August 24, 2015
Reading List: Books To Help You Better Understand Robert Frost
There are dozens of books that explore the life and work of Robert Frost.
But when it comes to truly understanding the poet and his writing, some resources are better than others, New York Times poetry critic David Orr says.
After our show on the 100th anniversary of Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” Orr gave us his recommendations for books that help us get to know the man who penned one of the most famous poems of our time.
WORK BY ROBERT FROST
- Robert Frost: Collected Poems, Prose, and Plays, edited by Richard Poirier and Mark Richardson. This Library of America edition is the most reliable and comprehensive version of Frost’s writing out there. It includes everything but Frost’s letters, so if you’re looking for an all-encompassing Frost book, this is far and away your best option.
- The Poetry of Robert Frost, prepared by Edward Lanthem. (For the early poems, a better option is Robert Faggen’s Early Poems: Robert Frost, which also includes a sampling from Frost’s fourth book, New Hampshire). For a paperback collection of Frost’s prose, the best option is The Collected Prose of Robert Frost, edited by Mark Richardson.
- The Letters of Robert Frost, Volume I (1886-1920), edited by Donald Sheehy, Mark Richardson and Robert Faggen. This is the definitive edition of Frost’s early letters.
- Elected Friends: Robert Frost & Edward Thomas to One Another, edited by Matthew Spencer. This volume gathers the correspondence between Frost and Thomas, allowing the reader to follow the intriguing progression of their friendship. Spencer also reproduces Thomas’s early reviews of Frost, placing them chronologically among the letters. This material is bracketed by excellent critical essays by Michael Hofmann and Christopher Ricks.
BIOGRAPHIES OF FROST
- Robert Frost: A Life by Jay Parini. A balanced and comprehensive biography aimed directly at general readers.
- Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered by William Pritchard. Half biography, half critique, this elegant study remains one of the finest introductions to Frost’s life and work.
- The Robert Frost Encyclopedia, edited by Nancy Lewis Tuten and John Zubizareta. An extraordinary resource that ranges across the entire Frost enterprise. There are entries on all the individual poems, the Frost biographical controversies, the Derry farm and almost everything else having to do with the poet.
- Robert Frost Among His Poems by Jeffrey Cramer. Cramer’s hugely helpful book meticulously describes the literary and biographical context in which individual poems were written.
- The Art of Robert Frost by Tim Kendall. This unusual but invaluable book reproduces Frost’s first four collections and a selection of well-known later poems, supplementing every poem with a critical gloss by Kendall.
- Robert Frost: The Work of Knowing by Richard Poirier. Poirier is completely at ease with Frost’s contradictions, and his examination of the poet remains as crisp today as when it first appeared 25 years ago. Readers up for a challenge may supplement Poirier’s book with Mark Richardson’s The Ordeal of Robert Frost, which is more overtly academic but also one of the most intelligent and sympathetic studies of the poet.
- The Cambridge Companion to Robert Frost, edited by Robert Faggen. A collection of fine scholarly essays on Frost by critics like William Pritchard and Donald Sheehy. The more recent Robert Frost in Context, edited by Mark Richardson and also published by Cambridge University Press, supplements scholarly essays with criticism from poets like Paul Muldoon, as well as the perspective of Frost’s granddaughter, Lesley Lee Francis.