Robert Frost in the Dismal Swamp

The first book of poetry that Robert Frost published was a small volume entitled Twilight.  Frost published Twilight on his own. It was intended as a gift for the woman he hoped would someday become his wife, Elinor White. The book was comprised of five poems including My Butterfly, which was the first poem that Frost had accepted for publication. It also included the poem Twilight:

Why am I first in thy so sad regard,

Twilight gazing from I know not where

I fear myself as one more than I guessed!

Am I instead of one so very fair

That thou art sorrowful and I oppressed.

Frost decided that college was not for him and dropped out of Dartmouth. When he returned home, he continued to miss Elinor desperately. Elinor was studying at St. Lawrence University and through her letters home he began to believe that she was forgetting him and others were catching her eye.

Frost wanted her to leave school and marry him. Elinor thought it best to wait till they had both finished school and he could provide a satisfactory income for them. It was with this special collection of poems that Frost wished to convince Elinor of his love and also to show her that he hoped to someday to make a living as a published poet.

Frost arrived unannounced one morning at the private home where Elinor lived at school. Elinor was shocked to see him. She was not allowed to entertain male visitors except during the proper hours. Elinor refused to see him until she got back home. He managed to give her a copy, one of the two copies he had made, but despite his pleading she sent him away.

Then the young poet began walking towards the railroad tracks. In a rage, he tore up his own copy of Twilight and threw it away on the ground. He walked past his station but was able to pick up a train at the next station. He felt all his hopes of marrying Elinor and supporting her as a published poet were finished.

Not long after he had returned home he took a train to Boston on the morning of November 6th, 1894. From New York he took a Merchant Marine Ship to Norfolk Virginia. Frost was headed for a desolate place from which he hoped never to return to The Dismal Swamp.

From Norfolk he began to walk towards the village of Deep Creek, which was about 7-8 miles away. Here was the best road into The Dismal Swamp. The road had been built alongside the Dismal Swamp Canal which was used to float logs out of the swamp.

Once on the road he made his way into The Dismal Swamp. He had not stopped since he left home and the further he traveled into the swamp the darker it became. The light from the moon guided his way past treacherous sink holes. Here Frost came to spot where the road he traveled upon disappeared into the water. His eyes caught a wooden plank which allowed him to continue on as though he were waiting for something to occur. Frost was “half in love with easeful death.” This was his chance to fade away into his own and ease gently into the depths of The Dismal Swamp. But something happened to pull him back. What that was we will never know.

Somehow he saw the light; the light of a lockeeper, and maybe that light was the future or maybe that light reflected upon the inglorious death of his intentions and made him realize that he had had enough of The Dismal Swamp. So he asked if he could get a ride to Elisabeth City, which was the closest town.

It took Frost three weeks to return home. He was out of money and along the way he was helped by the kindness of strangers, including hunters who gave him food and shelter, and hobos who coached him on how to catch freight trains. In Baltimore he contacted his mother for the money to buy a ticket home ending his journey, for he had promises to keep.

Visit The Dismal Swamp
The National Wildlife Service
Visit the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge
P.O. Box 349
Suffolk, VA 23439-0349
(804) 986-3705

More Robert Frost Articles

Spring Pools and Clock Towers: Robert Frost, Michigan”s Poet-in-Residence

Rest Robert Frost

The Frost Farm – The Homes and Roads of Robert Frost

The Frost Trail – The Homes and Roads of Robert Frost

The Frost Place – The Home and Roads of Robert Frost

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