Today is the birthday of Robert Frost (1874-1963), who is probably best known for his thoughtful, evocative poetic observations of rural life, inspired by his years of farming in England and New Hampshire: Mending Wall, The Road Not Taken, The Pasture. Frost’s poetry is not necessarily easy reading, although it seems accessible at first glance, drawing the reader in through a seemingly conventional, anecdotal surface. But often in his choice of subject matter and his carefully crafted blend of meters and language styles one can see that he is not exactly a 19th-century romantic pastoral wander-through-the-daffodils kind of guy.
Less often quoted are his darker poems on themes of abandonment, estrangement, and the bitterness of loss, poetry reflecting Frost’s own difficult life journey. Losing his father to tuberculosis at age eleven, then his mother to cancer; laboring, unsuccessfully at first, to farm and write and support a family (later supplemented by teaching and the eventual success of his poetry); seeing his sister committed to a mental hospital; outliving four of his six children, who succumbed variously to cholera, childbed fever, and suicide; and outliving also his wife, who died, like his mother, from cancer—these are weighty burdens for a man already struggling with depression, which seems to have run in the family for generations.
Although such a series of tragedies could bring on depression in the most resilient of characters. Which makes Frost’s achievement all the more remarkable: not only that he found profoundly inventive and powerful means of expressing human despair, in a voice both intimate and universal, but that he could also convey deeply felt, unsentimental appreciation for life’s beauty and joy. Not only to endure, but to make of pain a shared work of art to illuminate the soul and expand the vision: that is a birthday gift for everybody.Come with rain, O loud Southwester! Bring the singer, bring the nester; Give the buried flower a dream; Make the settled snowbank steam; Find the brown beneath the white; But whate’er you do tonight, Bathe my window, make it flow, Melt it as the ice will go; Melt the glass and leave the sticks Like a hermit’s crucifix; Burst into my narrow stall; Swing the picture on the wall; Run the rattling pages o’er; Scatter poems on the floor; Turn the poet out of door.
For another Robert Frost poem, and a picture, please see A Snowy Evening.
Today is also the birthday of poet Alfred Edward Housman, and for a bio, picture, and poem, please see Loveliest of Trees.
This image is available as a high-resolution print on 8.5″ x 11″ archival paper.