Beyond the Book
Little Known Facts About Robert Frost
By the end of his long life, Robert Frost was the
éminence grise of American letters, a man whose legend
preceded him and who often collaborated in promulgating that
legend. Yet Brian Hall depicts a Robert Frost who is
distinctly more complex than the one most of us encountered
in high school, that "simple rustic," that plain-spoken New
Englander who extolled the virtues of rural life. Consider
these infrequently mentioned details of the Frost mythos:
- The bard of rural New England was, in fact, born in
San Francisco and raised there until age eleven, when
his father died. His father had requested to be buried
in his hometown of Lawrence, Massachusetts, and his
mother resettled there with Frost and his sister after
honoring that last wish.
- Frost was a terrible farmer. He did seem to enjoy
raising chickens, but he was afraid of cows and erratic
in his work habits, preferring to take rambling walks
and come back to sit at the kitchen table and write
poetry. He spent his whole life protesting that he only
"played" at farming, but nothing he said dented the
public image of the poet-farmer.
- Frost lied about his age for much of his life. He
claimed to have been born in 1875, when in fact he was
born a year earlier. He thought he could get away with
the fib because his birth records were destroyed in the
San Francisco fire. Why would he subtract a year from
his age? According to Hall, Frost believed for many
years that his mother had been pregnant with him when
she married his father. He lied in order to protect her
virtue. Even after he learned that his parents married
earlier than he thought, he maintained the lie but
enjoyed hinting at it in his poems. Ultimately, his
biographer discovered the truth from newly unearthed
documents and Frost was forced to come clean.
- The quintessential American poet found his first
success in England. After twenty years of failure among
American publishers, he finally brought out his first
collection, A Boy's Will, in London in 1913,
which earned the attention of Ezra Pound, who
subsequently became an important champion of Frost's
work. Henry Holt released the book in America in 1915 to
- Though he loved his wife Elinor dearly, they were
distant as a couple and Frost could never quite overcome
the guilt he felt at saddling her with so many children
and immersing himself in his poetry. Only six months
after she died in 1938, he began an affair with Kathleen
Morrison, a married woman who lived near him and acted
as his secretary until his death in 1963.
This article was originally published in April 2008, and has been updated for the
April 2009 paperback release.
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