Frost met and was influenced by such contemporary British poets as Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, and Robert Graves. While in England, Frost also established a friendship with the poet Ezra Pound, who helped to promote and publish his work.

By the time Frost returned to the United States in 1915, he had published two full-length collections, A Boy's Will (Henry Holt and Company, 1913) and North of Boston (Henry Holt and Company, 1914), and his reputation was established. By the 1920s, he was the most celebrated poet in America, and with each new book—including New Hampshire (Henry Holt and Company, 1923), A Further Range (Henry Holt and Company, 1936), Steeple Bush (Henry Holt and Company, 1947), and In the Clearing (Holt Rinehart & Winston, 1962)—his fame and honors (including four Pulitzer Prizes) increased.

Though his work is principally associated with the life and landscape of New England—and though he was a poet of traditional verse forms and metrics who remained steadfastly aloof from the poetic movements and fashions of his time—Frost is anything but merely a regional poet. The author of searching and often dark meditations on universal themes, he is a quintessentially modern poet in his adherence to language as it is actually spoken, in the psychological complexity of his portraits, and in the degree to which his work is infused with layers of ambiguity and irony.

In a 1970 review of The Poetry of Robert Frost, the poet Daniel Hoffman describes Frost's early work as "the Puritan ethic turned astonishingly lyrical and enabled to say out loud the sources of its own delight in the world," and comments on Frost's career as the "American Bard": "He became a national celebrity, our nearly official poet laureate, and a great performer in the tradition of that earlier master of the literary vernacular, Mark Twain."

About Frost, President John F. Kennedy, at whose inauguration the poet delivered a poem, said, "He has bequeathed his nation a body of imperishable verse from which Americans will forever gain joy and understanding."

Robert Frost lived and taught for many years in Massachusetts and Vermont, and died in Boston on January 29, 1963.



Selected Bibliography

Poetry

In the Clearing (Holt Rinehart & Winston, 1962) Hard Not to Be King (House of Books, 1951)
Steeple Bush (Henry Holt and Company, 1947)
Masque of Reason (Henry Holt and Company, 1945)
Come In, and Other Poems (Henry Holt and Company, 1943)
A Witness Tree (Henry Holt and Company, 1942)
A Further Range (Henry Holt and Company, 1936)
From Snow to Snow (Henry Holt and Company, 1936)
The Lone Striker (Knopf, 1933)
The Lovely Shall Be Choosers (Random House, 1929)
West-Running Brook (Henry Holt and Company, 1928)
New Hampshire (Henry Holt and Company, 1923)
Mountain Interval (Henry Holt and Company, 1916)
North of Boston (Henry Holt and Company, 1914)
A Boy's Will (Henry Holt and Company, 1913)


Multimedia

Robert Frost

 

The Death of the Hired Man

Robert Frost, 1874 - 1963
Mary sat musing on the lamp-flame at the table  
Waiting for Warren. When she heard his step,  
She ran on tip-toe down the darkened passage  
To meet him in the doorway with the news  
And put him on his guard. "Silas is back."           
She pushed him outward with her through the door  
And shut it after her. "Be kind," she said.  
She took the market things from Warren’s arms  
And set them on the porch, then drew him down  
To sit beside her on the wooden steps.            
  
"When was I ever anything but kind to him?  
But I’ll not have the fellow back," he said.  
"I told him so last haying, didn’t I?  
‘If he left then,’ I said, ‘that ended it.’  
What good is he? Who else will harbour him            
At his age for the little he can do?  
What help he is there’s no depending on.  
Off he goes always when I need him most.  
‘He thinks he ought to earn a little pay,  
Enough at least to buy tobacco with,            
So he won’t have to beg and be beholden.’  
‘All right,’ I say, ‘I can’t afford to pay  
Any fixed wages, though I wish I could.’  
‘Someone else can.’ ‘Then someone else will have to.’  
I shouldn’t mind his bettering himself            
If that was what it was. You can be certain,  
When he begins like that, there’s someone at him  
Trying to coax him off with pocket-money,—  
In haying time, when any help is scarce.  
In winter he comes back to us. I’m done."            
  
"Sh! not so loud: he’ll hear you," Mary said.  
  
"I want him to: he’ll have to soon or late."  
  
"He’s worn out. He’s asleep beside the stove.  
When I came up from Rowe’s I found him here,  
Huddled against the barn-door fast asleep,            
A miserable sight, and frightening, too—  
You needn’t smile—I didn’t recognise him—  
I wasn’t looking for him—and he’s changed.  
Wait till you see."  
  
"Where did you say he’d been?"            
  
"He didn’t say. I dragged him to the house,  
And gave him tea and tried to make him smoke.  
I tried to make him talk about his travels.  
Nothing would do: he just kept nodding off."  
  
"What did he say? Did he say anything?"            
  
"But little."  
  
"Anything? Mary, confess  
He said he’d come to ditch the meadow for me."  
  
"Warren!"  
  
"But did he? I just want to know."            
  
"Of course he did. What would you have him say?  
Surely you wouldn’t grudge the poor old man  
Some humble way to save his self-respect.  
He added, if you really care to know,  
He meant to clear the upper pasture, too.            
That sounds like something you have heard before?  
Warren, I wish you could have heard the way  
He jumbled everything. I stopped to look  
Two or three times—he made me feel so queer—  
To see if he was talking in his sleep.            
He ran on Harold Wilson—you remember—  
The boy you had in haying four years since.  
He’s finished school, and teaching in his college.  
Silas declares you’ll have to get him back.  
He says they two will make a team for work:            
Between them they will lay this farm as smooth!  
The way he mixed that in with other things.  
He thinks young Wilson a likely lad, though daft  
On education—you know how they fought  
All through July under the blazing sun,            
Silas up on the cart to build the load,  
Harold along beside to pitch it on."  
  
"Yes, I took care to keep well out of earshot."  
  
"Well, those days trouble Silas like a dream.  
You wouldn’t think they would. How some things linger!            
Harold’s young college boy’s assurance piqued him.  
After so many years he still keeps finding  
Good arguments he sees he might have used.  
I sympathise. I know just how it feels  
To think of the right thing to say too late.            
Harold’s associated in his mind with Latin.  
He asked me what I thought of Harold’s saying  
He studied Latin like the violin  
Because he liked it—that an argument!  
He said he couldn’t make the boy believe            
He could find water with a hazel prong—  
Which showed how much good school had ever done him.  
He wanted to go over that. But most of all  
He thinks if he could have another chance  
To teach him how to build a load of hay——"            
  
"I know, that’s Silas’ one accomplishment.  
He bundles every forkful in its place,  
And tags and numbers it for future reference,  
So he can find and easily dislodge it  
In the unloading. Silas does that well.            
He takes it out in bunches like big birds’ nests.  
You never see him standing on the hay  
He’s trying to lift, straining to lift himself."  
  
"He thinks if he could teach him that, he’d be  
Some good perhaps to someone in the world.             
He hates to see a boy the fool of books.  
Poor Silas, so concerned for other folk,  
And nothing to look backward to with pride,  
And nothing to look forward to with hope,  
So now and never any different."             
  
Part of a moon was falling down the west,  
Dragging the whole sky with it to the hills.  
Its light poured softly in her lap. She saw  
And spread her apron to it. She put out her hand  
Among the harp-like morning-glory strings,             
Taut with the dew from garden bed to eaves,  
As if she played unheard the tenderness  
That wrought on him beside her in the night.  
"Warren," she said, "he has come home to die:  
You needn’t be afraid he’ll leave you this time."             
  
"Home," he mocked gently.  
  
"Yes, what else but home?  
It all depends on what you mean by home.  
Of course he’s nothing to us, any more  
Than was the hound that came a stranger to us             
Out of the woods, worn out upon the trail."  
  
"Home is the place where, when you have to go there,  
They have to take you in."  
  
"I should have called it  
Something you somehow haven’t to deserve."             
  
Warren leaned out and took a step or two,  
Picked up a little stick, and brought it back  
And broke it in his hand and tossed it by.  
"Silas has better claim on us you think  
Than on his brother? Thirteen little miles             
As the road winds would bring him to his door.  
Silas has walked that far no doubt to-day.  
Why didn’t he go there? His brother’s rich,  
A somebody—director in the bank."  
  
"He never told us that."             
  
"We know it though."  
  
"I think his brother ought to help, of course.  
I’ll see to that if there is need. He ought of right  
To take him in, and might be willing to—  
He may be better than appearances.             
But have some pity on Silas. Do you think  
If he’d had any pride in claiming kin  
Or anything he looked for from his brother,  
He’d keep so still about him all this time?"  
  
"I wonder what’s between them."             
  
"I can tell you.  
Silas is what he is—we wouldn’t mind him—  
But just the kind that kinsfolk can’t abide.  
He never did a thing so very bad.  
He don’t know why he isn’t quite as good             
As anyone. He won’t be made ashamed  
To please his brother, worthless though he is."  
  
"I can’t think Si ever hurt anyone."  
  
"No, but he hurt my heart the way he lay  
And rolled his old head on that sharp-edged chair-back.             
He wouldn’t let me put him on the lounge.  
You must go in and see what you can do.  
I made the bed up for him there to-night.  
You’ll be surprised at him—how much he’s broken.  
His working days are done; I’m sure of it."             
  
"I’d not be in a hurry to say that."  
  
"I haven’t been. Go, look, see for yourself.  
But, Warren, please remember how it is:  
He’s come to help you ditch the meadow.  
He has a plan. You mustn’t laugh at him.             
He may not speak of it, and then he may.  
I’ll sit and see if that small sailing cloud  
Will hit or miss the moon."  
  
It hit the moon.  
Then there were three there, making a dim row,             
The moon, the little silver cloud, and she.  
  
Warren returned—too soon, it seemed to her,  
Slipped to her side, caught up her hand and waited.  
  
"Warren," she questioned.  
  
"Dead," was all he answered.

This poem is in the public domain.

Robert Frost

Robert Frost

One of the most celebrated poets in America, Robert Frost was an author of searching and often dark meditations on universal themes and a quintessentially modern poet in his adherence to language as it is actually spoken, in the psychological complexity of his portraits, and in the degree to which his work is infused with layers of ambiguity and irony.

by this poet

poem
All out-of-doors looked darkly in at him
Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars,
That gathers on the pane in empty rooms.
What kept his eyes from giving back the gaze
Was the lamp tilted near them in his hand.
What kept him from remembering what it was
That brought him to that creaking room was age.
He
poem
Love has earth to which she clings  
With hills and circling arms about—  
Wall within wall to shut fear out.  
But Thought has need of no such things,  
For Thought has a pair of dauntless wings.
  
On snow and sand and turf, I see  
Where Love has left a printed trace  
With straining in the world’s embrace
poem
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.