118 years of Trust Fact File THE TRIBUNE
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Saturday, December 12, 1998




Robert Lee Frost

By Illa Vij

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

THESE lines are so often quoted in public speeches, debates and declamations. These well-known lines are from Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by the famous American poet Robert Lee Frost. He was born on March 26, 1874, in San Francisco, California, USA. He was raised as a city boy, till the age of 11. In 1885, Robert lost his father who died of TB. The father had willed that his remains should be taken to his native land, New England, for burial. Thus the little boy, his younger sister Jeannie and his mother crossed the continent to fulfil this unreasonable desire of the deceased father. Since money was short, they were unable to return to California. Thus, they settled in the village of Salem, New Hampshire. Here, Robert’s mother earned a meagre salary by teaching in a grammar school, and Robert and his sister also attended the same school. Robert disliked studying till the age of 12, when he suddenly developed great pleasure in learning. Later he enrolled himself at Dartmouth College but soon left it.

The following few years were spent in trying his hand at various ways of earning a living. He tried working in a mill, did newspaper reporting and even taught in a school. His leisure hours were filled with writing poetry. In 1894, he made his fist sale of a poem My Butterfly to a literary magazine, New York Independent. Then he had six of his poems privately printed in a book titled Twilight. But only two copies of this were printed, one for himself and one for his fiancee, Elinor White. After getting married in 1895, he taught in a school and even helped his mother manage a small school in Lawrence. He was eager to teach in colleges. So he studied for two years at Harvard College. But he began feeling that teaching was not his line. So he began running a poultry farm. In 1900, a doctor told him that he had indications of tuberculosis. Keeping his health in mind, he moved to a small farm in Derry, New Hampshire. He continued his poultry work here. But failure seemed to surrounded him in all ventures. His illness in 1906 got him very close to death and his recovery came as a surprise. The periods of emotional distress drew him into writing poetry. Poetry gave him the solace that he needed. Poor finances compelled him to get back to teaching. Frost took a great plunge in 1912. He made one big gamble of selling his farm in Derry and spent most of the money on poetry. He moved to a rented house in Beaconsfield, Buckingham-shire, England, and got down to serious poetry writing. Finally, Frost did get the taste of success. From England, he moved back to the USA.

The poems that he wrote were received well by the public. Although he was shy of large crowds, he began giving lectures in various parts of the USA. He even lived on the campuses of colleges, as poet-in-residence.He had stints at Amherst College in Massachusetts, at the University of Michigan, at Harvard College and at Dartmouth. By the time his children had grown and he had lost his wife, he had started spending the severe winter months in Florida. Finally, he bought land in Florida and built a bungalow there. In 1916 he got membership in the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and in 1930 he became a member of the American Academy. Four times he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. He was given honorary degrees by more than 40 colleges and universities. The poems that he wrote usually had a double meaning. To the simple minded they sound straight-forward and to the intellectual they reveal deeper meanings. Thus each individual discovers a meaning in his poem in accordance with his mental development.

Robert Frost was loved for his deep interest in all objects of nature, characters and problems faced by human beings. Being a truthful, honest and sincere portrayer of life, Robert Frost’s poetry has been an embodiment of rich wisdom. He died in January, 1963. Frost believed that whatever we might imagine of heaven our real work is on earth. "Earth’s the right place for love," he said.back

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