Robert Frost Foreword • Robert Frost has been discovering America all his life. He has also been discovering the world; and since.

Robert Frost
• Robert Frost has been discovering America all his life.
He has also been discovering the world; and since he is
a really wise poet, the one thing has been the same
thing as the other. He is more than a New England poet:
he is more than an American poet; he is a poet who can
be understood anywhere by readers versed in matters
more ancient and universal than the customs of one
country, whatever that country is. Frost's country is the
country of human sense: of experience, of imagination,
and of thought. His poems start at home, as all good
poems do; as Homer's did, as Shakespeare's, as
Goethe's, and as Baudelaire's; but they end up
everywhere, as only the best poems do. This is partly
because his wisdom is native to him, and could not have
been suppressed by any circumstance; it is partly, too,
because his education has been right.
He is our least provincial poet because he is the best
grounded in those ideas--Greek, Hebrew, modern
Europeans and even Oriental--which make for well-built
art at any time. He does not parade his learning, and
may in fact not know that he has it: but there in his
poems it is, and it is what makes them so solid, so
humorous, and so satisfying. His many poems have
been different from one another and yet alike. They are
the work of a man who has never stopped exploring
himself--or, if you like, America, or better yet, the world.
He has been able to believe, as any good artist must,
that the things he knows best because they are his own
will turn out to be true for other people.
He trusts his own feelings, his own doubts, his own
certainties, his own excitements. And there is absolutely
no end to these, given the skill he needs to state them
and the strength never to be wearied by his subject
matter. "The object in writing poetry" Frost has said, "is
to make all poems sound as different as possible from
each other." But for this, in addition to the tricks any poet
knows, "we need the help of context--meaning--subject
matter. That is the greatest help towards variety. All that
can be done with words is soon told. So also with
meters. . . . The possibilities for tune from the dramatic
tones of meaning struck across the rigidity of a limited
meter are endless. And we are back in poetry as merely
one more art of having something to say, sound or
unsound. Probably better if sound, because deeper and
from wider experience."
Frost is one of the most subtle of modern poets in that
department where so much criticism rests, the
department called technique; but the reason for his
subtlety is seldom noticed. It is there because it has to
be, in the service of something infinitely more important:
a report of the world by one who lives in it without any
cause to believe that he is different from other persons
except for the leisure he has given himself to walk about
and think as well as possible concerning all the things he
sees; and to take accurate note of the way they strike
him as he looks. What they are in themselves is not to
be known; or who he is, either, if all his thought is of
himself; but when the two come together in a poem,
testimony may result. This is what Frost means by
subject matter, and what any poet had better mean if he
expects to be read.
Frost is more and more read, by old readers and by
young, because in this crucial and natural sense he has
so much to say. He is a generous poet. His book
confides many discoveries, and shares with its readers a
world as wild as it is wide--a dangerous world, hard to
live in, yet the familiar world that is the only one we shall
ever have, and that we can somehow love for the bad
things in it as well as the good, the unintelligible as well
as the intelligible.
Frost is a laconic New Englander: that is to say, he talks
more than anybody. He talks all the time. The inhabitants
of New England accuse one another of talking too much,
but all are guilty together, all are human; for man is a
talking animal, and never more so than when he is trying
to prove that silence is best. Frost has expressed the
virtue of silence in hundreds of poems, each one of them
more ingenious than the last in the way it takes of
suggesting that it should not have been written at all.
The greatest people keep still.
Frost's Life-sketch
• Robert Frost was born in San Francisco in 1874. He
moved to New England at the age of eleven and became
interested in reading and writing poetry during his high
school years in Lawrence, Massachusetts. He was
enrolled at Dartmouth College in 1892, and later at
Harvard, but never earned a formal degree. Frost drifted
through a string of occupations after leaving school,
working as a teacher, cobbler, and editor of the
Lawrence Sentinel. His first professional poem, "My
Butterfly," was published on November 8, 1894, in the
New York newspaper The Independent.
In 1895, Frost married Elinor Miriam White, who became
a major inspiration in his poetry until her death in 1938.
The couple moved to England in 1912, after their New
Hampshire farm failed, and it was abroad that Frost met
and was influenced by such contemporary British poets
as Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, and Robert Graves.
While in England, Frost also established a friendship
with the poet Ezra Pound, who helped to promote and
publish his work. By the time Frost returned to the United
States in 1915, he had published two full-length
collections, A Boy's Will and North of Boston, and his
reputation was established. By the nineteen-twenties, he
was the most celebrated poet in America, and with each
new book—including New Hampshire (1923), A Further
Range (1936), Steeple Bush (1947), and In the Clearing
(1962)—his fame and honors (including four Pulitzer
Prizes) increased.
Though his work is principally associated with the life
and landscape of New England, and though he was a
poet of traditional verse forms and metrics who remained
steadfastly aloof from the poetic movements and
fashions of his time, Frost is anything but a merely
regional or minor poet. The author of searching and
often dark meditations on universal themes, he is a
quintessentially modern poet in his adherence to
language as it is actually spoken, in the psychological
complexity of his portraits, and in the degree to which his
work is infused with layers of ambiguity and irony. Robert
Frost lived and taught for many years in Massachusetts
and Vermont, and died on January 29, 1963, in Boston.
A pang that makes poetry.....
• In 1912, at the age of 38, Frost with his wife and four
children moved to England. It was in England that some
of his finest poems appeared. But the inspiration for
these were the images of the country - the people and
places - of New England. In a letter he wrote, “ We can't
hope to be happy long out of New England. I never knew
how much of a Yankee I was till I had been out of New
Hampshire a few months. I suppose the life in such
towns … is the best on earth.”
In another he said, “…the snug downhill churning room
with the view over five ranges of mountains, our talks
under the hanging lamp and the fat blue book, the tea
inspired Mrs. Lynch, baseball, and the blue black
Lafayette. There is a pang there that makes poetry….”
To lighted city streets we, too, have known,
But now are giving up for country darkness. (In the
Home Stretch)
The Frosts returned to New England in 1915 and settled
on a farm in Franconia, New Hampshire. He spent the
rest of life on various farms he owned in New England.
He wrote poetry and farmed. And he became 'the
essential voice and spirit' of the place.
In the review of North of Boston, Ezra Pound wrote, “…He
is quite consciously and definitely putting New England
rural life into verse….Frost has been honestly fond of the
New England people, He has given their life honestly
and seriously. He has never turned aside to make fun of
it. He has taken their tragedy as tragedy, their
stubbornness as stubbornness...”
The First Three Poems and One
That Got Away
• Sometime in 1912, before Robert Frost made his famous
leap to "live under thatch" in England, where he would
become known as a poet, he sent some of his poems to
Ellery Sedgwick, the editor of The Atlantic Monthly, and
in due course received a personal reply that read, "We
are sorry that we have no place in The Atlantic Monthly
for your vigorous verse." Frost's submission included
some of his finest early poems -- "Reluctance," for
Sedgwick's ambiguous snub rankled in Frost's memory.
During the two and a half years he lived in England his
first two books of poetry, A Boy's Will (1913) and North of
Boston (1914), were published there, though not yet in
the United States. Thanks partly to Ezra Pound, Amy
Lowell, and Harriet Monroe's Poetry magazine, Frost's
poems were hailed in advance of U.S. publication as
representing a new American voice. In February, 1915,
North of Boston was published in New York, just as the
Frost family set foot back in the United States.
Response to this new book of poems about New
England was nearly immediate, and Frost was quickly in
demand for public appearances. On May 5, 1915, he
came to Boston from his new home in Franconia, New
Hampshire, to be heard at Tufts University, where he
read three of his as yet unpublished poems: "Birches,"
"The Road Not Taken," and "The Sound of Trees." The
day after his Tufts appearance, he called on Ellery
Sedgwick at the Atlantic offices, which the magazine
shared with Houghton Mifflin Company at 4 Park Street.
Sedgwick had just received a letter from the noted
English editor and critic Edward Garnett (also the
discoverer of Joseph Conrad and D. H. Lawrence), in
which Garnett wrote that "since Whitman's death, no
American poet has appeared, of so unique a quality, as
Mr. Frost." It's not surprising that Sedgwick received
Frost with a warm welcome and began by asking if Frost
had any new poems for The Atlantic.
Pretending to be taken aback, Frost asked Sedgwick if
he were sure he wanted to publish Frost's poems. "Yes,"
said Sedgwick. "Sight unseen?" asked Frost. "Sight
unseen," said Sedgwick. Pulling from his pocket the
three poems he had read at Tufts only the night before,
Frost waved them under Sedgwick's nose, while,
according to Frost, Sedgwick made little grabs for them.
"Are you sure that you want to buy these poems?" Frost
inquired. Sedgwick said of course he was. "Then," Frost
said, releasing the papers to Sedgwick, "They are
And so, in the August, 1915, issue of The Atlantic
Monthly, there appeared "A Group of Poems by Robert
Frost.“ These three famous poems--"Birches," "The
Road Not Taken," and "The Sound of Trees,"--were the
first new poems by Frost to be published in the United
States since the publication of North of Boston. They
were accompanied by Edward Garnett's critical essay "A
New American Poet," in which he wrote, "it is precisely
its quiet passion and spiritual tenderness that betray this
to be poetry of a rare order, [quoting Goethe] 'the poetry
of a true real natural vision of life.'" Here also is
"Reluctance," the great poem Sedgwick declined.
A footnote: Frost went on, until his death in 1963, to
publish twenty-eight more poems in The Atlantic Monthly.
But it is amusing to note that the flirtatious relationship
between Frost and Sedgwick proved uneasy. Only two
more Frost poems appeared while Sedgwick was editor;
all the rest came at the behest and during the editorship
of Edward Weeks.
~The end~

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