Life of Robert Frost

Robert Frost was born in March 26, 1874 in San Francisco, where his parents had moved from Pennsylvania after marriage. His father died when he was eleven and subsequently he moved with his mother and sister to Lawrence, Massachusetts. At high school he became interested in reading and writing poetry. He enrolled at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire in 1892 and later at Harvard. He left Harvard without a degree.

Frost drifted through a string of occupations – teacher, cobbler and editor of the Lawrence –Sentinel. His first published poem ‘My Butterfly’ appeared on November 8th 1894, in The Independent, in New York. In 1895 Frost married Miriam, a college friend who had inspired him.

In England, he met such poets as Edward Thomas Rupert Brooke and Robert Graves. Frost also established a friendship with Ezra Pound who supported him in his writing. He returned to the U.S. in 1915. By that time, he had published two volumes of poetry.

Frost is often seen as a poet of traditional verse forms and metrics who was aloof from the poetic movements and forms of his time. But Frost is not a mere regional poet. He probes the psychology of situation and reflects on the human condition as much as the better held poets of his time. The author of searching and often dark meditation on universal themes he is quintessentially a modern poet in his adherence to language as it is actually spoken in the psychological complexity of his portraits.


The Socio-cultural Background during the period of Frost

Robert Frost’s life saw the passage of the United States of America through the reconstruction era, the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era. It includes the rise of industrialization and the resulting surge of immigration. This was a period of rapid economic growth, which saw the US become the world’s dominant economic- industrial and agricultural power. The progressive era brought political, social and business reforms (expansion of education, higher status for women, curtailment of corporate excesses, and modernization of many areas of government and society).

By the late 19th Century, the U.S. had become a leading global industrial power building on new technologies (eg: telegraph and steel), an expanding railroad network and abundant natural resources, ushering in the second industrial revolution.

The U.S. supported the Allies in the First World War. The post-war period was one of sustained prosperity for America – but as the Great Depression set in, agriculture collapsed. It revived and U.S. withdrew from active interference in world affairs. It was forced to intervene in the 2nd world war to support Great Britain, China and Russia. U.S. emerged as the super power after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Although U.S. made the highest goals in the political and economic fields becoming the world’s super power the growth of monopolies and cartels in agriculture and industry, created economic issues. Rural farmers cultivating traditional family –run units found it difficult to compete with big companies as railroads and land speculators drove up the price of land. Large scale farming soon took over from the family farms, increasing agricultural yields but displacing many farmers. Industrial workers received very low wages. Working conditions were inhuman and dangerous and had very little legal protection. Neither the agricultural nor the industrial workers were properly organized. This led to wide gaps in the social structure.

The lasting peace ushered in after the unification of the country at the end of the civil war and the subsequent economic prosperity brought on upsurge in culture and literature. Rapid transcontinental settlements and changed urban, industrial conditions introduced new themes, new forms, new subjects, new characters, new regions and new authors in the post-civil war period. With the growth in printing newspapers and magazines had wide circulation. Many of the writers of this period started as journalists or began their writing careers publishing in newspapers.

American authors of this period increasingly adopted the form of realism in their fiction. Fiction was the more prolific and popular genre. It reached great heights with writers who followed a chain of excellence beginning with Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Harriet Beecher Stowe, H.D. Thoreau, Louisa M. Alcott and Mark Twain. Excellence in poetry was realized by poets like Emily Dickinson and Stephen Crane. The short story was given form and impulse by Edgar Allen Poe.

American authors expressed disillusionment following world war I. Scott Fitzgerald captured the mood of the 1920s. Dos Passos and Hemingway wrote of the war. American drama reached international standards in the 1920s with dramatists like Eugene O’Neill, followed by Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. From the end of World War II, notably until the 1960s end, saw the flowering of the most popular creations in American Literature. Eg: Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’. Writers like Norman Mailer, Joseph Heller wrote about the acute realism of human suffering in the world war.


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Source: Resource book, NIE

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