I had not planned on spending the morning chasing down painted fiberglass figures scattered around the community of Bennington, Vermont, but I found myself caught up in trying to photograph as many of them as I could find. It started with spotting a moose near the post office and while searching for the decorative moose which were painted by regional artists, I discovered the hand-painted catamounts (panthers).
After spending too much time searching for these elusive creatures, I turned my attention towards the Old First Church on the hill overlooking town. Driving to the top of the hill, I parked next to the church and the entrance to the historic cemetery. I immediately noticed signs pointing the way to the grave I sought, but was curious about a small sign next to a nearby tombstone. Walking over to it, I was surprised to discover a short biography about the person buried there. Looking around the old, historic stones of Vermont’s oldest cemetery, I realized that many of them had markers, telling visitors the stories of those interred here.
Taking my time, I walked along the grassy path, stopping to read the markers and knowing that I would be spending much more time on these sacred, historic grounds than I had planned. Though the cemetery was well maintained and often visited, the words from “In a Disused Graveyard” entered my mind “The living come with grassy tread / To read the gravestones on the hill; / The graveyard draws the living still.”
I finally stopped at the grave of one of the best-known poets in the world, a poet that I, like many youngsters, was introduced to in school and whose poems have become a part of everyday life. Here, in the shadow of the church, rests Robert Frost. Just beneath his name is the last line from his poem “A Lesson for Today” – “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”
Frost was born on March 26, 1874, in San Francisco, California. At the age of eleven, he lost his father to tuberculosis and his mother moved the family to Lawrence, Massachusetts. While in high school, he met his future wife, Elinor White, whom he married in 1895. Upon graduating from Lawrence High School, he attended Dartmouth College, but dropped out after a couple of months. Frost would be accepted and attend Harvard University in 1897, but dropped out after two years and returned to Lawrence.
In 1900, Frost moved his family to a farm in New Hampshire that his grandfather purchased for them and there they lived for the next twelve years while he focused on his writings. During this time, he suffered the loss of two of his children.
Despite his ability to capture rural life in his writings, Frost’s attempts at farming were unsuccessful. Frost’s first poem, “My Butterfly: An Elegy,” published in 1894 in The Independent, a weekly literary journal. Unable to find a publisher for his poems, Frost sold the farm in 1912 and moved to England. Frost’s first collection, A Boy’s Will, was published in 1913 followed by North of Boston in 1914. Shortly after the start of World War One in 1914, Frost moved his family back to America, settling on a farm near Franconia, New Hampshire. His return was well-received in the literary community and in 1916, he published Mountain Interval.
Frost received numerous honors and awards for his poetry. He received the Pulitzer Prize four times: New Hampshire (1924), Collected Poems (1931), A Further Range (1937) and A Witness Tree (1943). In 1960, he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and the following year he read at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. Frost was blind at the time and recited the poem “The Gift Outright” by memory. The same year, he was named the poet laureate of Vermont.
Despite the honors that kept him in the public eye, Robert Frost’s personal life was plagued by grief and loss. He lost his father in 1885 when Robert was just eleven years old. Five years later, he would lose his mother to cancer. Frost had to make the decision to commit his only sibling, Jeanie, to a mental hospital in 1920. His sister would remain there until her death in 1929.
Robert and Elinor had six children, but only two of them survived their father. Elliott died of cholera at the age of four in 1900 and Elinor died the day after her birth. Frost lost his daughter, Marjorie, of puerperal fever shortly after giving birth in 1934; his wife, Elinor, in 1938 due to heart failure; and his son Carol committed suicide in 1940.
Note: While the names of his children with birth and death dates are on his stone, most are not buried here as far as I can tell. Elliott and Elinor are listed as being buried with Robert’s parents and sister in the Bellevue Cemetery in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Marjorie rests in Mountview Cemetery, in Billings, Montana.
On January 29, 1963, Frost died from complications related to prostate surgery. He was survived by two of his daughters, Lesley and Irma. He was interred in a family plot in Bennington, Vermont, along with the ashes of his wife.
I finished paying my respects and I walked over to the vehicle. “So which quote pops to mind?” my mother asked as I sat down. “How about “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— / I took the one less traveled by?” That seems to be the story of our journey so far.”
I laughed as I started the vehicle and turned it towards home. “I have another in mind,” I answered as I pulled out of the parking area. “I think Frost said it best with “And miles to go before I sleep.””
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