This month is National Poetry Month. Last week getting a head start on the month, Robert Frost came to speak at a local branch library. Well, he didn’t exactly come back from the dead as a one hundred and forty-one year old man, but Sam Allen, a scholar of Robert Frost, who is an interpreter, came in his stead. Robert Frost is one of my favorite poets. Since my friend Laura and I both write poetry, I asked her to go with me. The room was crowded and everyone enjoyed Sam Allen’s performance as an interpreter and answering any questions we had afterwards. Since I read Robert Frost, The Aim Was Song, a biography of Frost by Jean Gould years ago, there wasn’t much new he presented, however he did refresh my memory.
I remember a poetry class I took in college as an older non-traditional student in her forties. Our professor, Betsy Hoobler, asked us to bring in our favorite poem to read to the class with copies for each student. Even at that time Frost was one of my favorite poets, so I found it difficult to pick just one poem from his amazing collection of poems. Finally, I came across one, that wasn’t exactly my favorite, but suited my purpose “A Blue Ribbon at Amesbury.”
For a period, Frost was a chicken farmer, and the poem was about one of his hens winning a ribbon. Since I had a flock of chickens, although I’d never shown any, I plucked a Polish hen with her feathery top knot from the flock, put her in a cloth book bag, tucked a towel over her and took her to class. For those of you who don’t know this, chickens and all birds when covered and in the dark, become quite still. She remained relatively quiet next to my leg in her bag only moving occasionally. At my turn, I went to the head of the class, handed copies of my poem to those in the front row seats to pass back, and then took my hen out and placed her on the floor at the front, where she clucked, deposited a moist calling card on the floor, and the class erupted in laughter. They laughed so hard that they couldn’t hear me as I read my poem to them. Something ironic happened a short while later, when another professor – a wonderful poet – came in to recite some of her poetry to us. By now I had my hen safely back in her bag. The second poem this professor recited was about her pet rooster that her uncle had cut the head off for dinner.
As many men of genius, it took Frost a long time to get recognition of the poet he was. In those years he held many jobs. He went for a brief period to Dartmouth College and later to Harvard, dropping out of each so he never earned a degree. Over the years he held many occupations; teacher, cobbler, editor of the Lawrence Sentinel, working in the mill owned and run by his grandfather, and farmer.
His first published poem, after numerous rejections of poetry submitted to numerous venues, was “My Butterfly” which appeared on November 8, 1894 in the New York newspaper The Independent. For that poem he received fifteen dollars, which then was a huge amount for a poem. However, it was the last poem that was accepted for many years.
In 1895 he married Elinor Miriam White, whom he’d shared valedictorian honors with in high school. He courted her for many years, and she finally gave in and married him.
After many rejections of his poetry, Frost and his wife moved to England in 1912. It was there he finally met with success and had two full length collections published of his poetry: A Boy’s Will and North of Boston. They sold well and when he returned to America, his reputation was established. By the 1920s he was the most celebrated poet in America.
Although his life is associated with the life and landscape of New England and was a poet of traditional verse forms and metrics, he remained aloof from the poetic movements and fashions of his time. However, he is more than a regional poet. His poetry is searching and often has dark meditations on universal themes, as well as having layers of ambiguity and irony.
In a 1970 review of The Poetry of Robert Frost, the poet Daniel Hoffman, described Frost’s early work as “the Puritan ethic turned astonishingly lyrical and enabled to say out loud the sources of its own delight in the world.”
Robert Frost was the first poet to deliver a poem at an inauguration as he did for President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy said about this, “He has bequeathed his nation a body of imperishable verse from which Americans will forever gain joy and understanding.
There have been many biographies of Robert Frost, and he has become probably one of the most loved poets in our country and beyond because even if people don’t always understand the underlying meaning of his work, there’s something about his poetry that resonates with us. He is often telling a story in his poems like in The Death of the Hired Man. Although his poetry seems simple with his rhymes and seemingly simple themes, in truth they aren’t. They’re works of a genius. I personally cannot pick a favorite from among his hundreds of poems.
Do you have a favorite poet?
Do you have a favorite Robert Frost poem?