Dear Dr. Frankenstein

Jericho Brown

‘Dear Dr. Frankenstein’ is a warning against the dangers of scientific and intellectual arrogance told as a letter to the fictional doctor.

Jericho Brown

Nationality: American

Jericho Brown is a contemporary poet who works as the director of the Creative Writing Program at Emory University.

He won the Whiting Writers' Award.

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: Nobody achieves things alone, rather they build on what others have done

Speaker: An unnamed person who considers themselves Frankenstein's intellectual equal

Emotions Evoked: Guilt, Pride, Regret

Poetic Form: Free Verse

Time Period: 21st Century

'Dear Dr. Frankenstein' is a brilliant and thought provoking poem that challenges the reader to consider their views of science and human arrogance.

Jericho Brown’s ‘Dear Dr. Frankenstein‘ is a warning against the dangers of scientific arrogance, told through the guise of a letter to the fictional doctor of Mary Shelley’s iconic gothic novel Frankenstein. Like the novel, Brown uses biblical imagery to showcase the futility of attempting to assume the role of a divine creator.


Dear Dr. Frankenstein‘ establishes a parallel between its narrator and the titular doctor in order to suggest his fate could be shared if others make his mistakes.

The poem begins with a kind of confession on the narrator’s behalf. They claim they understand how Doctor Frankenstein must have felt after creating a life because they, too, have done so. The narrator goes on to detail how they constructed a person out of the disparate body parts of thieves and murderers.

As the poem draws towards its conclusion, Brown depicts the moment God realized his creation, humanity, had outgrown his control and influence in order to parallel the experience of Frankenstein. Finally, Brown ends the poem by asserting the fact that true originality is impossible and that all we will ever build is the result of what has come before us.


Jericho Brown is an award-winning contemporary American poet and professor. He was born in Louisiana in 1976 and earned an MFA from the University of New Orleans and a Ph.D. from the University of Houston.

His first collection, Please, was published in 2008, and he has subsequently published two further collections of poetry. ‘Dear Dr. Frankenstein‘ was first published in Brown’s celebrated 2014 collection, New Testament, and his most recent collection, 2019’s The Tradition, was awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

Detailed Analysis

Stanzas 1-2

I, too, know the science of building men
Out of fragments in little light
Where I’ll be damned if lightning don’t

Strike as I forget one
May have a thief’s thumb,

The immediate use of the personal pronoun “I” helps establish the poem’s intimate and confessional tone. It also captures the loneliness which often comes with greatness, such as the isolated experience of Victor Frankenstein in the novel once he realises that nobody will ever truly understand what he has done but him. The metaphorical claim that the narrator makes people “out of fragments” could be intended to represent the process of writing poetry, as the artist is forced to draw upon different physical and emotional aspects of real people in order to create fictional personas and voices.

The reference to lightning harks back to the famous scene of the monster’s awakening in Shelley’s novel. However, it also alludes to the figurative spark of creativity often associated with moments of genius or inspiration. This implies that the fate of Victor Frankenstein is shared by all those that bear the weight of genius.

Stanzas 3-5

Another, a murderer’s arm,

And watch the men I’ve made leave


Eve, turning from heaven to her

The poem continues by outlining the fact that the component parts of the people the narrator claims to have made may have come from flawed or dangerous individuals. This could be interpreted positively as it could imply that past crimes or mistakes don’t mean someone cannot change or become part of something meaningful.

Conversely, it could imply that no matter how new somebody may appear, they still possess the negative things they have done within them. Brown uses a simile to liken the departure of the men he has built to the loss of a good idea that he forgot to write down. This again establishes a link between the physical rendering of flesh and the abstract sense of creation that accompanies the writing process.

The next simile compares the act of creation to a vehicle in reverse to imply that not all scientific progress actually benefits humanity or helps move the species forwards. Brown then depicts the moment God realized Adam began taking authority and naming creatures himself. This act of defiance actually mirrors that of parents and their children, who inevitably grow up and begin to resist the rules and expectations of their parents.

Stanzas 6-7

As if she was his


Nothing we erect is our own.

Brown uses an unusual choice of language with regard to Adam’s attitude towards his wife, Eve, implying he operates her as though she were machinery. This could reflect the sense of detachment the narrator and Victor felt towards humanity, seeing them as mere ways of perpetuating their own legacies rather than valuing them as equals.

The list-like nature of these lines echoes the impossibility of reasoning with such people, so certain they are that they are correct. Ultimately, the poem concludes with the hyperbolic claim that “nothing we erect is our own.” Brown thus emphasizes the fact that all human inventions and discoveries are the direct or indirect result of things that had already been built or discovered, no matter how much one might wish to attribute them to individual brilliance.


Who was Dr. Frankenstein?

The titular Dr. Frankenstein refers to the character in Mary Shelley’s iconic gothic novel Frankenstein. In the novel, Frankenstein is able to create a living being by assembling parts stolen from corpses and applying some kind of electrical spark. The creature ultimately torments Victor after the latter shunned it, eventually consuming Frankenstein’s entire life.

What is the structure of ‘Dear Dr. Frankenstein?’

The poem has seven stanzas and is written in free verse. It is written in the form of an imagined letter or speech made to the fictional doctor, in which the narrator expresses their solidarity with him but also offers a warning.

Who is the speaker in ‘Dear Dr. Frankenstein?’

The identity of the speaker is never revealed, although their claims suggest they may be a scientist like Dr. Frankenstein. However, the allusions to writing suggest they may be a poet or writer, like Brown, and that the references to building people are intended to be comments on the process of creating fictional characters.

What is the message of ‘Dear Dr. Frankenstein?’

The poem’s message is that genius can be isolating and that we should not overvalue the brilliance of individuals. Oftentimes, greatness is the result of far more than it might appear at first glance and is rarely the work of any sole person.

Similar Poetry

Readers who enjoyed ‘Dear Dr. Frankenstein might want to explore other Jericho Brown poems. For example:

  • Duplex‘ – A fascinating and thought-provoking exploration of the power of memory.
  • The Tradition‘ – The title poem of Brown’s 2019 collection explores racial prejudice in the US.

Some other poems that may be of interest include:

  • Power‘ by Adrienne Rich – Another poem that takes a famous scientific individual as its inspiration, this time the real scientist Marie Curie.
  • The God Called Poetry‘ by Robert Graves – This poem similarly explores the nature of creativity and expression.

Poetry+ Review Corner

Dear Dr. Frankenstein

Enhance your understanding of the poem's key elements with our exclusive review and critical analysis. Join Poetry+ to unlock this valuable content.
Jericho Brown (poems)

Jericho Brown

The poem 'Dear Dr. Frankenstein' is written in free verse like many of Jericho Brown's other poems. He is a writer that engages with a broad set of themes and issues, including race, memory, and power. This poem is more preoccupied with issues of science and individualism.
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21st Century

First published in Jericho Brown's 2014 collection, New Testament, 'Dear Dr. Frankenstein' is more concerned with the past, whether it be the world of Shelley's nineteenth-century novel or that of the Bible, than it is with the present day.
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Jericho Brown is an American poet, but this poem is addressed to a fictional European figure written by a nineteenth century English novelist. It could be argued that the poem's message about the dangers of arrogant scientists is pertinent to a modern American readership.
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The ability to create new life from corpses undermines the authority of death. Brown's poem suggests that the characteristics of the people whose flesh makes new bodies remain even after their demise. He thus implies that the past is always active in the present.
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The poem engages with this theme in two principal ways. Firstly, the possibility of transcending the limits of mortality implies the possibility that mankind might one day be able to escape death entirely. Secondly, the poem explores our tendency to celebrate particular individuals that have been deemed worthy of praise for their achievements. These people are often remembered for centuries, even as their contemporaries are forgotten.
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New Life

The very pretext of this poem, as with Shelley's novel, is that of the consequences of making new life. Brown appears to suggest that humans lack the humility to go about such a task successfully, even if we possess the scientific knowledge to do it. He also points out that such a moment of scientific discovery would be the result of countless pieces of work by thousands of people, not just one archetypal genius.
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The narrator's tone is somewhat guilty as they appear to implore Dr. Frankenstein not to follow in their footprints which suggests they regret their actions. The poem suggests that guilt and regret will never truly be overcome and will remain with the narrator in perpetuity.
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It is, perhaps, surprising that the narrator seemingly feels no pride in their accomplishment, nor do they revel in the compliments which undoubtedly would follow the achievement they claim to have made. Instead, like Victor Frankenstein in the novel, their pride is hollow, and their creations haunt them.
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The narrator appears to regret their professed creations as they realise the futility of them. The final stanzas and their references to God imply this cycle of human arrogance and regret has been playing out since the dawn of time.
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While God is mentioned several times, the poem is more concerned with humanity's relationship to the divine than it is with God himself. Brown suggests that, like Frankenstein, all scientists who push the boundaries of what is possible must face the reality that they are not gods, even if they possess powers that resemble that of them.
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This poem attempts to expose the myth of individual genius as the driving force for progress by reminding us that there is always someone before who were are either learning from, imitating or reacting against. Even the biblical first man, Adam, was reacting against the will of God in order to leave his mark.
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The narrator appeals to Frankenstein in a way that implies they understand his plight, which emphasizes his loneliness up to that point. Brown uses the poem to contemplate the inevitability of loneliness for great thinkers and scientists, for nobody will ever truly understand them.
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Written in the form of a letter to one of fiction's most iconic and defining scientific minds, the poem is clearly concerned with scientific progress and the limits of scientific discovery. Brown implies that scientific knowledge is ultimately futile as we lack the wisdom which ought to accompany it. Finally, he concludes that any scientific discovery is a group effort, even if it is usually associated with a single person.
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Free Verse

Jericho Brown's use of free verse affords the poem an intimate tone which helps emphasise the premise that the letter's author is Frankenstein's scientific or intellectual equal. Its plainness also helps establish the direct and frank nature of the message they wish to convey to the fictional scientist.
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The poem is not a traditional Bildungsroman insofar as the narrator's trajectory of growth and maturity has already taken place, and the poem features their more mature voice. This could be deliberate in order to remind the reader that such stories of arrogance bowing to eventual humility are constantly repeating themselves.
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Joe Santamaria Poetry Expert
Joe has a degree in English and Related Literature from the University of York and a Masters in Irish Literature from Trinity College Dublin. He is an English tutor and counts W.B Yeats, Emily Brontë and Federico Garcia Lorca among his favourite poets.

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