The Sound of Sense

Poet: Robert Frost
Date of Birth: 26 March 1874, California, USA
American
Date of Death: 29 January 1963, Massachusetts, USA

Robert Lee Frost was a poet. Initially published in England, his work was soon published and renowned internationally. He was known for his realistic depictions of rural life and strong command of American colloquial language.

Frost was born in San Francisco, California. His father was a teacher and journalist and his mother was a Scottish immigrant. After the death of his father in 1885, the family moved to Massachusetts under the patronage of Frost’s grandfather, an overseer at a New England mill. In 19892 Frost graduated from Lawrence High School. He was baptized into the Swedenborgian church but left it as an adult.

Known for his association with rural life in his later life, Frost grew up in the city and published his first poem in his high school’s magazine. He attended Dartmouth College for two months and returned home to teach and to work at various jobs. He did not enjoy these jobs as he felt his calling was poetry.

After selling his first poem, ‘My Butterfly: An Elegy’, in 1894 Frost proposed marriage to Elinor Miriam White. She declined as she wanted to finish college before they married. Frost went on an excursion to the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia and asked again for Elinor’s hand on his return. Having graduated she agreed and they were married in December 1895.

From 1897 to 1899 Frost attended Harvard University but left due to illness. His grandfather brought the couple a farm shortly before his death. Frost worked the farm for 9 years while writing in the early mornings and producing many of his now famous poems. Farming proved unsuccessful and Frost returned to the field of education as an English teacher.

Frost sailed with his family to Great Britain in 1912. In England, he met some important and influential acquaintances, including Edward Thomas, a member of the Dymock poets and Ezra Pound, who was the first American to give Frost’ work a favourable review. Frost returned to America in 1915 and bought a farm in New Hampshire and launched his career of writing, teaching and lecturing. In 1916 he was made an honorary member of the Phi Beta Kappa at Harvard. Frost taught English at Amherst College, encouraging his students to account for the myriad of sounds and intonations of the spoken word in their writing. Frost called his colloquial approach to language ‘the sound of sense.’

From 1921 to 1962 Frost spent most summers and falls teaching at the Bread Loaf School of English of Middlebury College, at its mountain campus at Ripton, Vermont. He is credited with being a major influence in the development of the school and its writing programs. Frost accepted a fellowship teaching post at the University of Michigan in 1921. He was awarded a lifetime appointment at the University as a Fellow of Letters. He began spending the winter months in Florida in 1934, giving a talk at the University of Miami in 1935.

Frost was awarded a United States Congressional Gold Medal in 1960 in recognition of his poetry. He read his poem ‘The Gift Outright John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1960. Following complications from prostate surgery Frost died in Boston on 29 January 1963. He was buried at the Old Bennington Cemetery, Vermont, USA.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

©JG Farmer 2020

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