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When Robert Frost met Khrushchev

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The book's title is apt, as it offers a decidedly autumnal view of Frost and a life full of tragedy. Hall briefly visits Frost's drunken father, flighty mother, and unstable sister. He tells how Frost married his high school sweetheart – two people who should have settled down "with Rob (oh say) as foreman of a Lawrence mill and Elinor active in the local church." Instead, Hall tells us, "Frost didn't believe in work and Elinor didn't believe in God."

They had five children only, it seemed, to break their own hearts. Together they created a "haphazard household of caravaners (meals, if any at all hours, father to bed at 3:00 a.m, mother up at 6:00)" and raised "a brood of brooders, incipient artists, or maybe incipient failures" all of whom seem to "take the world too hard."

Of the five children, only two outlived Frost. The deaths of the two boys are referred to early in the book and both are stunning blows. Young Elliott's death from cholera triggers a lifetime of guilt, remorse, and sorrow for his parents. They tried homeopathic remedies before turning to traditional medicine and Frost had been careless about a contaminated well.

Both parents forever blamed themselves. Younger son Carol lived to adulthood to become a failed poet and struggling farmer who finally took his own life. Marjorie died in childbirth and Irma in a mental institution. "It comes down to a doubt about the wisdom/Of having children – after having had them," wrote Frost.

But family life did not fully define Frost. There was his public – and there was poetry. In fact Hall wonders if Frost did not come to "replace the love of his children, whom death could touch, with the love of words."

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