From The Writer’s Almanac

26 Mar

I had no idea. Poor Robert.

It’s the birthday of Robert Frost, born in San Francisco (1874). He cultivated the image of a rural New England poet with a pleasant disposition, but Frost’s personal life was full of tragedy and he suffered from dark depressions.

He graduated from high school at the top of his class but dropped out of Dartmouth after a semester and tried to convince his high school co-valedictorian, Elinor White, to marry him immediately. She refused and insisted on finishing college first. They did marry after she graduated, and it was a union that would be filled with losses and feelings of alienation. Their first son died from cholera at age three; Frost blamed himself for not calling a doctor earlier and believed that God was punishing him for it. His health declined, and his wife became depressed. In 1907, they had a daughter who died three days after birth, and a few years later Elinor had a miscarriage. Within a couple years, his sister Jeanie died in a mental hospital, and his daughter Marjorie, of whom he was extremely fond, was hospitalized with tuberculosis. Marjorie died a slow death after getting married and giving birth, and a few years later, Frost’s wife died from heart failure. His adult son, Carol, had become increasingly distraught, and Frost went to visit him and to talk him out of suicide. Thinking the crisis had passed, he returned home, and shortly afterward his son shot himself. He also had to commit his daughter Irma to a mental hospital.

His behavior became erratic at times and worried people. He asked the wife of a colleague to marry him and she refused, though did agree to work for him as a secretary and tour manager. President John F. Kennedy would later say of Frost that his “sense of the human tragedy fortified him against self-deception and easy consolation” and that his poetry had a “tide that lifts all spirits.” Even during periods of deep depression, he drew large crowds to his immensely popular poetry readings, which he preferred to call poetry “sayings.”

He said: “A poem begins with a lump in the throat; a homesickness or a love-sickness. It is a reaching out toward expression, an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found the word.”
And, “A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom.”

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Posted by on March 26, 2011 in poetry


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