March 26, 2010

Happy Birthday, Robert Frost

Born on this day in 1874, Frost is still one of the most-read, most-quoted, and most-loved American poets of all time. He's also one of the most honored: he received four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry in his lifetime.

Robert Frost was born in San Francisco, California, but he moved to New England when he was a teen; he lived in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont; Scotland a
nd England; and Michigan and Florida.

Although Frost attended prestigious universities (Dartmouth and Harvard), he never graduated from college. It's not that he didn't do well at his studies--he did--but he had to leave to support his family. So, no graduation means no diploma, right? Wrong
! Frost earned more than 40 honorary degrees, including one from Harvard and two from Dartmouth.

Other honors came his way, too; during his lifetime, buildings and schools were named for him, and Frost was chosen to read one of his poems at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy.

I was lucky enough to visit the cemetery in which Robert Frost was buried. I say “lucky” because I did
n't know he was buried there and was just exploring a cool old graveyard in Benngington, Vermont. It was moving to see his grave; his epitaph is a line from one of his poems: “I had a lover's quarrel with the world.”

Celebrate Frost

One of his most famous poems is “The Road Not Taken.”
(Here is a YouTube video of the poem being read by Alan Bates.)

Read the poem, listen to it, and think about or discuss its meaning. Is there just one meaning?

One time I read that songwriter Paul Simon, when asked what a particular song meant, refused to explain his meaning. He basically said that he had done his part in writing the song, now listeners had to do their part. I think what he meant is that there isn't one "correct” meaning; instead, there are lots of possible meanings, because we each create our own meaning.

I think the same thing could be said about poetry,
and from what I can tell by reading what Frost said about his poems, it certainly seems to be true of “The Road Not Taken.” The poem ends with the lines, “I took the one less traveled by / And that has made all the difference.” Because of these two lines, most people think the poem is a statement that people should be individuals, strike out on their own “path,” and avoid going along with “the crowd.”

However, many people say that it is an ironic poem that shows that the decision about which path to take made little or no diff
erence, and that people tend to defend their past choices by rationalizing them. Frost called this poem tricky, and he said that in part it was a “private jest” aimed at people who were sure he would live to regret the choices he'd made. It also may have been a private joke on Frost's friend Edward Thomas; the two used to take walks through the forest, and Thomas always complained at the end that they should have taken a different path.

Do the private jests and jokes take away the inspirational message that many of us feel when we read the poem? Not at all. We
all bring our own meaning to art—that's part of what makes it art.

Read, enjoy...maybe even LOVE
more Robert Frost poems!
Gathering Leaves” is good, and I think “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is even better!

You can find many more Frost poems here.

I love this jigsaw puzzle of the U.S.!

It's a big difficult, but the fact that Frost's poem is printed on the states makes it MUCH easier to solve!

Write poems of your own

See if you can express a real emotion with simple words. What makes you really upset, sad, or angry? What fills you with joy?

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