Lee Frost, born in San Francisco, Mar. 26, 1874, died in Boston, Jan. 29,
1963, was one of America's leading 20th-century poets and a
four-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize. An essentially pastoral
poet often associated with rural New England, Frost wrote poems
whose philosophical dimensions transcend any region. Although his
verse forms are traditional--he often said, in a dig at arch
rival Carl Sandburg, that he would as soon play tennis without a
net as write free verse - he was a pioneer in the interplay of
rhythm and meter and in the poetic use of the vocabulary and
inflections of everyday speech. His poetry is thus both
traditional and experimental, regional and universal.
father's death in 1885, when young Frost was 11, the family left
California and settled in Massachusetts. Frost attended high
school in that state, entered Dartmouth College, but remained less
than one semester. Returning to Massachusetts, he taught school
and worked in a mill and as a newspaper reporter. In 1894 he sold "My
Butterfly: An Elegy" to The Independent, a New York
literary journal. A year later he married Elinor White, with whom
he had shared valedictorian honors at Lawrence (Mass.) High
School. From 1897 to 1899 he attended Harvard College as a special
student but left without a degree. Over the next ten years he
wrote (but rarely published) poems, operated a farm in Derry, New
Hampshire (purchased for him by his paternal grandfather), and
supplemented his income by teaching at Derry's Pinkerton Academy.
In 1912, at the
age of 38, he sold the farm and used the proceeds to take his
family to England, where he could devote himself entirely to
writing. His efforts to establish himself and his work were almost
immediately successful. A Boy's Will was accepted by a
London publisher and brought out in 1913, followed a year later by
North of Boston. Favorable reviews on both sides of the Atlantic
resulted in American publication of the books by Henry Holt and
Company, Frost's primary American publisher, and in the
establishing of Frost's transatlantic reputation.
As part of his
determined efforts on his own behalf, Frost had called on several
prominent literary figures soon after his arrival in England.
of these was Ezra Pound, who wrote the first American review of
Frost's verse for Harriet Munroe's Poetry magazine. (Though he
disliked Pound, Frost was later instrumental in obtaining Pound's
release from long confinement in a Washington, D.C., mental
hospital.) Frost was more favorably impressed and more lastingly
influenced by the so-called Georgian poets Lascelles Abercrombie,
Rupert Brooke, and T. E. Hulme, whose rural subjects and style
were more in keeping with his own. While living near the Georgians
in Gloucestershire, Frost became especially close to a brooding
Welshman named Edward Thomas, whom he urged to turn from prose to
poetry. Thomas did so, dedicating his first and only volume of
verse to Frost before his death in World War I.
The Frosts sailed
for the United States in February 1915 and landed in New York City
two days after the U.S. publication of North of Boston (the
first of his books to be published in America). Sales of that book
and of A Boy's Will enabled Frost to buy a farm in
Franconia, N.H.; to place new poems in literary periodicals and
publish a third book, Mountain Interval (1916); and to
embark on a long career of writing, teaching, and lecturing.
1924 he received a Pulitzer Prize in poetry for New Hampshire
(1923). He was lauded again for Collected Poems (1930), A
Further Range (1936) and A Witness Tree (1942). Over
the years he received an unprecedented number and range of
literary, academic, and public honors.
importance as a poet derives from the power and memorability of
particular poems. "The Death of the Hired Man" (from North of
Boston) combines lyric and dramatic poetry in blank verse.
"After Apple-Picking" (from the same volume) is a free-verse dream
poem with philosophical undertones. "Mending Wall" (also published
in North of Boston) demonstrates Frost's simultaneous
command of lyrical verse, dramatic conversation, and ironic
commentary. "The Road Not Taken," "Birches" (from Mountain Interval)
and the oft-studied "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" (from New
Hampshire) exemplify Frost's ability to join the pastoral and
philosophical modes in lyrics of unforgettable beauty.
The poetic and
political conservatism of Frost caused him to lose favor with some
literary critics, but his reputation as a major poet is secure. He
unquestionably succeeded in realizing his life's ambition: to
write "a few poems it will be hard to get rid of."