Frequently Asked Questions about Robert Frost


1. Why did Robert Frost write poetry?
Of course there is no easy answer to this. He started writing poetry when he was 15 and continued until he died at the age of 88. Both his parents were highly educated. In childhood, his mother read to him from the Bible, the classics, and the tales of her Scottish homeland. Frost was a good student. He read Shakespeare for the fun of it. He studied Greek and Latin in school and read the classic poets in their native language. Frost was a great talker and conversationalist. He liked language and the crafting of language. Why poetry? Poetry is the highest art of language. Frost loved wordplay and the challenge of creating a complex idea in the form of a poem. He used traditional English meters but introduced conversational language and tones of voice in poetry. Frost believed the advantage of poetry over other literary forms was its compression or compactness of structure.
2. What are Frost's most famous works?
Frost is most remembered for Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening and The Road Not Taken. Other famous works are Fire and Ice, Nothing Gold Can Stay, Birches, After Apple-Picking, The Death of the Hired Man, Home Burial, and Mending Wall. A recent poll was taken by America's Poet Laureate, Robert Pinsky. The Road Not Taken was voted America's favorite poem.
3. What was unique in Frost's approach to poetry?
Frost started writing poetry at the end of the 19th century in the late Victorian period. He, along with others, wanted to reform poetic language away from the stilted, archaic diction used by his predecessors. Frost believed ordinary conversation could be poetic. However, when it came to form and structure, Frost was a traditionalist. He wrote rhymed verse and blank verse, but never free verse. He said, "I would sooner write free verse as play tennis with the net down."
4. What do the poems mean?
Frost wrote many of his best poems on several levels of meaning. He describes a natural setting with beautiful seasonal imagery and he connects this to human beings. There is a literal meaning and there is a deeper more profound meaning. Many poems are parables: a simple story which is meant to remind the reader of something else - perhaps more spiritual or psychological. Frost often cautioned the reader, "Don't press the poem too hard." He said, "The real meaning is the most obvious meaning." He was not a poet of obscuration. He believed a good poem did not require footnotes. Wordplay is very important, along with form and structure. But for the reader to stop there is to miss the chance to know a great mind in a deeper way. Frost is full of contradictions and he is hard to pin down. Just when you think you have a poem or the poet figured out, he eludes you. Don't think you're going to get any answers out of Robert Frost. This is his great charm.
5. Wasn't Frost a terrible person?
NO. He lived a very long and often tragic life. He suffered unreasonable guilt and blamed himself for everything that went wrong. Robert Frost loved his family and did everything in his power to protect them. He loved one woman for over forty years, who he described as "the unspoken half of everything I ever wrote". He said, "No one ever got far into my affairs and friendship that didn't succeed with Elinor." At times, he suffered depression. He lost so many of the people he loved, as you will discover reading these pages. He was a man who aspired to find truth in ordinary things and tell the truth in an eloquent but reserved way. He valued courage and commitment. He wrote, "..The utmost reward of daring should be still to dare." If you seek the man, read his poetry.
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"Then I arose and silently wandered home"