"EVERYTHING GOOD that first happened to me, as a poet, happened in England," Robert Frost recalled in old age. He had gone to England in 1912, as he put it, "a nobody". But he returned, just over two years later, as one of America's most celebrated younger poets.
When Frost stepped on to the ship in Boston in September of 1912 with his wife, Elinor, and four young children, he was a totally unknown poet of 38. Although he had been writing poetry steadily for 20 years, he had not yet succeeded in getting a book published or placing more than a handful of poems in magazines.
For much of this time, he had been farming in Derry, New Hampshire. From his family's viewpoint, he had thus far failed at everything he had tried, having left university twice without getting a degree, having barely eked out a living as a chicken farmer, and having not been able to get anything published. England felt, to him and his wife, like a last chance. With a little money in the bank from the sale of his farm in New Hampshire, Frost put everything at risk by crossing the Atlantic. He had wanted to live in England, he said, because it was "the cradle of lyric poetry". Elinor had come, she said, because she "wanted to live under thatch". After a frantic search, they rented a house in Buckinghamshire called, unimpressively, The Bungalow. There Frost set about pulling together (from poems mostly in rough draft form) his first two volumes of verse: A Boy's Will and North of Boston. After many months of solitude and hard work, Frost finished the first manuscript. His farm in New Hampshire and the local types he would meet in the course of a day's work provided the background for much of this work, which focused on rural work and rural people. A Boy's Will was a unique and refreshing volume. Frost offered it to David Nutt, a small publisher in London, who accepted it within the same week. …