Text: Andrew J. Angyal and Kent Ljungquist, “Some Early Frost Imitations of Poe,” Poe Studies, June 1976, Vol. IX, No. 1, 9:14-16


[page 14:]

Some Early Frost Imitations of Poe

Duke University

Bluefield College

Beginning in his sophomore year, Robert Frost published at least four of his earliest juvenilia in the Lawrence, Massachusetts, High School Bulletin between 1890 and 1892 (1). Evidence suggests, however, that several anonymous or pseudonymous poems which appeared in the Bulletin during his last two years of high school may also be attributed to him (2). Among these unacknowledged poems are several remarkable imitations of Edgar Allan Poe, most notably an eighty-line piece, entitled “Dream-Land” and signed AMNESSEL, which contains sustained parallels to Poe’s poem of the same tide (3). Another poem strongly suggestive of Poe is a fifteen-line sonnet variant, “Parting. To —— ,” published in the December 1891 issue which Frost, as editor-in-chief, claimed to have assembled without the assistance of any other members of his staff (4). While Lawrance Thompson supports his case for Frost’s authorship of “Parting. To —— ” by stressing the allusions to “Al Aaraaf,” he attributes “Dream-Land” to Frost without mention of the obvious reliance upon Poe’s original (5).

Yet even without comparing the texts of the two poems, Thompson offers persuasive arguments for Frost’s authorship of “Dream-Land.” From Frost’s letters, comments and other evidence in Thompson’s biography, Robert Frost: The Early Years, a clear pattern of early interest in Poe emerges. Indeed, as Thompson indicates, Poe’s tales and poetry were among Frost’s favorite childhood reading. Furthermore, in discussing Isabelle Moodie Frost’s habit of reading aloud to her children, Thompson observes: “Among Mrs. Frost’s favorites, and not too oddly, was Edgar Allan Poe, whom she quoted so often that her children knew several of his poems by heart before they entered high school” (The Early Years, p. 71). On at least one occasion Elinor Frost also mentioned her husband’s early exposure to Poe:

. . . He never read [all the way through] a book of any kind to himself before his fourteenth year. His mother read aloud constantly, Poe and Shakespeare. . . . Almost learned all of Poe by heart. Keats and Arnold only other poets he found he knew as large a proportion of (6).

Most importantly, Frost himself commented in an 11 July 1917 letter to Lewis N. Chase, an American critic and early Poe scholar: “The first poetry I read for myself and read all to pieces (this was at fourteen) was Poe. . . .”7 Nor did his appreciation of Poe afterward diminish. Later in his career, in a 1936 interview, Frost named Poe’s Tales as one of his ten favorite books (8).

Comparison of AMNESSEL’s “Dream-Land” to Poe’s original lends credence to Thompson’s speculations about its authorship. In order to identify AMNESSEL, however, an additional question requires resolution: who in the [column 2:] small student body or among those on the Bulletin’s editorial staff knew Poe’s work intimately enough and had sufficient poetic skill to write such a clever imitation of Poe? While the lack of clear manuscript evidence or any acknowledgment by Frost discourages outright attribution of “Dream-Land” and “Parting. To —— ” as Frost juvenilia, Frost’s early and sustained interest in Poe makes him a strong candidate for authorship. Few students with Frost’s poetic talents had consistently submitted poems to the High School Bulletin. Moreover, the pseudonym AMNESSEL (Gr. [Greek text:] xxxx [:Greek text], “forgetful,” or “unmindful”), which also appears in the December 1891 issue of the Bulletin, for which Frost later claimed full responsibility, suggests an author with some knowledge of Greek. Frost, who graduated co-valedictorian and first among the Lawrence high school classics students, seems an obvious choice.

That AMNESSEL had Poe’s “Dream-Land” firmly fixed in his mind or perhaps even before him when he wrote his imitation should be apparent from the Bulletin text, which is reprinted in full below:


O! far away where moon-paths end;

Where sky and air and ocean blend,

And rainbows without number bend

To mingle with the deep;


Where th’ albatross oft finds his rest

Long tossed upon the heaving breast

Of storms that rise, and fall, and rise;

Though ever to the sailor’s eyes

The stormy bird would seem to sleep

Above the ever-swelling deep;


Where, from the crimson halls of Light

The west-winds steal in noiseless flight

To bathe the jewelled brow of Night

With tokens of the deep —

An island lies, girt round by cloud

A silvery, ceaseless changing shroud.

And whosoe’er sails to that shore

He may return, O! Nevermore;

Save but the sleeper who may sweep

Along the mist and o’er the deep.


Death’s portal this, a lonely clime,

Though many pass its walls of mist.

Unseen it is to mortal sight:

But oft the dreamer, sightless, yet

Unbounded in his vision’s sweep,

Beholds the treasures of that land

Beyond its mountain toppl’ed shore.

A shore whose sands are gems. Gems from

The glass of Time; and some are smooth,

Unmarked, untouched; and others still

Are carved with rare devices, which

Bespeak the glory of “rear deeds,

Long done, but not long since forgot.

Along the shore, high mountains rise

To meet the ever setting sun.

Faint is their form, scarce dimmed the scar

That passes through their ruddy tops;

And oft when suns are sinking low

We see afar their crimson glow: —

The mountains of the Land of Dream.

Around, the vales in silence lie

Stirred only when some fragrant breeze

Arises from a couch of flowers,

Steals gently to another rest,

While, like the drowsy homeward bee

O’er ladened from Hyblaen fields, [column 2:]

It scatters fragrance in its flight.

The deep blue heaven-reflecting lake

Continuous swells and falls, as if

The bosom of this silent isle.

Long arches of the woods, like long

And sinuous rivers, wind to fall

O’er grassy banks deep in a lake

Of flowers.

And Night reigns here, save when

The Sun comes home to rest within

His couch of hills. The pale Moon, too,

Here lingers long; her silver rays

The moorings for a thousand isles,

Ethereal forms that swing, and dip,

And rock upon the lake, till left

By the departing Moon they float —

These poet’s dreams, all burdened with

Sweet flowers and murmuring streams

And meteoric gems, poured forth

By heavenly forms, all glowing in

Their robes of gold — across the deep,

Then shoreward to the Poet’s sight.

The island’s soul is melody

A song of many mingled strains;

A music that is never heard,

The silence — truest harmony.


And the sweetest yet saddest strain of them all,

Is the song of the River of Hours

As it wells from its source in the depths of the isl’e,

’Mid the incense scattering flowers,

And is hurried away on the balm-ladened air

Through the castles and hovels of men

And the song that it sings is the way it is heard

And it’s ne’er repeated again.


The parallels between the two versions of “Dream-Land” are so striking that AMNESSEL may have assumed prior knowledge of Poe on the part of his readers. The common theme, vocabulary, setting, tone, and atmosphere and the shared use of classical and Romantic motifs represent a thorough assimilation of Poe’s original. In each poem, a solitary poet-persona seeks oblivion. Both poems are landscapes of the mind: Frost’s “lonely clime” echoes Poe’s “wild weird clime” in many of its descriptive derails. While the Bulletin version contains two central unrhymed stanzas (a technique uncharacteristic of Poe), each version has a similar structure: four stanzas followed by a coda. The image patterns shared by the two poems might comprise a lengthy catalogue: restless seas, toppling mountains, Titan woods, silent vales, deep and extensive lakes, shrouded forms, and reigning night. To this series of parallels, one might also add the similar descriptions of a cloud-girt island, timeless and beyond the oceans, the remote and mysterious locale of the wandering poet-mariner’s dreams.

Not only does AMNESSEL’s “Dream-Land” echo Poe’s original, but the poem also employs themes, images, and cadences reminiscent of other Poe works. In addition to “O! Nevermore,” the invocation of silence as “A music that is never heard” or as the “truest harmony” also recalls Poe. In “Al Aaraaf” (Part I: 11; 122-132), silence is called “the music of the spheres,” signifying a transcendent melody that is distinguished from mere quiet. This same theme is handled in more ominous fashion in Poe’s “Sonnet — To Silence” and cryptically in his tale “Silence — A Fable.” Frost’s mention of “the sleeper” invokes Poe’s poem of [column 2:] the same name; moreover, the word choice and rhymes are similar to Poe’s refrain: “The lady sleeps! Oh, may her sleep, / Which is enduring be so deep!” Frost’s image of gems poured from the glass of time by heavenly forms also recalls Poe’s “The Valley of Unrest”: “Eternal dews come down in drops. / They weep: — from off their delicate stems / Perennial tears descend in gems.” In addition, the crimson, diffused light of dreamland, as well as its silence, aimlessness, and mist, resembles the landscape in “Spirits of the Dead” (stanza III), where spectral forms commune in an unearthly, torpid setting. Based on these parallels, the Bulletin version of “Dream-Land” is the most thoroughly Poe-esque piece in a collection of Poe imitations that have been identified, in other contexts, as Frost juvenilia (10).

If, as now seems apparent, Frost did write “Dream-Land,” it is significant that he found Poe, rather than the School-room poets, a worthy model during his literary apprenticeship in the early nineties before he evolved a distinctive poetic voice. The many imitations among Frost’s early poems (11) suggest that he was highly receptive to other poetic themes and styles. During this impressionable period, Poe may well have represented to him the “quintessential poet.” As an adolescent, Frost immersed himself in Poe’s work and assimilated his style to produce several ingenious parodies and imitations of Poe, especially in the April and December 1891 issues of the Bulletin. In view of Frost’s probable authorship of “Dream-Land,” “Parting. To —— ,” “M. Bonner, Deceased” and “Petra and Its Surroundings,” scholars should reexamine the too easily accepted notion (12) that Poe had only a minimal influence on Frost’s early career.



(1) These four poems are attributed on the basis of Frost’s initials or express acknowledgment: “La Noche Triste,” High School Bulletin, 11 (April 1890), 1-2 [acknowledgment]; “Song of the Wave,” High School Bulletin, 11 (May 1890), 1 [initials]; “A Dream of Julius Caesar,” High School Bulletin, 12 (May 1891), 1 [initials]; and “Class Hymn,” High School Bulletin, 13 (June 1892), 10 [full name printed below title]. See Edward Connery Lathem and Lawrance Thompson, eds., Robert Frost and the Lawrence, Massachusetts, ‘High School Bulletin’: The Beginning of a Literary Career (New York: The Grolier Club, 1966), for facsimile reproductions of these poems and of the four issues which Frost edited from September to December, 1891.

(2) These additional poems are identified in Thompson’s provisional checklist of Frost’s known and supposed high school compositions: “Dream-Land,” High School Bulletin, 11 (April 1890), 1 [signed “AMNESSEL”]; “Down the Brook. And Back” [unsigned] and “Parring. To —— ” [unsigned], High School Bulletin, 13 (December 1891), 1, 3. See Robert Frost: The Early Years (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966), pp. 510-511.

(3) See Thompson’s brief discussion of “Dream-Land” in The Early Years, p. 506, n. 10.

(4) Thompson qualifies this claim but still argues for Frost’s authorship of most of the issue, including “Parting. To —— ,” the sketch “M. Bonner, Deceased,” and an essay “Petra and Its Surroundings.” Yet in their introduction and notes to the facsimile edition of the High School Bulletin, pp. 16, 90-91, Lathem and Thompson attribute less of the issue to Frost: “Actually, not all of the contents of the December Bulletin was of the Chief Editor’s authorship, and it may never be positively established just what parts, anonymously and pseudonymously published, are or are not his.” In the Bulletin files at the Jones Library in Amberst, Mass., [page 16:] Frost only initialed “Petra and Its Surroundings” when he reviewed the December 1891 issue later in his career.

“M. Bonner, Deceased,” a clever imitation of Poe’s detective fiction, incorporates several elements from the M. Dupin stories: ratiocination in Bonner’s careful search for the “purloined” painting; use of a hoax in the description of the source — a Christmas card illustration — of Bonner’s famous painting; and the narrator’s facetious remark directed at what Poe called “the heresy of the didactic”: “I am not preaching. Don’t let me discourage philanthropy.” And “Petra and Its Surroundings” resembles Poe’s review of J. L. Stephens’ Arabia Petraea in its treatment of the city as the center of a fallen and debased culture, although Frost probably first wrote the essay for an ancient history course.

(5) Thompson discusses Frost’s parody of “some of Poe’s mannerisms” in “Parting. To —— ,” but he never considers Frost’s more extensive imitation of A Dream-Land.” Instead, he asserts that “‘Dream-Land’ makes use of words and images and cadences which the youthful Frost seemed to like.” See The Early Years, pp. 115-116, 506, 624.

(6) These comments are found in a 4 February 1935 letter from Elinor Frost to Edna Davis Romig. See The Early Years, p. 500, n. 3.

(7) Quoted in Elaine Barry, Robert Frost on Writing (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1973), p. 75. Arnold Grade’s “A Chronicle of Robert Frost’s Early Reading,” Bulletin of the New York Public Library, 72 (1968), 619, also confirms Frost’s early interest in Poe.

(8) His choice of Poe’s Tales was made in response to a library poll taken in 1934 and later included in Books We Like, preface by Edward Weeks (Boston: Massachusetts Library Association, 1936), pp. 141-142. And in a 1938 letter to Bernard DeVoto (shortly after Elinor’s death) Frost remarked, “I always shrank from hearing evil” of Poe. In the same letter Frost noted Poe’s use of “a cadence caught from the Exequy to make the whole of the poem The Sleeper,” and showed his knowledge of Poe by alluding to the epigraph of “The Assignation,” which he called a prose poem. During his bereavement, Frost may have pondered Poe’s great theme, the death of a beautiful woman. See Thompson, ed., Selected Letters of Robert Frost (New York: Hoft, Rinehart and Winston, 1964), pp. 470-471.

(9) To the best of our knowledge, “Dream-Land” was never reprinted after its initial publication in the Lawrence High School Bulletin, 11 (April 1890), 1. The text of “Dream-Land” is reprinted in this article from the files of the High School Bulletin through the permission of the Jones Library, Amherst, Massachusetts.

(10) For Thompson’s provisional checklist of Frost’s high school compositions, see The Early Years, pp. 510-511. See n. 4 for the problems raised by Frost’s contradictory comments about the December 1891 issue of the Bulletin.

(11) Frost’s earliest poem, “La Noche Triste,” is a narrative based on William H. Prescott’s The Conquest of Mexico; “The Dream of Julius Caesar” and “Caesar’s Lost Transport Ships” incorporate themes and incidents from his study of classics, particularly Caesar’s Bellum Gallicum; and “The Traitor” is drawn from MacPherson’s Ossian.

(12) For example, Jay Hubbell says of Poe’s impact on American poets of the late nineteenth century, “Most of them, I suspect, like Sidney Lanier and Robert Frost, have been more deeply influenced by other poets” — Eight American Authors, ed. James Woodress (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1971), p. 19. And there is but one article, to the best of our knowledge, which explores the Poe-Frost relationship: Floyd Dendinger’s “The Ghoul Haunted Woodland of Robert Frost,” South Atlantic Bulletin, 38 (1973), 87-94. Frost’s appreciation of Poe runs counter to the literary tastes of the eighties and nineties. See Alice L. Cooke, “The Popular Conception of Edgar Allan Poe from 1850 to 1890,” University of Texas Studies in English, 22 (1942), 144-170; D. R. Hutcherson, “Poe’s Reputation in England and America, 1850-1909,” American Literature, 14 (1942), 211-233; and Ruth Stokes, “The Study of Literature in American Academies and High Schools, 1820-1880,” Michigan State Univ. Diss., 1975, pp. 211-213.


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