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Even in America, where poetry is largely looked upon as an elitist indulgence rather than a cultural force to be reckoned with, Robert Frost’s works — or parts of his works — are familiar to vast numbers of people. They might not know that the words were first penned by the Bard of New England, but men and women who haven’t cracked a volume of poetry in decades still recognize Frost’s most memorable lines and, above all, his inimitable images:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
— From “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
— From “Mending Wall”
Then there’s the famously short, sharp “Fire and Ice,” first published in December 1920:
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Frost won four Pulitzer Prizes for his poetry — one of a very small handful of writers to have won so many — and remains, a full half-century after his death in 1963, one of the most celebrated and popular American literary voices of the 20th century. Here, LIFE.com pays tribute to the man (b. March 26, 1874, in San Francisco) and the artist with a series of photos made by Howard Sochurek in England in 1957.
Frost’s life was marked by enormous loss: only two of his and his wife Elinor’s six children outlived him. Elinor died in 1938. Frost himself suffered from depression, as did several other members of his family. And yet he left behind a body of work as clear-eyed and as uplifting as that of any American writer before him, or since.harp