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The Literature Nook


A Tribute to Robert Frost

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.

-from "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"

Robert Frost was born on March 26, 1874 in San Francisco, California. Frost moved to New England at the age of eleven, after the death of his father. He and his mother settled in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where Frost was raised.

He attended Dartmouth College for one semester and then worked at odd jobs for several years. After trying college again, this time for two years at Harvard, he became a farmer in New Hampshire. He also taught at the Pinkerton Academy and the New Hampshire State Normal School. Frost began publishing poems in 1894, but failed to gain recognition. In 1912, he moved with his family to England, where his first two volumes of poetry, A Boy's Will and North of Boston, finally brought him success.

When Frost returned to the United States in 1915, his reputation as an important new American poet was established. His many later volumes of poetry include Mountains Interval, New Hampshire, A Further Range, A Witness Tree, and In the Clearing. The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem, contains his complete poems.

Frost was the leading modern American poet of nature and rural life. He found beauty and meaning in commonplace objects, such as a drooping birch tree and an old stone wall, and drew universal significance from the experiences of a farmer or a country boy. Most of his poems have a New England setting and deal with the theme of man's relationship to nature. Although his poetry appears simple and effortless, it contains a wealth of profound thought and emotion. It captures the rhythms and vocabulary of everyday speech, without using dialect or slang. Frost is one of the most widely read poets of the 20th-century, and he is often considered the most authentic voice of the American national character. He received many awards and was the only poet to be awarded four Pulitzer Prizes, in 1924, 1931, 1937, and 1943.

Among Frost's beautiful nature poems with philosophic overtones is "Birches", which describes the poet's growth from a young "swinger of birches" to an old man contemplating the meaning of death and eternity. "The Road Not Taken" and "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" are typical of his lyrics, in which a few well-chosen words and images express a great deal of meaning and emotion.

Although Frost's verse is lyrical, he is often considered a dramatic poet. One of his most admired poems, "The Mending Wall", describes the conflict that arises between the poem's narrator and his neighbor over rebuilding a wall that separates their farms. The neighbor holds the traditional opinion that "Good fences make good neighbors," but the narrator believes that walls are unnecessary and unnatural between people who should trust each other.

During his lifetime, Frost was the American equivalent of a poet laureate. In 1950, the United States Senate passed a resoultion in honor of his 75th birthday, stating that his poems "have helped to guide American thought with humor and wisdom." At the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in 1961, Frost read his poem, "The Gift Outright", about America's gaining of independence through its devotion to the land. Frost also composed "Dedication", but he was unable to deliver it. In 1962, President Kennedy presented Frost with the Congressional Medal. Frost's own love of the soil, his quiet humor, and his simple but moving language made him one of the most respected poets of his generation. Robert Frost died on January 29, 1963 in Boston, Massachusetts.

The Gift Outright

The land was ours before we were the land's.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England's, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by, Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
Butstill unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.

-Robert Frost at the Kennedy Inauguration, 1961

The Pasture

I'm going out to clean the pasture spring;
I'll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I shan't be gone long. -You come too.

I'm going out to fetch the little calf
That's standing by the mother. It's so young
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I shan't be gonelong. -You come too.

-Robert Frost

Robert Frost Links

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;

Phillip Greenspun

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.

Phillip Greenspun

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.

-Robert Frost

Frost Works Online

A tree's leaves may be ever so good,
So may its bark, so may its wood;
But unless you put the right thing to its root
It never will show much flower or fruit.

But I may be one who does not care
Ever to have tree bloom or bear.
Leaves for smooth and bark for rough,
Leaves and bark may be tree enough.

Some giant trees have bloom so small
They might as well have none at all.
Late in life I have come on fern.
Now lichens are due to have their turn.

I bade men tell me which in brief,
Which is fairer, flower or leaf.
They did not have the wit to say,
Leaves by night and flowers by day.

Leaves and bark, leaves and bark,
To lean against and hear in the dark.
Petals I may have once pursued.
Leaves are all my darker mood.

-Robert Frost "Leaves Compared With Flowers"

Fall Foliage on the Web

Robert Frost's poetry paints images of autumn that no painting or photograph could match. I thought it would be interesting to include a few web sites that offer information on fall foliage.


Out through the fields and the woods
And over the hills I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone astor is gone;
The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question"Wither?"

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?

-Robert Frost

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

-Robert Frost

Phillip Greenspun

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