"Three years ago, a young New Hampshire schoolmaster went over to England, lived in retirement for a while, and published a volume of poems which won him many friends in a quiet way," wrote the Boston Herald in 1915. "Some time ago, another volume of verse went to the same publisher and one morning Robert Frost found himself famous."1
This is the simplified version of how a New Hampshire farmer became America's poet—the one whose clear, elegant verse spoke of things as powerful and inscrutable as nature itself. Robert Frost, who was born in 1874 and died 88 years later as one of the most famous men in America, doesn't fit neatly into any single chapter of a poetry anthology. His poetry captures the best of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It struck out on a bold, fresh course, while never veering from the confines of verse and meter. His poems are about a specific place—America's New England—but they speak for everyone, everywhere.
Like his placid images that hinted at darker truths beneath, Robert Frost's personal life belied the beauty of his poetry. Frost struggled with depression, and saw many of the people he loved destroyed by mental illness. He lost four of his six children. In the poem "Home Burial," the father of the dead child speaks words that could have been Frost's: "I shall laugh the worst laugh I ever laughed. / I'm cursed. God, if I don't believe I'm cursed."2
You have probably been forced to read and parse the meaning of "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" in English class. You may have seen lines from "A Road Not Taken" emblazoned on coffee mugs and journals. That's kid stuff. Now get ready to learn the real Robert Frost.