Robert Frost: A Life

ISBN 13: 9780434001682

Robert Frost: A Life

 
9780434001682: Robert Frost: A Life

This fascinating reassessment of America's most popular and famous poet reveals a more complex and enigmatic man than many readers might expect. Jay Parini spent over twenty years interviewing friends of Robert Frost and working in the poet's archives at Dartmouth, Amherst, and elsewhere to produce this definitive and insightful biography of both the public and private man. While he depicts the various stages of Frost's colorful life, Parini also sensitively explores the poet's psyche, showing how he dealt with adversity, family tragedy, and depression. By taking the reader into the poetry itself, which he reads closely and brilliantly, Parini offers an insightful road map to Frost's remarkable world.

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Review:

Robert Frost, the farmer-poet of New England, actually spent his first 11 years in San Francisco, until his mother moved the family north after the death of her husband, a hard-living journalist from whom Robert took his wilful perversity. He attended Dartmouth and Harvard, leaving both prematurely, and after putative stabs at teaching and journalism became a poultry farmer in New Hampshire. It took a trip to England in 1912 (to live "under thatch") for his poetry finally to be published and when he returned to America in 1915 his reputation had preceded him. Until his death in 1963 he worked assiduously at consolidating his position as America's premier voice; reading at Kennedy's inauguration and meeting Khrushchev were just two of the scenes stolen by him. So why does Jay Parini need to reclaim him?

The answer lies with Lawrance Thompson. Thompson had been one of Frost's most earnest disciples, and so for years the poet, ever eager to shape his own image, allowed him a Boswellian intimacy. Unfortunately, Thompson came to despise his former mentor, and his exhaustively documented volumes portrayed Frost as some kind of solipsistic monster, in marked contrast to the awe with which he had been previously described. Parini, a past biographer of John Steinbeck, in a further wave of perspective, seeks a corrective to so much bile. His writing is intelligent yet breathlessly generous and he is at his best when considering the poems themselves. He rightly ascribes to him the innovation of the colloquial voice in serious verse, a legacy which appears immense today when so much contemporary poetry consists of little else. His mastery lay in the freedom he found within conformity and the dark corners of it he discovered by probing, which contribute to a melancholic spirituality beyond the rusticity for which he is popularly celebrated. While Thompson's egg was cracked and dry, Parini prefers a softer boil, and his elegantly reverential tone is imbued with a perception that reminds us how great a poet Frost remains. The clergyman who advised him at an early age that his verse was "too close to speech", and thus gave him his voice, deserves eternal gratitude. --David Vincent

Review:

"A pleasure to read, combining penetrating commentary on the poetry and good illustrative anecdotes. Mr. Parini has brought Frost more sharply into focus." (Christopher Lehman-Haupt, The New York Times)

"Inspired and always humanizing, Parini sympathetically illuminates the stunning contradictions embedded in Frost's personality, work, and life." (Susan Miron, The Miami Herald)

A pleasure to read, combining penetrating commentary on the poetry and good illustrative anecdotes. Mr. Parini has brought Frost more sharply into focus. "Christopher LehmanHaupt, The New York Times"

Inspired and always humanizing, Parini sympathetically illuminates the stunning contradictions embedded in Frost's personality, work, and life. "Susan Miron, The Miami Herald""

"A pleasure to read, combining penetrating commentary on the poetry and good illustrative anecdotes. Mr. Parini has brought Frost more sharply into focus." --Christopher LehmanHaupt, The New York Times

"Inspired and always humanizing, Parini sympathetically illuminates the stunning contradictions embedded in Frost's personality, work, and life." --Susan Miron, The Miami Herald

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