Born in San Francisco, California on March 26, 1874 and named for Civil War General Robert E. Lee. Robert Frost's parents were William Prescott Frost, Jr. and Isabelle Moody Frost. Frost's father was a teacher turned journalist, who became city editor for the San Francisco Daily Evening Post in 1875. He was an ardent Democrat, a gambler, a heavy drinker, and a strict disciplinarian. A stormy home life was the inevitable result of his father's passions. Young Robert, along with his mother, traveled to Lawrence, Mass where his sister (Jeanie Florence Frost) was born June 25, 1876. They rejoined Robert's father in San Francisco in the fall, to find he had been diagnosed with consumption.
Robert attended kindergarten (for a single day) in 1879, suffered nervous stomach pains, and failed to return to finish the year. In 1880 he was enrolled in first grade, but dropped out again. In 1881 his mother enrolled him in second grade with the same result as previous years. He dropped out in 1882 and was home schooled.
By 1883 young Robert heard voices when alone. His mother told him he had a gift, that of second hearing as well as second sight, the same gifts she possessed.
While Robert was experiencing trials with his education, the family's personal fortunes continue to sink. His father rose to his political zenith by being selected as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention held in Cincinnati, Ohio. He continued his heavy drinking and gambling, while his health spiraled downward. On May 5, 1885, when Robert was 11 years old, his father died, leaving the family with $8 after expenses were settled. In keeping with the wishes expressed by the father before his passing, the family took his body to Lawrence, Mass. for burial. Isabelle and her two children took up residence with Robert's paternal grandparents, a move which didn't sit well with either Robert or Jeanie due to the strict discipline and sternness of the grandparents. Robert was tested and placed in third grade while Jeanie, though the younger sister, was placed in fourth grade.
Next year, in 1886, the family moved to Salem Depot, New Hampshire, where Isabelle took employment as a school teacher. The children both entered fifth grade.
In 1888 Robert passed the entrance exam for Lawrence High School, and enrolled in their classical program, equivalent to a modern college prep curriculum. The next year saw Robert finish the year at the head of his class. 1890 saw the publication of Robert Frost's first poem, La Noche Triste, in the Lawrence High Bulletin in April, followed by a second poem in May.
In 1891 Robert was elected chief editor for the paper for the school year 1891-1892. He passed the preliminary entrance examination for Harvard.
While still in high school he met and fell in love with fellow student Elinor Miriam White. Robert became engaged to Elinor in 1892. He attended Dartmouth College instead of Harvard because he was dependant on his grandparent's funding, the reason given being that Dartmouth was cheaper. He enjoyed a brief sojourn at Dartmouth, dropping out in December of his freshman year.
Robert tried his hand at teaching in 1893, taking an unruly eighth grade class in Methuen, Mass. for a short time. He asked Elinor to marry, but she refused and returned to her own studies at Saint Lawrence University in Canton, NY.
Robert Frost learned that one of his poems had been bought for publication by The Independent,which paid him $15 for the work. He sought an immediate marriage with Elinor, but was rebuffed. In a bout of depression, fearing Elinor was considering another man, Robert deserted New England for a journey to Dismal Swamp near the Virginia/North Carolina border. The three week trip left him frightened and weary. He had traveled about by boat, wagon, and on foot for endless miles. He returned home with the aid of his mother, who paid the fare for his return.
Robert Frost gained employment in 1895 in Lawrence, Mass as a reporter for the Daily American and Sentinel, as well as teaching school in the Salem District. He was finally wed to Elinor White on December 19 in a ceremony conducted by a Swedenborgian pastor. The couple bore their first child, a son named Elliott, on September 25, 1897.
Robert Frost again applied for and was accepted at Harvard in 1897. He borrowed the money for tuition from his grandfather, who apparently had a change of heart regarding a Harvard education. The grandfather had an animus toward Harvard, proclaiming that Robert's father had acquired his bad habits while attending the school. Given the choice of Harvard or no college at all, the elder Frost saw the wisdom of attending Harvard.
Robert Frost withdrew from Harvard on March 31, 1899 due to poor health and concerns for his young family. He and Elinor had a second child, a daughter named Lesley, on April 28, 1899. At the insistence of Robert, his mother Isabelle visited a physician to learn she had advanced cancer.
Robert and wife Elinor were to lose their son Elliott to cholera in 1900. Elinor entered a depression, while Robert's health too suffered. Robert's mother Isabelle entered a sanitorium in Penacook, New Hampshire where she died on November 2, 1900. She was brought home to Lawrence, Mass. for burial.
Robert Frost saw the death of his grandfather on July 10, 1901. Robert received an annuity of $500 plus use of the farm in Derry. After ten years the annuity was to increase to $800 and the farm became the property of Robert.
The next few years saw the rapid expansion of Robert Frost's family. He and Elinor had son Carol in 1902, daughter Irma in 1903, daughter Marjorie in 1906, and daughter Elinor Bettina in 1907. Elinor Bettina lived a scant 3 days. He and wife Elinor suffer a miscarriage in 1915.
From the death of his grandfather William Prescott Frost in 1901, Robert worked the family farm in Derry along with his other endeavors. He produced a short story entitled Trap Nests in 1903 for The Eastern Poultryman, a story which saw publication several times. He secured a part time teaching position in 1905 at Pinkerton Academy, a position which became full time. That same year also saw publication of his A Tuft of Flowers in the Derry Enterprise. In 1909, Robert sold his poultry and moved his family to a nearby Derry village apartment. He impressed the Superintendent of Public Instruction for New Hampshire and gave a series of lectures to several assemblages of New Hampshire educators. At Pinkerton Academy in 1910, Frost overhauled the English curriculum, instituting a less formal, more conversational style of teaching.
Frost left Pinkerton Academy in 1911 to accept a position at State Normal School, to teach psychology and education. He sold the Derry family farm and moved his family to Plymouth.
Robert Frost made the decision to devote himself to full time writing in 1912. He moved his family yet again, this time to England, taking up residence briefly in London before settling into a rented cottage in Beaconsfield, located about 20 miles to the north of London. He submitted A Boy's Will for publication and had it accepted. The work saw publication in 1913. Frost made the acquaintance of several noted literary personages including Ezra Pound, Hilda Doolittle, and William Butler Yeats. Frost made a friendship with Edward Thomas, an author of prose whom Frost encouraged to write poetry. Frost and family moved to near Dymock, Gloucestershire in 1914, the same year that North of Boston was published to numerous favorable reviews. The acceptance that Frost had sought for his craft for almost 2 decades was finally becoming a reality.
Robert Frost and family relocated back to the United States in 1915, and bought a farm in Franconia, New Hampshire. He met Louis Untermeyer and Edwin Arlington Robinson.
Robert Frost gave a series of readings throughout New England in 1916. He was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. He accepted an appointment to teach one semester at Amherst College for $2,000, beginning a relationship which would continue in an on-and-off fashion until his death. Mountain Interval was published November 27, 1916.
Frost saw A Way Out, a one act play he had written, published. He and family moved to Amherst to take up his teaching position. Frost was deeply saddened at the loss of his close friend Edward Thomas, killed at the battle of Arras.
Daughter Lesley attended Wellesley College, but dropped out of Wellesley in 1918, after her freshman year, to work in an aircraft plant, a move of which Robert approved. Robert Frost met Vachel Lindsey, Sara Teasdale, and James Oppenheim. He suffered a bout of the flu and was laid low for several months.
Robert Frost resigned from his position at Amherst College in 1920, citing differences with college president Meiklejohn. Frost began work as consulting editor for Henry Holt and Company at a salary of $100 per month. Frosts's sister Jeanie was arrested in Portland, Maine for disturbing the peace. She was pronounced insane and Frost had her committed to the state mental hospital at Augusta, Maine. Frost bought Stone House, in South Shaftsbury, Vermont.
Robert Frost's prospects improved markedly in 1921, when he gave a series of talks and lectures while earning $4,100 plus expenses for each. He spent a week at Queens University, Kingston, Ontario as poet in residence. He began his association with Middlebury College, located in Ripton, Vermont where he founded the Bread Loaf School of English. He accepted a fellowship at the University of Michigan for $5,000. He was to advise and consult with students instead of teaching. The next year Frost helped arrange a poet's lecture tour series featuring Carl Sandburg, Amy Lowell, and Louis Untermeyer.
Henry Holt and Company published both Selected Poems and New Hampshire. Frost returned to Amherst College as a Professor of English with the ouster of president Meiklejohn.
Robert Frost received the first of four Pulitzer Prize awards in 1924 for his work New Hampshire. Son Carol and wife had their first child, making Frost a grandfather. Frost gave son Carol Stone House for a family residence and bought another nearby farm which he renamed The Gully. He accepted a life time appointment from the University of Michigan as a Fellow in Letters, a position which carried no teaching obligation.
Frost worked in Ann Arbor in 1925 while his family remained in New England. Daughter Marjorie suffered a series of health related problems, becoming hospitalized in December with chronic appendicitis, peri-cardial infection, pneumonia, and nervous exhaustion.
The family rejoined Frost in Ann Arbor in 1926. He was visited by Amherst president Daniel Olds, who offered Frost a part time appointment as Professor of English for $5,000 per year, a position with no obligation to actually teach classes. Frost participated in the inaugural Bread Loaf Writer's Conference.
Robert Frost returned to Amherst College in 1927 to teach a ten week series. His daughter Marjorie entered Johns Hopkins Hospital for treatment.
Robert Frost entered new contracts with his publisher Holt in 1928, winning much better terms. Frost traveled to France, England, and Scotland with Elinor and daughter Marjorie. Elinor was suffering from depression. Frost, Elinor, and Marjorie returned to America in November, 1928. West-running Brook was published.
Robert Frost suffered the loss of his younger sister Jeanie, who died while still confined to the state mental hospital at Augusta, Maine. Marjorie had recovered enough from her medical conditions to begin nursing school. Robert and Elinor moved to a farm they owned near South Shaftsbury.
Frost published Collected Poems in 1930, was elected into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and saw daughter Marjorie hospitalized yet again, this time at Baltimore, Maryland for tuberculosis.
Frost received his second Pulitzer Prize in 1931 for Collected Poems. Marjorie went to a sanitarium in Boulder, Colorado. There she met a young man and became engaged. They were to marry in 1933 in Billings, Montana, a wedding that Robert Frost missed due to exhaustion from his heavy lecture commitments. The couple had a daughter next year, but Marjorie contracted a puerperal fever and died on May 2, 1934. She was interred in Billings and the rearing of her daughter was undertaken by brother Carol along with his wife Lillian. Frost's wife Elinor had a severe bout of angina and under doctor's orders the couple went to Key West, Florida. The couple moved to a home in Coconut Grove, Florida in 1935. Frost continued to work and lecture.
In memoriam of his daughter, Robert Frost had published privately a short volume of his daughter Marjorie's poetry in 1936. The work was entitled Franconia. That same year Frost accepted an appointment as Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University. A Further Range was published by Holt, and became a Book-of-the-Month Club selection.
Robert Frost racked up another Pulitzer Prize in 1937 for A Further Range. That year saw his beloved Elinor have surgery for breast cancer. Frost was elected for membership in the American Philosophical Society.
Robert Frost lost his wife to heart failure on March 20, 1938 at Gainsville, Florida. Frost collapsed and was unable to attend her cremation. Following this episode Frost displayed erratic behavior for a period of time. He resigned his position with Amherst College and returned to South Shaftsbury. He asked Kathleen Morrison to marry him and was rejected. Frost threatened to quit his long term relationship with his publisher Holt and as a result won further concessions. Kathleen Morrison agreed to function as his paid secretary, a position she held for the remainder of Robert Frost's life.
1939 brought more awards and problems into the life of Robert Frost. He accepted a two year appointment as Ralph Waldo Emerson Fellow in Poetry at Harvard. Frost named Lawrence Thompson as his official biographer on condition that the biography be released only after Frost's death. Frost suffered a severe attack of acidosis.
Robert Frost suffered yet another loss in 1940 with the suicide of his son Carol. Frost had met with Carol and talked with him about his depression, suspiciousness, and suicidal thoughts which had become much worse since the death of Elinor. Thinking the crisis was averted, Frost returned to Boston. On October 9, 1940, Carol Frost chose to end his life with a deer rifle. Robert Frost rushed back to South Shaftsbury to make arrangements and to comfort Carol's son Prescott.
Robert Frost moved to Cambridge, Mass. in 1941, a location where he was to reside for the remainder of his life. He spent summers there at Noble Farm while wintering in South Miami.
Holt published Frost's A Witness Tree in 1942, which would win an unprecedented fourth Pulitzer Prize for Frost in 1943. He was hospitalized late in 1943 with pneumonia.
Frost was still a prolific writer, publishing A Masque of Reason in 1945.
Robert Frost was not through with tragedy. His daughter Irma suffered from a deteriorating mental condition in 1946.
Robert Frost's condition was becoming increasingly fragile, suffering pains in his chest and arms after reading a critical review in 1947. His daughter Irma's mental condition continued to deteriorate, and she was finally committed to the state mental hospital at Concord, New Hampshire. Steeple Bush and A Masque of Mercy were both published by Holt.
While enjoying his association with Dartmouth, Frost felt a closeness with Amherst College. He returned there as Simpson Lecturer in Literature, a position he would hold until his death.
Robert Frost had his own bout with cancer, having a lesion removed from the upper right side of his face in 1951. The cancer recurred, necessitating another surgery in 1953. Frost's eyesight had also dimmed, and he often recited poetry from memory rather than from notes.
Robert Frost had over the years had a stormy relationship with Ezra Pound, who had initially befriended Frost upon his first journey to England. The relationship soured, and Frost had grown to strongly dislike Pound. However, in 1957, Robert Frost, along with T. S. Eliot and Ernest Hemingway, signed a letter which requested dropping the charge of treason against Ezra Pound. Pound had been charged with treason due to radio broadcasts he had made from Italy during World War II. His support of Ezra Pound played a part in the dropping of charges and release of Pound in 1958.
Robert Frost predicted the victory of John F. Kennedy in the Presidential election of 1960. Frost was asked to appear in the inauguration ceremonies, and wrote a new poem for the occasion. He was however unable to read it in the glare of the bright January sunlight and instead recited The Gift Outright from memory.
Robert Frost's problems continued with a hospitalization for pneumonia in February, 1962. Weakened and exhausted, he still accepted an invitation by President Kennedy to go to Russia as part of a cultural exchange program. When he was unable to attend the function due to illness and exhaustion, the Soviet Premier came to visit him, holding some 90 minutes of conversation with him. Frost, upon his return to the US, told reporters that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev had said "we were too liberal to fight', a quote which chilled the relationship Frost enjoyed with Kennedy. Later that same year, Frost disallowed the famous quote during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Frost underwent yet another surgery in December 1962 for cancer, this time of the prostate and bladder. He suffered a pulmonary embolism on December 23, 1962.
Robert Frost had another embolism on January 7, 1963. He died on January 29, 1963 shortly past midnight. His private memorial service for friends and family was held at Harvard's Appleton Chapel. A service for the public was held at Amherst College's Johnson Chapel. He was cremated and his ashes rest at the family plot in Old Bennington, Vermont just behind the Old First Congregational Church. Upon his tombstone is inscribed "I had a lover's quarrel with the world".
One could speculate many things concerning Robert Frost. From his childhood record of hearing voices to his family's history of mental instability, one could speculate that Robert Frost barely avoided the family propensity for madness and instead ventured down the path into genius. One could speculate about the close relationship between madness and genius, how a person goes down one path and not another, that truest example of the road not taken. Frost's father, though not an attractive character, may have suffered from a similar instability, giving some excuse if not justification for his excessive behaviors. Frost's mother also may have exhibited a disposition to mental instability. It was she who told young Robert that his voices were a gift, one she shared with him. That episode today would be a red flag requiring the services of a mental health professional. Whether it was a sign of a problem or not became irrelevant as she turned a negative into a positive for her son. Robert Frost himself was known to have his bouts of depression, but given the circumstances surrounding him, to avoid depression would have been a Hurculean task indeed.
Robert Frost succeeded because he never gave up. Somewhere he found the strength to continue when circumstances dictated surrender, an ability to still hear his Muse.
Robert Frost was a man of monumental accomplishments. From his struggling start he rose to become one of the preeminent men of letters in American poetry. His personal struggles were many, but his poetry so often found the beauty of life instead of the tragedy. His style memorialized his New England experiences, mixing the everyday with the ethereal. He was one of those rare individuals who scaled the absolute heights and was cast down into the utter depths of human experience. He was awarded more laurels and honors than almost any other person of his chosen profession but still remained true to himself. His list of works is huge, displaying his dedication to his craft. He has become one of the best known and best loved poets to ever rise from the American landscape. He was a giant, a legend, and he had no successor to fill his graceful, simple shoes.
Partial list of Robert Frost poetry
"Out, Out - "
A Brook in the City
A Dream Pang
A Late Walk
A Patch of Old Snow
A Peck of Gold
A Prayer in Spring
A Servant to Servants
A Time to Talk
Acquainted with the Night
An Old Man's Winter Night
Bond and Free
Dust of Snow
Fire and Ice
Fireflies in the Garden
Going for Water
In a Disused Graveyard
Into My Own
It Bids Pretty Fair
Love and a Question
Meeting and Passing
My November Guest
Nothing Gold Can Stay
Now Close the Windows
On Looking Up by Chance at the Constellations
Once by the Pacific
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
The Axe Helve
The Cow in Apple Time
The Death of the Hired Man
The Hill Wife
The Lockless Door
The Need of Being Versed in Country Things
The Oven Bird
The Road Not Taken
The Secret Sits
The Tuft of Flowers
The Vanishing Red
The Witch of Coos
To the Thawing Wind
Tree at my Window
Two Look at Two
West Running Brook
Wind and Window Flower
Elected to National Institute of Arts and Letters
Awarded LHD by University of Vermont
Frost was awarded his first Pulitzer Prize. Frost awarded an Honorary Litt. D. degree from Middlebury College as well as Yale University
Elected into the American Academy of Arts and Letters
Was awarded second Pulitzer Prize. Received the Russell Loines Poetry Prize from the National Institute of Arts and Letters.
Awarded third Pulitzer Prize. Frost elected to American Philosophical Society.
Frost awarded gold medal by National Institute of Arts and Letters.
Awarded fourth Pulitzer Prize.
Awarded an Honorary Degree from Berkeley, Frost's 17th such honorary degree.
Awarded a Fellowship of the Academy of American Poets.
Frost awarded Honorary Litt. D. degrees from both Oxford University and Cambridge University, only the third American to win dual degrees from Oxford and Cambridge.
Frost was given appointment as a Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Frost received the Emerson-Thoreau Medal from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Frost was given a three year appointment as Honorary Consultant in the Humanities at the Library of Congress.
Congress awarded Robert Frost a Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of his accomplishments in poetry.
Vermont named Robert Frost as Poet Laureate of Vermont.
Frost awarded the Bollingen Prize for Poetry.