Thursday, April 13, 2017

073. The Life And Works Of Robert Frost. Reintroduced By P S Remesh Chandran

The Life And Works Of Robert Frost 

P. S. Remesh Chandran 

Editor, Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum

Article title image by Jerzy Gorecki. Graphics: Adobe SP.
The life and works of the American poet Robert Frost is of interest to students the world over. His achievements as a poet and educator have been studied and researched well and chronicled in several volumes by eminent writers. The fact is they are scattered throughout several publications and not readily available to learners to look at a glance. This brief article attempts to record them for students, to augment available text, to be used as an introduction or appendix to studies on his poems.

Robert Frost’s father travels west to become a journalist and settles in San Francisco.

01. Portrait of Robert Frost 1913.

William Prescott Frost Junior was a native of Lawrence City of Essex County in Massachusetts, in the Merrimack River valley in America. He went west to become a journalist, married Isabelle Moodie of Pennsylvania and settled in San Francisco. Both were highly educated teachers. Robert Frost was their first son, born in 1874 in San Francisco. He was named after the famous American Civil War Southern General, Robert E. Lee. Robert soon had a sister too, named Jeanie.

An independent mother returns to Lawrence after husband’s death.

When William Frost died after living 11 years in San Francisco his wife, a spiritual woman, returned to Lawrence with their two children due to poverty and loss of revenue. She taught in a local school and took care of her family with this meager income. But she also taught her children the Bible and Scottish legends. We must note that Mr. William Prescott Frost Senior did not come to their aid at this stage of their life, or Mrs. Isabelle Robert Frost did not go to him and accept his charity, as William Prescott Frost Junior had left Lawrence, gone to San Francisco and married the woman against the wishes of his father.

Life in a town of mill workers near the Merrimack River.

02. Portrait of Robert Frost 1917.  

Lawrence then was a town mainly of mill workers, as the Merrimack River unfailingly catered to the energy needs of the numerous water mills there. Robert and his sister were educated at Lawrence High School where he was one of the best students, won scholarships and began writing poems at the early age of ten. He also won the heart of his brilliant schoolmate Elinor White, whom he married later. Both loved poetry and loved teaching. So it happened that the mother, son and daughter-in-law taught at the same town school for a time.

Saying farewell to teaching, starting farming, and becoming a serious writer.

03. Portrait of Robert Frost 1941.
Strenuous learning schedules and the more strenuous teaching schedules made Robert Frost weak, and his doctor advised him a slower life and more fresh air. Here his grandfather, a long-time resident of this town, came to their help who purchased a farm for them at Derry in New Hampshire in 1900. This farm at Derry is now a National Historic Monument. For the next five years Frost said farewell to teaching and a led the life of a farmer in Derry. He loved farmhouses and farms which love remained with him till the end of his life. In fact, since Derry, wherever he lived, he purchased a farm to live at. The Junior Frost was not much of a farmer anytime in his life, but with the help of a hired hand loaned by his grandfather the family survived, which now had grown into a large one with many more children added, minus Frost’s mother and his first child who were now dead and gone. Derry was quite a natural setting for a poet and it was at Derry that Robert Frost wrote most of his early poems, which all were turned down by American publishers. History tells us that this brilliant American poet who was later showered with awards, honors and honorary degrees had to wait till he reached England to get his books published. The American publishers’ totally ignoring this genius before England noted his poetry still remains a shame to the American publishing industry.

Sells farm, sails to England and recognized for the first time.

Frost and bad climate can affect farms adversely and destroy crops devastatingly and cut farmers income which happened to Robert Frost too. So he returned to teaching and the resultant further failing of health. Finally, tired of teaching, farming and neglect by American publishers, he sold the Derry farm in 1912 and sailed for England with family at the age of 38. Even though he remained in England only for three years till 1915 when the First World War broke out, he was well received by British publishers, they published his first two books and he became a poet noted both in England and America. It must be noted that his first two books A Boy’s Will and North Of Boston had both British and American Editions as were some of his following books to be.

Returns from England and leads a life of honors, awards and gold medals in America.  

Robert Frost returning to New York from England found that he had become equally famous in America. As is expected of him now, he purchased a farm in Franconia in the New Hampshire Mountains, published his third book of poetry and made extensive travels in America as a lecturer-poet. This farm in Franconia also is a National Historic Monument now. What troubled Frost most was the severe cold in Franconia which affected his apple orchards. So after five years of farming, lecturing and poetry-writing in Franconia, he sold the Franconia farm and moved to Shaftsbury in Vermont by purchasing a farm there as usual as a somewhat permanent settlement, where he lived with his now dwindling family for twenty years. Life at Shaftsbury from 1920 to 1940 was the most productive and satisfying period in his life, when viewed from a materialist’s angle. Greatest honors came his way during this period. He became one of the greatest and best university teachers in America and one of the greatest poets in the world. By this time had become more a university man than a farmer-poet. Amherst College and Boston University became the centers of his living in a way.

A Robert Frost farm in the remote and most uninhabited place in the mountains.

So when his dear wife died in 1938 and son in 1940, he said farewell to Vermont State also and began living in Boston for the rest of his life. Do not anyone think this farmer said farewell to farms and farmhouses also. Though he continued to live in Boston, he bought the Homer Noble Farm in Ripton in Maddison County in the Green Mountains in Vermont and made his summer residence there- the most remote and mostly uninhabited place where the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference which he invariably attended was held in every summer. When Frost died in Boston in 1963 at the age of 88, his body was brought back to the First Congregational Church in Old Bennington Town in Vermont to be laid beside his beloved wife and son. Robert Frost Cabin in his 150-acre farm in Ripton now owned by Middlebury College also is a National Historic Landmark.

Nature as a background in Robert Frost’s poems.

04. Frost’s Derry Farm Buildings.  

Most of Frost’s poems are full of imageries of landscapes and pastoral scenes from nature, with peasants and farmers toiling from morning till night to make possible their daily existence. This background of nature serves as a canvass on which to draw the psychological struggle of man. For him, nature was a diving board to launch man. In ‘Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening’, the slowly snow-filled forest serves as a background for drawing the psychological struggle of nature-loving man prompted to go away from nature’s beauties to make time for fulfilling the chores of daily family life. We might wonder whether he gives more importance to man or nature in his poems- it is man indeed. We might also wonder whether he is to be qualified as a nature poet or a philosophical poet- he is the philosophical poet indeed. He himself said: “I am not a nature poet. There is almost always a person in my poems.” Nature is only a background in his poems presented as life-sustaining or destructive, but it is not the theme. It is the experiences and feelings of the man or woman in the poems which is the theme. Frost also had concerns about the influence of science over nature in the destiny of man. The fault of science is that it cannot be unlearned. What knowledge science imparts stays and influences the future. If his lines can be taken as reflections of his true beliefs, he considered nature as a very destructive and wild force which would one day wipe out human race from the face of the earth. ‘Will man ever succeed in his battle for taming the nature? Is not nature a mightier force which will eventually destroy man? Is not nature more alien and hostile to man than helping him in accommodating along with the other creations?’ These have been great concerns Frost expressed in his poems.

A perfectionist in poetry who stood for tone and sound and tune.

05. Derry Farm Building With Sign.

The tone and sound in a poem were of paramount importance to Robert Frost. He said ‘what is poetry is tone’ and asked readers ‘to listen for the tune’. He loathed adhering to conservative and stiff vocabulary and wrote poems in simple words. But he was an unwavering perfectionist also where form was concerned. He called himself a Metricist. Writing poems without metrical form or writing so-called free verse was like ‘playing tennis without a net’ for him. Saying one thing and meaning something else also is a technique he frequently used in his poems- a technique which in literary terms is called metaphor. He was well-versed in using metaphors.

The keeper and breaker of rules in poetry.

06. Derry Farm Sign.  

Frost can be said to be a keeper of rules as well as a breaker of rules in poetry. He reveled in keeping the traditional and universal standards in poetics and rebelled in breaking them occasionally. Being a skilled versifier and very accurate in using botanical and biological terms, students of poetry turn to his poems for learning the principles of versification as illustrated in them and the psychological impact of his verses on readers, learners, listeners and singers. Researchers turn to them for their use of form, meter, imagery, tone, style, figurative language and sound devices. They will find that even while using traditional meters and form, he did not hesitate to introduce conversational language in his poems. He had lifelong interest in astronomy and used star imagery in his poems. The rightful place for Robert Frost as a poet is, after Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe and Emily Dickinson in the 19th century and with Carl Sandberg and T S Elliot in the 20th century.

Once a poet has stated his mind in fine language, is he to further explain it in inferior language?

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, The Road Not Taken, Mending Wall, Birches, After Apple-Picking and Desert Places are the most widely read poems of Robert Frost. Making choices in life is a frequently occurring dilemma in man’s life and Stopping By Woods and The Road Not Taken are about making this choice. Apple Picking and a set of poems like it deal with religious beliefs. Mending Wall and Birches handle the theme of the impact of nature’s imagery on man. Isolation of human mind is the theme of poems like Acquainted With The Night. Frost considered poetry as the best part of a language and refused to further explain his poems. ‘I have written my poem as well as I possibly could, and now you want me to restate it, using inferior language?’ he asked.

Robert Frost’s books to appear in print through years.

 07. Frost House, Brewster Street, Cambridge, Massachusettes.  

During the period from 1912 to 1962, fifteen collections of Frost’s poems were published. Most of them had English and American editions. They were A Boy's Will 1912, North Of Boston 1914, Mountain Interval 1916, Selected Poems 1923, New Hampshire 1923, West-Running Brook 1928, Collected Poems 1930, A Further Range 1936, Collected Poems 1939, A Witness Tree 1942, A Masque Of Reason 1945, Steeple Bush 1947, A Masque Of Mercy 1947, Complete Poems 1949 and In The Clearing 1962.

Schools, colleges and universities Robert Frost attended.

Many schools, colleges and universities were associated with the name of Robert Frost where he either studied or officiated as lecturer, professor or fellow, spanning many decades. Methuen Elementary School 1893, Salem District School 1894, Isabelle Moodie Frost Private School 1895 were where he studied. He served at Pinkerton Academy 1906-1911, New Hampshire State Normal School 1911-1912, Amherst College 1917-1920, Michigan University as Poet in Residence & Fellow in Creative Arts 1921-1922, Amherst College as Professor of English 1923-1925, University of Michigan as Fellow in Letters 1925, Amherst College as Professor of English 1926-1938, Pierson College as Associate Fellow, Yale University 1933, Harvard University as Ralph Waldo Emerson Fellow in Poetry 1939-1943, Dartmouth College as George Ticknor Fellow in Humanities 1943-1949, Amherst College as Simpson Lecturer in Literature 1949, Bread Loaf School of English as Lecturer, and Writers' Conference 1938-1962.

Honors that came the way of Robert Frost.

 08. Shaftsburry Stone House, Vermont 1927.

The first of the honors that came the way of Robert Frost was the Co-Valedictorian & Hood Prize for Scholastic Excellence in High School. The Phi Beta Kappa Poet honor was given to him six times by Tufts in 1915, Harvard in 1916, Columbia in 1932, Tufts again in 1940, Harvard again in 1941 and College of William and Mary in 1941. He was made a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, American Academy of Arts and Letters, American Philosophical Society, and Board of Overseers of Harvard College. He was also appointed as Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry, Ralph Waldo Emerson Fellow in Poetry and Associate of Adams House in Harvard, Simpson Lecturer in Literature in Amherst, Consultant in Poetry in the Library of Congress, Inaugural Poet for President John F. Kennedy and Poet Laureate of Vermont State.

Awards showered upon Robert Frost.

  09. Ripton Cabin, Vermont.   

Pulitzer Prize for Poetry- the famous annual award for letters, drama and music for American authors- was given to Robert Frost four times- in 1924, 1931, 1937 and 1943. He was the only one to receive it four times. He was also presented with Congressional Gold Medal 1960. Academy of American Poets gave him an award and Poetry Society of America honored him twice with Gold Medals. National Institute of Arts and Letters, Holland Society of New York and Limited Editions Club also gave him Gold Medals. To Robert Frost went Russell Loines Poetry Prize, Bollingen Prize in Poetry, Emerson-Thoreau Medal, Edward MacDowell Medal and Huntington Hartford Foundation Award also. Theodore Roosevelt Society, Signet Society, Harvard College and New York University also presented him with Medals of Honor.

Honorary Degrees and degrees awarded to Robert Frost.

 10. Nobel Prize Dinner 1962 With President Kennedy.  

It is recorded that forty two degrees and honorary degrees were awarded to Robert Frost by various universities in America, England and Ireland, such as M.A. (Master of Arts- Magister Artium), L.H.D. (Doctor of Humane Letters- Litterarum humanarum doctor), LL.D. (Doctor of Laws- Legum Doctor) and D.Litt. (Doctor of Letters- Doctor Litterarum), the last being beyond the Ph.D (Doctor of Philosophy- Philosophiae Doctor) and equal to D.Sc. (Doctor of Science- Scientiae Doctor). There must have been a few more at the receiving end of which was Robert Frost. These degrees and honorary degrees are listed here in chronological order. Remember that except attending Harvard University for two years from 1897 to 1899 and discontinuing due to illness, he never came anywhere near to completing or even attending a course! They all came to him as recognition of the excellence of his poetry and oration.

M.A. by Amherst and Michigan Universities. D.Litt. by Middlebury, Bowdoin, Dartmouth, Kenyon, Duke, Amherst, Colgate and Windham Colleges, and Yale, New Hampshire, Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, Marlboro, Durham University, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Oxford, Cambridge, National, Ireland & Ohio State, Syracuse, Tufts and Boston Universities. L.H.D. by Wesleyan, Williams, Bates and Hebrew Union Colleges and Vermont, St. Lawrence, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Miami and Detroit Universities. LL.D. by Dartmouth and Colby Colleges and California, Cincinnati, Florida, Miami and Michigan Universities.

Bloom Books Channel has a video of Stopping By Woods.

11. Stopping By Woods Video Title.

Bloom Books Channel has a video of this poem Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening. A primitive prototype rendering of this song was made in a crude tape recorder decades earlier, in 1984. In 2014, a home made video of this song was released. In 2015, a third version with comparatively better audio was released. The next version, it's hoped, would be fully orchestrated. It's free for reuse, and anyone interested in can develop and build on it, till it becomes a fine musical video production, to help our little learners and their teachers.

Link to this video:

Also read the article Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening. Robert Frost Poem. Reintroduced By P S Remesh Chandran.


First Published on: 12 April 2017

 Article title image by Gerd Altmann. Graphics: Adobe SP.

Pictures Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Picture Credits:

01. Robert Frost Portrait 1913 By The New York Times. 

02. Robert Frost Portrait 1917 By Unknown. 
03. Robert Frost Portrait 1941 By Fred Palumbo, for Sun. 
04. Derry Farm Buildings By Grongar. 
05. Derry Farm Building With Sign By Craig Michaud. 
06. Derry Farm Sign By Grongar. 
07. Frost House Brewster Street, Cambridge, Massachusettes By Daderot. 
08. Shaftsburry Stone House, Vermont 1927 By Rolf Müller. 09. Ripton Cabin, Vermont By Aiken1986. 
10. Nobel Prize Dinner 1962 With President Kennedy By Robert Knudsen. 
11. Stopping By Woods Video Title By Bloom Books Channel. 12. Author Profile Of P S Remesh Chandran By Sahyadri Archives.

Meet the author: About the author and accessing his other literary works.

12. Author Profile of P S Remesh Chandran By Sahyadri Archives.
Editor of Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum. Author of several books in English and in Malayalam. And also author of 'Swan, The Intelligent Picture Book'. Edits and owns Bloom Books Channel. Born and brought up in Nanniyode, a little village in the Sahya Mountain Valley in Kerala. Father British Council-trained English Teacher and mother university-educated. Matriculation with High First Class, Pre Degree studies in Science with National Merit Scholarship, discontinued Diploma Studies in Electronics and entered politics. Unmarried and single. 
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