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Robert Frost According to Joe Frost


Like his cousin the four-time Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Robert Frost, historian Joe Frost of Kittery and Eliot, Maine was a crusty Yankee curmudgeon. Joe was still a young man when his famous relative Robert died in 1963, but he remembered him well.  Joe was himself growing elderly when he spoke about his cousin to a group gathered at the Portsmouth Athenaeum on a rainy evening in 1997.  (Continued below)


“Why you would come out on an evening like this is beyond my comprehension,” Joe told his audience in a thick New England accent, peppered with wry Maine humor.  ‘The older they get, I notice, those chairs get harder and harder.”

Frost on Frost  

Although beloved as New Hampshire poet, Joe explained, Robert Lee Frost (1874 - 1963) was born in San Francisco, grew up in Massachusetts, gained fame in England, and retired in Vermont. The poet’s life was filled with tragedy. His father, a newspaper man, died when Robert was just a boy, leaving the family with just $8. His mother, a teacher, was forced to leave San Francisco and move East to live with her in-laws in Lowell, Massachusetts. She died young. Robert’s sister suffered from mental illness.  His son committed suicide and only two of his six children survived him.  

Robert attended Dartmouth and Harvard, married, began raising a family, and then decided he wanted to be a farmer, although he had no experience. In 1901 his grandfather generously gave him a small farm in Derry, NH and an annual annuity of $800.   

“He didn’t get around to milkin’ the cows ‘til about noon time,” Joe said. “Very hard on the animals, but they adapted to it, better than the people did in Derry. They seemed to think he was a bit of an oddball, which he was.”  

Robert eventually got a job teaching school in Derry, then at Plymouth State College, but his poetry did not attract attention until he moved his family to England in 1912. Poet Ezra Pound liked his work and helped Frost get published. Frost returned home, settled in Franconia, NH, then taught at Amherst College and at the summer Breadloaf Writer’s Conference in Vermont. Both of his New Hampshire homes are now museums.


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