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There's a guy out mowing a field with a scythe beside the woods. He thinks that maybe the scythe starts talking to him, and then he thinks that maybe an idea like that would make for a good poem later. Then again, he thinks, I'm not crazy and it's really not that hot, so I can't be delusional. In fact, he continues, what I am is a hard worker, and that hard work gets me solid rewards that are better than what I could get from any mystical bonk on the head by a sparkling fairy. That's the truth, and he's sticking to it.
And we can believe this guy. That's because poet Robert Frost is no stranger to hard work. He may be one of the most famous and readily recognizable names in American poetry now, but he wasn't an instant success. In fact, he failed at a lot of things the first time he tried. In fact, the first time he asked, he failed at convincing the love of his life to marry him. He also failed pretty miserably at being a farmer the first time he tried. And he never actually managed to get through college, even though he attempted at least twice (once at Dartmouth and once at Harvard). Frost and his wife even left the country for a while to try living in jolly old England because things were pretty dismal for them here in the States.
It wasn't until he met fellow poet Ezra Pound that Robert Frost the poet really began to see some success. Pound and his British poet friends loved his work and helped promote it overseas. With that little help from his friends, Frost finally, in 1913, saw his first book of poems published: A Boy's Will. It's in this first book that "Mowing" is found.
The fact that this poem is found in Frost's very first collection illuminates both the poem and Frost himself. Since Frost had spent so much of his time prior to his move to England attempting to make a life as a farmer, it's really no surprise at all that he would find poetry in such a mundane task. It's not that Frost was so overwhelmed with inspiration that even the smallest things turned into poems in his head, but simply that this is what Frost found himself doing pretty much every single day.
When it came to poetry, he believed that poetry could be found in everything, everywhere. And when it came to living his life, he believed that hard work and perseverance inevitably produce results. "Mowing," then, is really a shining example of Frost's philosophy about both poetry and life—all rolled up into fourteen short lines.
We hate to break the news, but your grandpa was right about that whole "hard work never hurt anybody" thing (well, if you ignore workplace injuries, that is).
In a lot of ways, Robert Frost is the working man's poet. Though poetry was a bit more respected and poets were far better paid back in Frost's time, it was still a largely academic topic. Scholars liked to talk about poetry in a way that was just out of reach of the "common" person, pretending that it was some kind of lofty pursuit, suited only to those who had to tolerate those awful wool jackets with crests on the pockets in institutions like Harvard and Yale. Though Frost did attend Harvard for a little while, he never completed his degree and he spent way more time with a rake in his hand than a polo stick (we're really just guessing that that's what rich people do, and most of our guesses are based on episodes of Gilmore Girls anyway).
Some critics mostly ignored Frost's work in the beginning because he addressed topics that were considered "beneath" real poetry, and he used plain, everyday language to talk about it. That turned out to be a mistake though, because, as "Mowing" illustrates beautifully, poetry can be found everywhere and deep thoughts can be effectively expressed even in plain language.
What poems like "Mowing" teach us is that you can still be a poet even if you have dirt under your nails or spend your day knee-deep in unglamorous and thankless work. In many ways, Frost believes that poetry found in everyday life is even stronger, because it comes from a place of honesty and genuine effort. In other words, no gift or easily gained reward will be nearly as valuable as something gained through pure hard work and determination.
Working hard gets you to the truth, Frost says, which is pretty deep stuff considering that, on the surface, this is just a poem about mowing the grass. The bottom line here is that hard work pays off, so get out there and get cracking.
The Friends of Robert Frost
Here's the website of the caretakers of Frost's former home and current museum in South Shaftsbury, Vermont.
This website details the writing and reading workshops at Frost's former farm in Derry, New Hampshire.
Robert Frost: The Man, The Myth, The Legend
Take a look into the poet of the hour with yours truly.
Biographers Get Real
Here's a straightforward, if brief, look at Frost's life from Biography.
A Lecture You Don't Need a Pell Grant to Attend
Check out this free video lecture from Open Yale on Robert Frost.
Be Sure to Continue onto Part 2
This biographical film offers lots of interesting footage of Frost on his farm, as well as from various interviews. It reveals that Frost really was quite down to earth and amicable, even for such an important dude.
Oh, That Radio Voice
Robert Frost himself reads "Mowing," complete with that classic-sounding golden radio days accent.
All From Memory, Too
This is a recording of Robert Frost reciting his poem "The Gift Outright" at President John F. Kennedy's presidential inauguration ceremony. For the record, the last line was changed from "such as she would become" to "such that she will become" to reflect the hope of his presidential campaign.
The Man Himself
Here's one of the last portraits of Robert Frost.
Frost graced the cover of Time Magazine on October 9, 1950.
"Was Robert Frost a Modernist?"
Well, was he? This Slate article tackles the question.
Wow, That's a Lot of Books
Here's a link to Google's Robert Frost book ticker, because there are far too many to list individually.
In the Pictures
Here's IMDB's page for all of the films written by Robert Frost or that have him in them.