When an artist becomes so popular that hoi polloi celebrate him and politicians reward him, critics and avant-gardes do their best to dismiss him. But Frost was that rarest of rare things: a poet who was very, very popular—superstar popular—and, at his best, very, very good. His popularity is unmatched in the annals of American poetry; by the end of his life he had achieved the iconic status of living legend. His collected poems exceeded record sales; he appeared on magazine covers, was asked by President Kennedy to compose an inaugural poem, was sent to Russia on a mission of goodwill by the U.S. government, was recognized on the street and in restaurants. He almost single-handedly created the poetry reading circuit, delighting the public all over the country with engaging presentations of his work. He was perhaps the first poet-in-residence at an American university, in which capacity his duty was little more than to live and exude poetry.
Frost is a poet who often seems liked for the wrong reasons—a poet who is read much but often not very carefully. The subtle wit of his language, his broad humor, and his frequent despair are too often overlooked for his regional-ness, his folksiness, and his public persona. The neglect of his true talents was compounded by the fact that serious criticism for so long did its best to ignore him. However, regardless of who reads him and for what reasons, what really matters are the poems; they stand alone by virtue of their own strength, independent of the associations surrounding them: Though perhaps influenced by, or in agreement with, statements by Imagists, Frost nonetheless belonged to no school; he worked outside of movements and manifestos to create his own sizeable niche in English literature. In the years covered by this SparkNote we find Frost reaching toward, and finally achieving, a mastery of his art.
Robert Frost is considered the quintessential New England
poet, but he spent the first eleven years of his life in San Francisco.
Only upon the death of Frost’s father did the family go to live
with relatives in Lawrence, Massachusetts. There, Frost excelled
in high school and fell in love with his co-valedictorian at Lawrence
High, Elinor White. They became engaged; Elinor went off to college
at St. Lawrence in upstate New York while Frost entered Dartmouth.
He was not happy there, however, and left after one semester. Back
home, Frost worked as a reporter on a local newspaper and taught
school (in part, to help his mother, a teacher with poor control
over her students). Frost and Elinor married in
The Frosts moved to a rented farm near Methuen, Massachusetts,
and began raising poultry. Tragedy struck in
Mountain Interval appeared in
Frost’s crowning public moment was his recitation of “The
Gift Outright” at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in January of