Robert Frost

Jay Parini, Author
Jay Parini, Author Henry Holt & Company $35 (528p) ISBN 978-0-8050-3181-2
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
Paperback - 514 pages - 978-0-8050-6341-7
Hardcover - 416 pages - 978-0-434-00166-8
Hardcover - 978-0-7493-2511-4
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March 26 marks the 125th anniversary of Frost's birth, and there could be no better tribute for a poet so often underrated, maligned and misunderstood than this sympathetic and balanced portrayal. Frost has been depicted as selfish and vindictive in biographies by Lawrance Thompson and Jeffrey Meyers, but Parini, himself a poet and novelist, sees Frost as a man who ""struggled throughout his long life with depression, anxiety, self-doubt, and confusion."" Rarely has Frost's story been told this dexterously, or with a better understanding of the relation of Frost's personal crises to his accomplishment as a poet. The Yankee farmer-poet actually lived his first 11 years in San Francisco, was thoroughly schooled in Latin (was, in fact, ""more of a classicist by training than either Eliot or Pound""), and nursed an early ambition to pitch in the major leagues. He was competitive, funny, smart about his own career and reputation, and throughout the height of his fame was plagued by horrible family tragedies. His father, sister and several of his children suffered from deep depression, suicide and early death, and Frost was often blamed for tragedies he was helpless to prevent. Frost fought his own bouts with what he called ""the grippe"" with hard work, and thrived on outdoor labor. Parini makes generous use of Frost's verse, often quoting entire poems, but avoids treating the poems as if they were mere transcriptions of the poet's experience. Instead, he achieves the more difficult task of clarifying Frost's process of composition, as he shaped his material from everyday sources and shaped his lines against the strict pattern of a metric line to achieve the natural stresses of the spoken voice. The result is a book revelatory of both the poetry and the poet. Photos not seen by PW. Agent, Elaine Markson. Author tour. (Apr.) FYI: All of Frost's backlist poetry and prose is in print with Owl; last year, Holt also released the CD-ROM Robert Frost: Poems, Life, Legacy.
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