Monday, March 26, 2012

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ROBERT FROST!

Robert Frost has always seemed to me to be a poet of the modern age.  When I looked up his birthday, however, it shocked me to learn that he was born 138 years ago today!  Not so  modern, I guess. Ancient though he may be, he is one of my favorite poets.

That is why on a trip to New Hampshire last fall, Bob and I made a pilgrimage to Frost Place, the full-time home of Robert Frost and his wife and children from 1915 to 1920 and their summer home for nineteen additional summers.

The family first rented a home in the area in the summer of 1907, and Frost wrote in a letter to his editor: "Our summer was one of the pleasantest we have had in years. . . . There is a pang there that makes poetry."  He felt drawn to New Hampshire, and he finally purchased this house and eight acres of farmland outside of Franconia for about $1,000.  Apparently his new home was even better at "making poetry," for in the five years he and his family lived here, Frost published three volumes of poetry, which included the well-known poems "The Road Not Taken" and "Mending Wall."
Frost home
Front porch

Poetry-inspiring view from the front porch
The original furnace

A fireplace that could heat two rooms

A card on the bed notes that this was Frost's actual bed and quilt


In  1997 a non-profit organization created the "Poetry and Nature Trail" that weaves through the property. 
Engraved placards of Frost poems are placed on posts alongside the path. We were there on a rainy day, and we walked the route in complete solitude, much as Frost would have done almost 100 years ago.  It was a moving experience to read Frost's poems while looking around at the scenery that inspired him.






Returning to the house from behind
It is difficult to reconcile this idyllic landscape with the tragic realities of Frost's life. His father died of tuberculosis when Robert was 11, leaving the family with almost nothing. His mother died of cancer when he was 26. In 1920, Frost had to commit his sister to a mental institution, where she eventually died, and then in 1947 he had to commit his own daughter to an institution. Frost and his wife had six children, and only two outlived their father.  Their oldest son died of cholera at age 8.Their third child committed suicide at age 38. Their fifth child died of fever after she gave birth, and the youngest died at three days old.  Frost's wife Elinor died of breast cancer and heart failure in 1938.  Frost himself suffered from serious bouts of depression, as did his mother, wife, and some of his children.

"Nothing gold can stay," said Frost in one of his famous poems. I guess he knew what he was talking about.

And yet, Frost won four Pulitzer Prizes for his poetry, in 1924, 1931, 1937, and 1943. He never graduated from college, but he held forty-four honorary degrees.  He was the poet laureate of the United States from 1958 to 1959 and read a poem at JFK's inauguration in 1961. Many consider him to be the greatest American poet of the 20th Century.  I am always impressed by men and women who can rise above deep personal tragedy. Frost certainly did that.

My mom had a favorite Robert Frost quote that seems especially appropro: "In three words I can sum up everything I know about life: It goes on."

4 comments:

  1. Nice post! Made me miss New England ...
    Mom had another statement that expressed a similar thought in four words: "This too shall pass."

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  2. I absolutely love Robert Frost. There is an intimacy, a sweetness, a simplicity and a human-ness about his poetry. I love "Death of a Hired Man" and "Pasture" and "Fire and Ice"....and, and, and! He himself is as inspiring as his poetry. Thanks for this post.

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  3. This post is so timely given our news of last night.
    Frost was my father's favorite poet, and still remains so, as my father discovered the man while our family lived in Massachusetts and my father drove the Old Post Road to do a teaching gig every week. New England gets under your skin and all of our family carry that taciturn, flinty resolve at least in memory if not in action.

    I've visited his grave, but not his home. Your visit there sounds idyllic--glad you wrote about it.

    E.

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  4. Very nice, I like visting homes, it gives you more of a feel of what the person was like.

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