Robert Frost was born in San Francisco, California, on March 26, 1874. His father was a new Englander, and his mother, Isabel Moodie, was a scot who had come to America from Edinburgh. She was poetess and so wanted to name her son Robert after Robert Burns, the greatest poet of Scotland, but the father wanted to name him after general Lee. So, as a compromise the boy was named Robert Lee. Hence his full name is Robert Lee Frost.
His father died of Tuberculosis in 1885, when the poet was only eleven years old. His mother feared the same fate for his son. The father had willed that his remains be taken to New England and buried there. So, the boy and his mother went to New England. As they didn’t have the money for return journey, they settled in a village of Salem, New Hampshire.
The mother earned an uncertain living to support herself and her family by teaching for a few years in the Grammar School of the village which was also attended by her children. In the beginning, the boy did not show interest in studies, but during his four years stay at Lawrence High School, he displayed an intense pleasure in learning. In 1892, he joined the Dartmouth College, which he soon left, saying he had enough of scholarship.
Durning the next few years, he tried to earn a living in various ways. He worked in mills, took to newspaper reporting, and taught in schools. In his leisure hours, he wrote poetry. In 1894, his youthful poem, My Butterfly was published in the New York Independent, and soon after he privately published six of his lyrics in a booklet titled Twilight.
In 1895, he married his beautiful school fellow, Elinor White and tried to lead a settled life as a school teacher. For more than two years he helped his mother manage a small private school in Lawrence, then spent two years as a student at Harvard College, hoping to prepare himself for college teaching. But again he decided that the academic atmosphere was not congenial to him. Then he tried to make a successful business out of raising hens and selling eggs. In 1900, when the doctor warned him that is recurring illness might indicate tuberculosis, he moved with a growing family to a small farm in Derry, New Hampshire, and continued his poultry business.
During the winter of 1906, he came so near to death, from pneumonia that both he and his doctor were surprised when he recovered. Then he turned more and more to the writing of poetry, as a kind of consolation. Occasionally, he sold a poem or two. But when he could not make both ends meet financially, as a poet or a farmer, he turned again to school teaching, this time at Pinkerton Academy in Derry. Subsequently, he taught psychology for one year at the New Hampshire State Normal School in Plymouth.
It was in 1912, that Frost decided to make poetry his vocation in life. He sold his farm and with his wife and four children went to England where they settled in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. He was eminently successful as a poet. His first volume of lyrics A Boy’s Will (1913) was accepted for publication by the first publisher to whom he offered it, and his second book of dramatic dialogues North of Boston (1914) attracted so much attention that it was also published in America soon after. When Frost returned there in 1915, he found that it had already become a best-seller.
On his return to New England, Frost what a small farm in Franconia, New Hampshire, hoping to live a quiet life. He was shy and reserved and public attention embarrassed him. But fame and recognition had come to him. He could not refuse for long, invitation for giving public lectures and reciting this own poems in public, and travelled from one part of the continent to another for the purpose. He became one of the first American poets who was invited to live on the campus of various institutions as a poet-in-residence. But he loved the life of a farmer, and managed to enjoy his life at least during the months of sowing and harvesting. He left New Hampshire for Vermont and bought a farm in the South Shaftesbury in 1919. After his children had grown, and after Mrs. Frost had died, he changed his residence from South Shaftesbury to an upland farm which he purchased in Ripton, Vermont. On doctor’s orders he began spending the most severe winter months in Florida, then in 1940 he bought a rural acre outside of Coral Gables, Florida, and built a typical New England bungalow there. His feeling for the soil and for growing things remained a passion with him, long after that kind of life ceased to be a necessity.
Frost received more honours than any other contemporary literary figure in America. He was elected to the membership of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1916, to membership in the American Academy in 1930. He was awarded Pulitzer Prize for poetry four times. He was given honorary degrees by more than forty colleges and universities, including Oxford and Cambridge. He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1960 for his poetic works. In 1961, he was called upon to recite his patriotic poem, The Gift Outright, when President Kennedy took office. On July 22, 1961, Frost was named poet laureate of Vermont.
Frost died on January 29, 1963, of complications from prostate surgery. He is buried at the Old Bennington Cemetery in Bennington, Vermont. His epitaph quotes the last line from his poem, The Lesson for Today.
I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.