Don't Know Much

“A lover’s quarrel with the world”-Robert Frost

(Updated March 26, 2022; Originally published August 2009; video edited and created by Colin Davis. One correction: I no longer have a home in Vermont mentioned in the video, but have not lost my admiration for Robert Frost.)

 

America’s Poet, Robert Frost, was born on March 26, 1874 –not in New England where so many of his greatest poems are set but in San Francisco.

The first poet invited to speak at a Presidential inaugural, Frost told the new President:

Be more Irish than Harvard. Poetry and power is the formula for another Augustan Age. Don’t be afraid of power.

–“Poetry and Power,” Poets.org

Apples, birches, hayfields and stone walls; simple features like these make up the landscape of four-time Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Frost’s poetry. Known as a poet of New England, Frost (1874-1963) spent much of his life working and wandering the woods and farmland of Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire.

As a young man, he dropped out of Dartmouth and then Harvard, then drifted from job to job: teacher, newspaper editor, cobbler. His poetry career took off during a three-year trip to England with his wife Elinor where Ezra Pound aided the young poet. Frost’s language is plain and straightforward, his lines inspired by the laconic speech of his Yankee neighbors.

But while poems like “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” are accessible enough to make Frost a grammar-school favorite, his poetry is contemplative and sometimes dark—concerned with themes like growing old and facing death. One brilliant example is this poem about a young boy sawing wood,  Out, out– 

The buzz-saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,

A brief biography of Robert Frost can be found at Poets.org, where there are more samples of his poetry. It includes an account of Frost and JFK.

Frost died on January 29, 1963, in Boston. After his death, an unsigned editorial in the The New York Times, entitled “Ending in Wisdom,” noted:

Robert Frost was more than America’s best-known poet. He was a national figure, almost an institution, a man who went up and down the land saying his poems wherever, it sometimes seemed, two or three Americans were gathered together. He spoke in the language of the common man.

New York Times, January 31, 1963

Robert Frost (Courtesy Library of Congress)

Robert Frost (Courtesy Library of Congress)

One of my favorite places in Vermont is the Frost grave-site in the cemetery of the First Church in Old Bennington -just down the street from the Bennington Monument, where this video was recorded.

I had a lover’s quarrel with the world

–Robert Frost’s epitaph

 

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