Robert Frost

Delving into Frost

“These are poems, in other words, that come with little labels to tell you what they mean and what they’re about”, Prof. Langdon Hammer, Yale University.

Start by reading a few of poems, either those in our collection or some others. Is there anything that stands out as a collection. Once you have read a little of his poetry, conduct a little background reading:

  • start by skimming the biography below
  • Use Infotrac to dig into the characteristics of his poetry.
Try some of these resources on Infotrac:
Good biographical details. A good place to start:
“Robert (Lee) Frost.” DISCovering Authors. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Gale Student Resources In Context. Web. 13 Nov. 2011.
Beginning a discussion on style and characteristics.
Monroe, Harriet. “A Frugal Master.” DISCovering Authors. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Gale Student Resources In Context. Web. 13 Nov. 2011.
A challenging article but there some good stuff here if you stick with it
Bidney, Martin. “The secretive-playful epiphanies of Robert Frost: solitude, companionship, and the ambivalent imagination.” Papers on Language & Literature38.3 (2002): 270. Gale Student Resources In Context. Web. 13 Nov. 2011.
Use this shared document to record some details.
If you would like to hear more from Langdon Hammer, you can watch the rest of his lecture here.

“Sitting By a Bush” and “Going for Water”

Now that you have some detail on Frost’s poetry, have a look at these first two poems. I have paired them by virtue of their ambiguity. The poem’s direction, certainly does not jump off the page.

When looking at “Going for Water”, along with your usual process, look out for:

  • details on the characters. These are subtle but still evident.
  • details on the settings. This poem clearly moves through several spaces.
  • details on ownership. Who owns what in this poem.
  • tone and mood are quite important for a holistic understanding of this poem.
When looking at “Sitting By a Bush”, along with your usual process, investigate the following:
  • search for the word “bush” in the bible (you can find a full text version online here). What is happening in the bible when a bush spontaneously sets on fire and talks.
  • contrast in this poem is important. Creation (see point 1) is usually contrasted with evolution. What is Frost saying here?
  • as above, tone and mood become important when developing your thoughts here.

“The Vanishing Red” and “Two Tramps”

In contrast to the last two frost poems we studied, these poems have a clearer sense of direction. That said, Frost’s typical sense of ambiguity is still evident.

When looking at “The Vanishing Red”, along with your usual process, look out for:

  • the sense of narrative Frost develops.
  • character development.
  • the devices he employs to demonstrate both mood and tone.
  • what is left unsaid? What is heard? What is not?

When looking at “Two Tramps”, along with your usual process, look out for:

  • the distinction between work and play
  • the development of cultural context. Look hard here as details that may seem mundane, are precisely what you are are looking for.
  • structure and its effect
  • the role of setting
  • the relationship between the characters
  • Frost’s tone. What is being commented on in the end.?

Task – Group Construction

  1. Individually: decide on several main ideas that you see evident in the poem. Think: If I had to make 3 points about this poem, what would they bee?
  2. Get together in your group. Share you ideas then decide on the best ones. Allocate 1 or 2 main ideas to each member.
  3. Individually: outline the main idea. Break it down into two or three smaller chunks. Decide on a logical order for these chunks. Find evidence for each of these chunks.
  4. Return to your group an share your ideas. Decide on a logical order for each of the main ideas.
  5. Individually: WRITE!


Upon looking at these four poems, what can be said about Frost’s style? Write a well constructed response that demonstrates your understanding.


• Born in 1874

• Family lived in Lawrence; his dad died when he was 11 years old

• 1890 (April) published his first poem

• 1892 – graduated from Dartmouth College

• 1895 – Married his classmate Elinor White

• 1896 – first son born Elliot

• 1900 – his mother and son die

• 1912 – his first book is published “A Boy’s Will”

• 1923 – two more books “Selected Poems” and “New Hampshire”

• 1938 – Elinor White dies; Frost composes for her one of his finest love poems, ‘A Witness Tree.’ (1942)

• 1939 – Frost was awarded the Gold Medal from the National Institute of Arts and Letters in New York

• 1955 – Frost even had a mountain (Ripton, in Vermont) named in his honor.

• 1958 – President Eisenhower appointed Frost to act as a consultant in poetry for the Library of Congress

• 1962 – died on January 29th

Political, Social and Historical Context

Political events:

  • Many monarchies like the Kaiser in Germany and the Tsar in Russia where overthrown – the people where given the power to vote in whoever they believed where best for them.
  • European politicians where not greatly in favor of the people because of the bad decisions that lead to the wars and the lack of infrastructure and rebuilding afterwards.

Historical events:

  • There was massive tension between the European powers, as each was afraid of the other.
  • The First World War began in 1914 – millions where killed and many Europeans fled to the safety of the US.
  • The US supplied Europe with their needs for war and helped rebuild Europe which had been totally destroyed. America experienced a boom and with Europe destroyed and in debt led them to become a world power.
  • The USA had massive economic growth until 1929 when the stock market crashed and millions of Americans lost all their savings. This was a bad time, unemployment was high and people where angry.
  • WWII erupted (1939) and once again America benefitted however, this time they where more involved (Japan) – many people where angry that so many young lives where lost.

Social events:

  • Early 20th Century woman where allowed to vote – they had more rights.
  • Many European colonies where liberated.
  • The middle class became more important and had more of a voice.

Influences and Themes

Robert Frost’s poetry features a wide variety of themes and influences.  He drew inspiration from the landscape and life around him, from his wife, and from his own depression.  Frost was a master of colloquial language, dedicated to writing language as it was spoken.  Because of this his poetry reads beautifully, presenting inspired descriptions of the world around him.  Frost’s most frequent subject is his lyrical description of the landscape and lifestyle of New England.  The poet Daniel Hoffman described it as “The Puritan ethic turned astonishingly lyrical and enabled to say out loud the sources of its own delight in the world.”  These descriptions are amongst his most noted and analyzed, yet these same poems also feature the menacing and pessimistic undertones of Frost’s depression that go unnoticed.  This contradiction is a key to Frost’s poetry; he describes the wonders of the world around us while alluding to his own misery.

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