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Better Know A Poet Laureate: Robert Frost

"He has bequeathed his nation a body of imperishable verse from which Americans will forever gain joy and understanding." – John F. Kennedy, who invited Frost to read at his inauguration.

Normally I would tell you, “Wait, it’s okay, I’ve never heard of him either!” but Robert Frost (1874 - 1963) is a beloved giant in the poetry world and shame on anyone who does not enjoy his shade. While he paid close attention to meter and rhyme, his poetry often dealt with universal themes and was pleasing to the ear. Let’s take a look (Or listen! Links below.) at “The Road Not Taken.” Notice how many lines start with “And” like it’s no big deal while sharing a story of choosing between two paths? I don’t care if Frost's first published poem was about a butterfly and he never earned a college degree, that’s talent.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Here’s a shorter poem, again dealing with an abstract thought that is nonetheless universal and easy to identify. What do you do when the last line breaks itself in two? Is that an extra special pause? This poem is said to have potentially been inspired by either The Inferno by Dante Alighieri or astronomer Harlow Shapley. It's the end of the world as we know it, and Frost's poetry feels fine.

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Finally, here is what could be called Frost’s signature poem. It is often referenced, such as in the title for the young adult book Lovely, Dark and Deep by Amy McNamara. Repetition is a good tool for conveying an important detail. Repetition is a good tool for conveying an important detail.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

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.

"The Road Not Taken," Copyright © 1916 by Robert Frost; originally published by in Mountain Interval by Henry Holt
"Fire and Ice," Copyright © 1923 by Robert Frost; originally published in New Hampshire by Henry Holt
"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," Copyright © 1923 by Robert Frost; originally published in New Hampshire by Henry Holt

Amazon Says: This is the only comprehensive volume of Robert Frost's published verse; in it are the contents of all eleven of his individual books of poetry-from A Boy's Will (1913) to In more...
Amazon Says: This is the only comprehensive volume of Robert Frost's published verse; in it are the contents of all eleven of his individual books of poetry-from A Boy's Will (1913) to In the Clearing (1962). The editor, Edward Connery Lathem, has scrupulously annotated the more than 350 poems in this book. less...
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Robert Frost on Writing by Robert Frost
Amazon Says: Book by Frost, Robert more...
Amazon Says: Book by Frost, Robert less...
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Amazon Says: During his lifetime, Robert Frost notoriously resisted collecting his prose--going so far as to halt the publication of one prepared compilation and to "lose" the transcripts more...
Amazon Says: During his lifetime, Robert Frost notoriously resisted collecting his prose--going so far as to halt the publication of one prepared compilation and to "lose" the transcripts of the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures he delivered at Harvard in 1936. But for all his qualms, Frost conceded to his son that "you can say a lot in prose that verse won't let you say," and that the prose he had written had in fact "made good competition for [his] verse." This volume, the first critical edition of Robert Frost's prose, allows readers and scholars to appreciate the great American author's forays beyond poetry, and to discover in the prose that he did make public--in newspapers, magazines, journals, speeches, and books--the wit, force, and grace that made his poetry famous. The Collected Prose of Robert Frost offers an extensive and illuminating body of work, ranging from juvenilia--Frost's contributions to his high school Bulletin--to the charming "chicken stories" he wrote as a young family man for The Eastern Poultryman and Farm Poultry, to such famous essays as "The Figure a Poem Makes" and the speeches and contributions to magazines solicited when he had become the Grand Old Man of American letters. Gathered, annotated, and cross-referenced by Mark Richardson, the collection is based on extensive work in archives of Frost's manuscripts. It provides detailed notes on the author's habits of composition and on important textual issues and includes much previously unpublished material. It is a book of boundless appeal and importance, one that should find a home on the bookshelf of anyone interested in Frost. less...
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AmazonThomasM Says: This Library of America edition was consulted in the construction of this blog post and its citations and is a handsome edition overall
Amazon Says: A scholarly, annotated, and uniquely comprehensive edition gathers all of Frost's major poetry, a selection of previously unanthologized poems, and the most extensive offering more...
Amazon Says: A scholarly, annotated, and uniquely comprehensive edition gathers all of Frost's major poetry, a selection of previously unanthologized poems, and the most extensive offering of his prose writings ever published, along with an essay on the texts by the editors. less...
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Lovely, Dark and Deep by Amy McNamara
Amazon Says: A resonant debut novel about retreating from the world after losing everything—and the connections that force you to rejoin it. Since the night of the crash, Wren W more...
Amazon Says: A resonant debut novel about retreating from the world after losing everything—and the connections that force you to rejoin it. Since the night of the crash, Wren Wells has been running away. Though she lived through the accident that killed her boyfriend Patrick, the girl she used to be didn’t survive. Instead of heading off to college as planned, Wren retreats to her father’s studio in the far-north woods of Maine. Somewhere she can be alone. Then she meets Cal Owen. Dealing with his own troubles, Cal’s hiding out too. When the chemistry between them threatens to pull Wren from her hard-won isolation, Wren has to choose: risk opening her broken heart to the world again, or join the ghosts who haunt her. less...
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Robert Frost on Writing by Robert Frost
AmazonThomasM Says: Frost was a stoic defender of form in poetry, and his thoughts on writing have a lot to offer to curious artists.
Amazon Says: Book by Frost, Robert more...
Amazon Says: Book by Frost, Robert less...
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