…I think it should be this one by Jay Parini.
I’ve read quite a few, and Jay Parini’s is the only one that seems to capture the Frost I sense from Frost’s poetry and his other writings. Plus, Parini’s book is very readable, with an excellent flow—something I can’t say for many of the other biographies. It reads almost like a novel.
What’s more, Parini is a poet himself and has lived most of his life in Frost country, teaching at Dartmouth in New Hampshire and Middlebury in Vermont. He understands both poetry and the territory, and he spends quite a bit of his book in fresh and insightful reading of the poems.
From a review of the book, which came out in 1999:
Robert Lee Frost, that quintessential New England writer, was born in 1874 in San Francisco. His ill-matched parents seem to have stepped from some nasty naturalist novel of the period. Frost’s mother, pretty and ”ethereal,” as Jay Parini describes her in his sturdy and well-informed new biography, ”Robert Frost: A Life,” was besotted with Swedenborg and spiritualism — her name, Belle Moodie, could hardly have been more apt. Will Frost, by contrast, was a hard-drinking, pistol-packing newspaperman who kept a jar of pickled bull’s testicles on his desk (meaning, presumably, ”Don’t mess with me”)…
Robert Frost was a brilliant student; as Parini notes, he became a better Latinist than those self-proclaimed ”classicists” Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot. But he found academic rituals stultifying and thought the classroom was about the last place to pick up anything useful. ”We go to college,” he wrote, ”to be given one more chance to learn to read in case we haven’t learned in high school.”…
In 1958, when Frost turned 85, his publisher gave a party in his honor at the Waldorf-Astoria and invited Lionel Trilling to be the featured speaker. Trilling, who preferred cities to rural idylls, shocked everyone by confessing that he had only recently come to admire Frost’s work, specifically for its overlooked grimness. ”I regard Robert Frost as a terrifying poet,” he announced. Trilling sent a letter to Frost apologizing for the stir his remarks had caused. ”Not distressed at all,” Frost wrote back. ”You made my birthday a surprise party.” And then, in one of those swooping summations with which he regularly rewards his readers, Frost added: ”No sweeter music can come to my ears than the clash of arms over my dead body when I am down.”
Frost had a wry, playful way of speaking, so that reports of things he said or things he wrote in letters have a naturally aphoristic quality, almost like small poems themselves. And his poems have a colloquial quality, too. It all seems to be of a piece.