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In the tradition of great storytellers, Davis continues to approach Off The Path in serial form. He’ll explore this season, called "Off the Plank," in 2 or 3 installments and then combine them into a single podcast episode. Here, you’ll find those individual installments — which we’re calling “Mile Markers.” Enjoy the ride!

Robert Frost: "A lover's quarrel with the world"

Robert Frost weathered family tragedy at the stone house in Shaftsbury, Vermont. Today he and his family are buried nearby.

The Frost family grave in Bennington, Vermont.
Wikimedia Commons
The Frost family grave in Bennington, Vermont.

When Robert Frost moved from his stone house and farm in Vermont, his son took on the day-to-day responsibilities.

“His son, Carol, appears to have suffered from some kind of mental illness from a young age, depression and a feeling of unworthiness," Frost scholar Phil Holland said. “Robert Frost was a tough act to follow. Carol wanted to follow him, did follow him, writing poetry. And you know, the father has to critique the son’s poetry. Well, now there's a difficult situation. Carol did join him here, farming.”

Frost was pleased with Carol’s progress as a farmer. He even transferred the house’s title to his son after he bought a property nearby.

“Frost reported, I've never had a farm that went as rip-roaring as Carol makes this one go," Holland said. "He was a successful farmer, although farming was not as successful enterprise economically in those days, and so perhaps doomed to failure. And he had a hard time of it and slipped into a depression. And people saw him and tried to help — including his father — but couldn't stop him, ultimately, from killing himself.”

Carol died by gunshot in the kitchen of the stone house. Carol’s teenage son – Frost’s grandson — found his body.

“There's a letter about after Carol's death, where Frost claims to have done whatever he could for him, but found that it wasn't enough," Holland said.

“I took the wrong way with him," Frost wrote. "I tried many ways and every single one of them was wrong. Something in me is still asking for the chance to try one more. That’s where the great pain is located.”

Depression ran in the Frost family. And Frost suffered other losses, four of his six children died in his lifetime.

“Frost weathered many a tragedy, including the death of his wife at age 64," Holland said. "And Frost blamed himself for some of these events and carried quite a burden with him. That's and you see it in a number of poems that are rather darker than most people who think of Frost the kindly New England poet. … ‘Acquainted with the Night,’ for instance.”

“I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.”

Robert Frost died in 1963. He’s buried in a family plot in Bennington, Vermont, at an old church cemetery, on a hill overlooking the town, crested by the Green Mountains. It’s a few miles down the road from the old stone house he owned for years.

Frost’s wife Elinor is buried alongside him. He wrote her epitaph.

“It's from a poem, ‘The Master Speed,'" Holland said. "That line — ‘Together, wing to wing and oar to oar,’ beautiful example of the togetherness that they shared as a force in the world, and as parents and lovers.”

But Robert Frost’s grave stands out.

“The fringe there of laurel leaves, appropriate because they're everlasting, but also crown a poet," Holland said.

And just like his wife, he gave himself a poetic epitaph.

“He mused, ‘If I should have an epitaph one day for my story, let it be I had a lover's quarrel with the world,'" Holland said. "He picked quarrels, of course, he was famously cantankerous. He says, ‘I own I have written several poems against the world in general.'"

As we left the cemetery, a magical light snow, fittingly, began to fall.

Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.