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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

10. Rhythms
in Poetry

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- HD (Hilda Doolittle)
- T. S. Eliot
- Robert Frost
- Langston Hughes
- Claude McKay
- Ezra Pound
- Carl Sandburg
- Genevieve Taggard
- Jean Toomer
- William Carlos Williams
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Napa Valley, CA. More Than Twenty-Five Years a Bindle-Stiff. Walks from the Mines to the Lumber Camps to the Farms
[5873]Dorothea Lange, Napa Valley, CA. More Than Twenty-Five Years a Bindle-Stiff. Walks from the Mines to the Lumber Camps to the Farms (1938), courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USF34-018799-E].

Robert Frost Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
Although Robert Frost was born in San Francisco, where he spent his first eleven years, he is commonly associated with the rugged landscape and traditional values of rural New England. His father, William Frost, graduated with honors from Harvard and spent most of his life working as a journalist, but alcoholism led to an early death in 1885. In answer to William's wishes to be buried in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the family moved back east and settled in Lawrence. Robert quickly distinguished himself as both student and poet in high school, and he eventually married Elinor White, who with Frost was co-valedictorian of their high school class. Frost attended Dartmouth for less than a year before dropping out to work odd jobs and write poems. Not finding the success he had hoped for, he decided in 1897 to return to college, this time attending Harvard as a special student. Although he didn't graduate from Harvard, he was influenced by many of the important thinkers in residence at the time, including George Santayana and William James. He left Harvard in 1899 and moved to a farm in Derry, New Hampshire. These early years of marriage were difficult financially for the Frosts, who had five children by 1905. Things began to look up when he accepted a position at Pinkerton Academy in 1906, where he spent five years teaching English, directing plays, and writing poetry.

In 1911, Frost sold his farm; he took his family to Scotland and London in the fall of 1912, a trip that proved invaluable to his writing career. Despite trouble getting his work published in America, Frost found a willing publisher in London, and A Boy's Will appeared in 1913. North of Boston followed in 1914. It was in London that Frost first met many of the leading young American poets, including Amy Lowell and Ezra Pound, who subsequently introduced Frost to Yeats, a poet he had long admired. The outbreak of World War I cut short Frost's time abroad and he returned to America in 1915. He had little trouble publishing his verse thereafter, and his growing reputation as a poet brought attractive offers at prestigious universities. He began teaching at Amherst in 1917. While he remained loyal to Amherst, Frost spent short periods at other institutions as poet in residence, and he lectured all over the United States. He eventually became an emissary to South America and later, during John F. Kennedy's presidency, to the Soviet Union. As the most famous poet of his time, Frost read at President Kennedy's inauguration.

Frost's poetry is widely recognized for its intense evocation of rural New England settings, its aphoristic lines, and its enigmatic voice-wise, clipped, and thematically evasive. Like other American modernists, Frost wrote in the American idiom, striving for colloquial language that evoked everyday speech. His poems usually have a narrative feel, and the characters are often engaged in manual labor, whether they are building a fence, picking apples, or chopping wood. Despite this penchant for the common and colloquial, Frost still believed very much in poetic form; he was famous for saying, in the face of so much free verse, that writing without rhyme and meter was like playing tennis with the net down. For Frost much of the challenge and beauty in poetry comes from a tension between a dynamic, dangerous subject matter and the poise and restraint of literary form. Although Frost's poems often seem as simple and accessible as Sandburg's, his work reveals a darker underside, suggesting the complexity he sensed beneath the tranquil surfaces of New England country life. Frost's sagacious voice and gift for narrative lend his poems a popular appeal not shared by other modernists.

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