Robert Frost leaves for the Soviet Union on this day in 1962. The goodwill tour is sponsored by the U.S. State Department in an effort to thaw Cold War relations. Frost’s poetry has established his international reputation as American’s unofficial poet laureate. While his best work appeared in earlier decades, he is nevertheless seen as an elder statesman of literature.
Despite his close association with New England, Robert Frost was born in 1874 in California, where he lived until his father, a journalist, died when Robert 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 high school co-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. 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. He bought another farm in New Hampshire and continued to publish books. He taught and lectured at Amherst, University of Michigan, Harvard, and Dartmouth, and read from his work at the inauguration of President Kennedy. He also endured personal tragedy when a son committed suicide and a daughter had a mental breakdown.
While Frost never graduated from a university, he collected 44 honorary degrees before he died in 1963. His last poetry collection, In the Clearing, was published in 1962.