Robert Frost was born in San Francisco, California, in 1874. His father, who was a journalist on the San Francisco Evening Bulletin, died when Frost was eleven, and his mother moved the family to Massachusetts, where Frost was schooled. In 1895 he married Elinor Miriam White. On leaving Harvard he settled his family in Derry, New Hampshire, where for nine years he worked a farm, and wrote many of his best-loved poems. He then made his living as a teacher, before emigrating to London with his family in 1912. It was in England that he came to prominence.
An orphan at twenty-six, his private life had been marked by grief. Of his six children, only two would outlive him. Taken from him by cholera, by suicide, in childbirth, and in infancy. His wife Elinor predeceased him by almost three decades.
He returned to America during the war, and by the mid-century had become an acknowledged national treasure. To some he was the sort of venerable old poet T. S. Eliot would argue Yeats had avoided becoming, a coat-rack ‘hung with decorations and distinctions, doing, saying, and even thinking and feeling only what they believe the public expects of them’. To others this reputation hid his many subtleties in plain sight – was even a kind of front. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry four times. In 1961, at the age of 86, he would read ‘The Gift Outright’ at the inauguration of President Kennedy. ‘It’s scary’, said John Berryman when Frost died, ‘Who’s number one?’