On March 7, 1923, the New Republic publishes Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.” The poem, beginning with the famous line “Whose woods these are, I think I know. His house is in the village though,” has introduced millions of American students to poetry.
Like most of Frost’s poetry, “Stopping by Woods” adopts the tone of a simple New England farmer contemplating an everyday site. But Robert Frost was very different from the narrators he created. Long associated with New England and farming, Frost was actually born in California in 1874, where he lived until his father, a journalist, died when he was 11. His mother brought him to Massachusetts, where he graduated as co-valedictorian of his high school class. He attended Dartmouth and Harvard but didn’t complete a degree at either school. Three years after high school, he married his fellow high school valedictorian, Elinor White.
Frost tried unsuccessfully to run a New England farm, and the family, which soon included four children, struggled with poverty for two decades. Frost became more and more depressed, perhaps even suicidal, and in 1912 he moved his family to England to make a fresh start. There he concentrated on his poetry and published a collection called A Boy’s Will in 1913, which won praise from English critics and helped him win a U.S. publishing contract for his second book, North of Boston (1914). The American public took a liking to the 40-year-old Frost, who returned to the U.S. when World War I broke out and bought another farm in New Hampshire. He continued to publish books and taught and lectured at Amherst, University of Michigan, Harvard, and Dartmouth, and read his poetry at the inauguration of President Kennedy. He also endured personal tragedy when a son committed suicide and a daughter had a mental breakdown.
Although Frost never graduated from a university, he had collected 44 honorary degrees before he died in 1963.