Ever wonder what the Master of the Macabre was like when he was three years old? Edgar Allan Poe is one of the world’s most recognizable writers, but his early years are shrouded in mystery and legend. In recent years renowned Poe scholar Richard Kopley has uncovered new discoveries about Poe’s early years including interesting and entertaining stories about Poe has a teenager and as a three-year-old. The Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia is pleased to host Dr. Kopley’s talk, “Two New Stories about Poe in Richmond” on Sunday, May 18 at 2 P.M. Don’t miss this opportunity to know Edgar Allan Poe in a whole new way. The talk is included in the price of Poe Museum admission and is free to Poe Museum members. For more information, please contact the Poe Museum at 804-648-5523 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Richard Kopley, Distinguished Professor of English at Penn State DuBois and former President of the Poe Studies Association, has spent decades scrutinizing the life and works of Edgar Allan Poe. His recent studies of collections of rare, unpublished documents has led to the discovery of new facts about Poe’s early years in Richmond.
About Richard Kopley:
Richard Kopley is Distinguished Professor of English at Penn State DuBois, where he teaches both literature and writing. An expert on American Romanticism, he has published extensively on Edgar Allan Poe (including Edgar Allan Poe and the Dupin Mysteries [Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, 2011]) and Nathaniel Hawthorne (including The Threads of The Scarlet Letter: A Study of Hawthorne’s Transformative Art [University of Delaware Press, 2003]). He has spoken on Poe and Hawthorne at scholarly conferences throughout the United States and around the world—in Spain, Holland, Italy, Poland, Russia, and (by DVD) Japan. He has also served as president of the Poe Studies Association and of the Nathaniel Hawthorne Society. And he has published, as well, on Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Herman Melville. His scholarly work has been characterized by a blend of close reading and archival study.
Dr. Kopley has edited much—Poe’s Pym: Critical Explorations (Duke University Press, 1992), Prospects for the Study of American Literature (NYU Press, 1997), Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (Penguin, 1999)—and co-edited much, as well—Prospects for the Study of American Literature (II) (AMS Press, 2010), Poe Writing / Writing Poe (AMS Press, 2013), and the journal Resources for American Literary Study (Penn State Press, 1992-2001; AMS Press, 2002-present).
He has written fiction as well as scholarship—his short story “A Dream” appeared in the Poe Review (2003) and “The Hideous and Intolerable Bookshop” in Lighthouse Anthology 2 (Alma Press, 2012). His children’s picture-book, The Remarkable David Wordsworth, which tied for runner-up for the Barbara Karlin Award (given by the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrated), has been published by Eifrig Publishing (2013). It has been nominated for three additional awards. A second children’s book, “Kenny and the Blue Sky,” is being considered for publication.
Dr. Kopley has served in an administrative capacity at Penn State—he has been the disciplinary coordinator for English beginning in 1994 and continuing, on and off, through the present. And he was the Interim Director of Academic Affairs at Penn State Worthington Scranton in 2006-07. He has also organized, or helped to organize, many scholarly conferences, from the 1988 conference on Poe’s novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, on Nantucket Island, to the 2010 conference on Hawthorne, in Concord, Massachusetts. He is now co-organizing the 2015 Fourth International Conference on Edgar Allan Poe, in Manhattan.
His new book manuscript if “The Enduring Center in Literature.” It takes him beyond American Romanticism to later literature in both the United States and England. The book shows what may be considered a beautiful formal patterning among selected works of American and British literature.
His subsequent book will be a biography of Poe in Richmond, based on an extensive series of letters than he has collected offering stories about Poe told by his best friend from childhood.
Dr. Kopley is a book collector, specializing in Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, Thoreau, and Lewis Carroll. He has been a member of the Grolier Club since 2005.
He is married and lives in State College, Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Amy Golahny, have two grown children, Emily and Gabe.
One of the most cherished possessions of the Providence Athenaeum is a volume of the American Review with Edgar Allan Poe’s faint signature written in pencil under the anonymous poem “Ulalume.” That poem is the Poe Museum’s Poem of the Week, which was recommended to us by one of the Museum’s Facebook followers.
Poe visited the Providence Athenaeum in 1848 while courting the poet Sarah Helen Whitman. The two poets spent time among the stacks discussing literature and love (and apparently also vandalizing library books).
“Ulalume” had been written the previous year, in the fall of 1847. Poe’s wife had died that January, and Poe’s own health had suffered. In June, the minister and teacher of public speaking, Reverend Cotesworth P. Bronson, and his daughter Mary Elizabeth Bronson visited Poe and his mother-in-law Maria Clemm at their cottage in Fordham, New York. Poe’s poem “The Raven” was an international hit, and Poe even had to apologize to Mary for not having a pet raven.
It was Rev. Bronson who would eventually commission Poe to write to read at lectures on elocution. According to his daughter, Bronson asked Poe “to write something suitable for recitation embodying thoughts that would admit of vocal variety and expression.” About a month later, in October, Poe wrote to Bronson that the poem was ready, and Mary encountered Poe’s mother-in-law, who informed her Poe “had written a beautiful poem — better than anything before.” Poe visited Bronson and showed the poem to Mary, who read it out loud to him.
Poe next tried to sell the poem to the editor of the Union Magazine. The editor rejected the poem after showing it to the young poet Richard Henry Stoddard, who told her he could not understand it.
Around this time, Poe received a visit from more of his literary friends, including the author and health reformer Mary Gove, who later recalled for the Sixpenny Magazine that the group “strolled away into the woods, and had a very cheerful time, till some one proposed a game at leaping. I think it must have been Poe, as he was expert in the exercise. Two or three gentlemen agreed to leap with him, and though one of them was tall, and had been a hunter in times past, Poe still distanced them all. But alas! his gaiters, long worn and carefully kept, were both burst in the grand leap that made him victor. . . . I pitied Poe more now. I was certain he had no other shoes, boots, or gaiters. Who amongst us could offer him money to buy a new pair? . . . When we reached the cottage, I think all felt that we must not go in, to see the shoeless unfortunate sitting or standing in our midst. . . . The poor old mother looked at his feet, with a dismay that I shall never forget.”
Maria Clemm told her that Poe could afford a new pair of shoes if Gove would only convince George Colton, editor of the American Review, to buy “Ulalume.” Clemm implored her, “If he will only take the poem, Eddie can have a pair of shoes. [Colton] has it — I carried it [to him] last week, and Eddie says it is his best. You will speak to him about it, won’t you?”
It was Colton who had first bought “The Raven” in 1845 after it had been rejected by other magazines. Poe had published other work in the American Review, but, a few months before he wrote “Ulalume,” the magazine had declined to publish his essay “The Rationale of Verse.” This time, however, Colton agreed to buy the poem and paid Poe enough for “a pair of gaiters, and twelve shillings over,” according to Gove’s account.
The poem appeared in the December issue under the title “Ulalume: A Ballad” and dedicated “To ____ ____ ______.” The dedication could apply to his friend and nurse Marie Louise Shew or one of the other women associated with him at the time. As the American Review had done with Poe’s poem “The Raven,” “Ulalume” was printed unsigned. When Poe sent the poem to N.P. Willis to request that he publish it in the Home Journal, Poe asked him to keep the author’s name a secret because he did not want “to be known as its author just now.” Poe even requested that Willis introduce the poem “with a word of inquiry as to who wrote it.”
Willis granted Poe’s request and printed the poem with this introduction: “We do not know how many readers we have who will enjoy as we do, the following exquisitely piquant and skilful exercise of rarity and niceness of language. It is a poem which we find in the American Review, full of beauty and oddity in sentiment and versification, but a curiosity, (and a delicious one, we think,) in its philologic flavor. Who is the author?”
Some readers, like Poe’s friend George W. Eveleth immediately recognized the poem as the work of Poe. The Saturday Courier reprinted “Ulalume” on January 22 under the heading “Poe’s Last Poem” with an explanation that “We copy the following poem, partly, because Willis has called attention to it, but principally, because we have a word or two to say in relation to Edgar A. Poe, who is undoubtedly its author. No other American poet, in the first place, has the same command of language and power of versification: it is in no one else’s vein — it is too charnel in its nature; while Mr. Poe is especially at home in pieces of a sepulchral character.”
Eight months later, Poe was visiting the Providence Athenaeum with Sarah Helen Whitman. In some copies of the Broadway Journal, he initialed some of the unsigned articles he had written for the magazine. Whitman then asked him if he had ever read the poem “Ulalume.” She later recounted, “To my infinite surprise, he told me that he himself was the author. Turning to a bound volume of the Review which was in the alcove where we were sitting, he wrote his name at the bottom.”
The confusion over who wrote the poem continued. In November, the Daily Journal reprinted “Ulalume” under Poe’s name with a comment that another paper had recently misattributed the poem to N.P. Willis.
There was also some confusion over the meaning of the poem. When she told him she could not understand it, Poe told Jane Scott Mackenzie that he had written it so that not everyone would understand it.
In the summer of 1849, Poe was giving a reading of some of his poetry on the veranda of the Hygeia Hotel at Old Point Comfort, Virginia when the subject of “Ulalume” came up. One of those present, Susan V.C. Ingram, later recalled in the February 19, 1905 issue of the New York Herald that Poe “remarked that he feared that it might not be intelligible to us.” She continued, “I was not old enough or experienced enough to understand what the words [of “Ulalume”] really meant . . . I did, however, feel their beauty, and I said to him when he had finished, ‘It is quite clear to me, and I admire the poem very much.’”
That evening, Poe transcribed a copy of the poem for her, leaving it under her door with a note that read, “I fear that you will find the verses scarcely more intelligible to day in my manuscript than last night in my recitation. I would endeavor to explain to you what I really meant — or what I really fancied I meant by the poem, if it were not that I remember Dr Johnson’s bitter and rather just remarks about the folly of explaining what, if worth explanation, should explain itself.”
Sarah Helen Whitman believed she understood the poem, and she explained in a letter published in the October 13, 1875 issue of the New York Tribune, “The geist of the poem . . . is . . . “Astarte” — the crescent star of hope and love, that after a night of horror was seen . . .
The forlorn heart [was] hailing it as a harbinger of happiness yet to be, hoping against hope . . . when the planet was seen to be rising over the tomb of a lost love, hope itself was rejected as a cruel mockery . . .”
Here is the Poem of the Week, which we believe, sufficiently explains itself.
The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crispéd and sere —
The leaves they were withering and sere:
It was night, in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year:
It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
In the misty mid region of Weir: —
It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.
Here once, through an alley Titanic,
Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul —
Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul.
These were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll —
As the lavas that restlessly roll
Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek,
In the ultimate climes of the Pole —
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek
In the realms of the Boreal Pole.
Our talk had been serious and sober,
But our thoughts they were palsied and sere —
Our memories were treacherous and sere;
For we knew not the month was October,
And we marked not the night of the year —
(Ah, night of all nights in the year!)
We noted not the dim lake of Auber,
(Though once we had journeyed down here)
We remembered not the dank tarn of Auber,
Nor the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.
And now, as the night was senescent,
And star-dials pointed to morn —
As the star-dials hinted of morn —
At the end of our path a liquescent
And nebulous lustre was born,
Out of which a miraculous crescent
Arose with a duplicate horn —
Astarte’s bediamonded crescent,
Distinct with its duplicate horn.
And I said — “She is warmer than Dian;
She rolls through an ether of sighs —
She revels in a region of sighs.
She has seen that the tears are not dry on
These cheeks where the worm never dies,
And has come past the stars of the Lion,
To point us the path to the skies —
To the Lethean peace of the skies —
Come up, in despite of the Lion,
To shine on us with her bright eyes —
Come up, through the lair of the Lion,
With love in her luminous eyes.”
But Psyche, uplifting her finger,
Said — “Sadly this star I mistrust —
Her pallor I strangely mistrust —
Ah, hasten! — ah, let us not linger!
Ah, fly! — let us fly! — for we must.”
In terror she spoke; letting sink her
Wings till they trailed in the dust —
In agony sobbed; letting sink her
Plumes till they trailed in the dust —
Till they sorrowfully trailed in the dust.
I replied — “This is nothing but dreaming.
Let us on, by this tremulous light!
Let us bathe in this crystalline light!
Its Sybillic splendor is beaming
With Hope and in Beauty to-night —
See! — it flickers up the sky through the night!
Ah, we safely may trust to its gleaming,
And be sure it will lead us aright —
We safely may trust to a gleaming
That cannot but guide us aright
Since it flickers up to Heaven through the night.”
Thus I pacified Psyche and kissed her,
And tempted her out of her gloom —
And conquered her scruples and gloom;
And we passed to the end of the vista —
But were stopped by the door of a tomb —
By the door of a legended tomb: —
And I said — “What is written, sweet sister,
On the door of this legended tomb?”
She replied — “Ulalume — Ulalume! —
’T is the vault of thy lost Ulalume!”
Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crispéd and sere —
As the leaves that were withering and sere —
And I cried — “It was surely October,
On this very night of last year,
That I journeyed — I journeyed down here! —
That I brought a dread burden down here —
On this night, of all nights in the year,
Ah, what demon hath tempted me here?
Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber —
This misty mid region of Weir: —
Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber —
This ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”
Said we, then, — the two, then, — “Ah, can it
Have been that the woodlandish ghouls —
The pitiful, the merciful ghouls,
To bar up our way and to ban it
From the secret that lies in these wolds —
From the thing that lies hidden in these wolds —
Have drawn up the spectre of a planet
From the limbo of lunary souls —
This sinfully scintillant planet
From the Hell of planetary souls?”
Get inspired this spring at the Poe Museum as we celebrate the arts. From painting and sculpture to music and gardening, the Museum will highlight the ways Poe continues to inspire a variety of art forms. Here are some of the highlights, and you can see a complete schedule here.
Restoration of the Enchanted Garden
Witness the historic restoration of the Poe Museum’s legendary Enchanted Garden by the Garden Club of Virginia. Many of the varieties of plants originally planted here in the 1920s will be highlighted.
Exhibit: Into that Darkness Peering
April 24-June 202, Exhibits Building First Floor
Ten of today’s leading artists have taken up the challenge of interpreting Poe’s works in paint. Learn more about it here.
April Unhappy Hour: “To One in Paradise”
April 24, 6-9 P.M.
Join us in the Enchanted Garden for an evening of poetry, film, an exhibit opening, and live music by Hotel X. The theme of the evening is the poem which inspired the design of the Poe Museum’s garden.
Painting Workshop in the Enchanted Garden with Charles Philip Brooks
April 27, 2-6 P.M.
Join landscape painter Charles Philip Brooks for an afternoon of painting in the Enchanted Garden.
Admission $90 Click here to register.
A Tea Party in the Enchanted Garden
May 3, 2-5 P.M.
Meet Will Rieley, the restorer of the Enchanted Garden, and Sally Guy Brown, Chair of the Restoration Committee for the Garden Club of Virginia, for a tea party and lecture about the garden’s history and the variety of unusual plants to be found there.
Admission $15 ($12 for Poe Museum members)
Painting Workshop in the Enchanted Garden with Chris Semtner
May 11, 2-5 P.M.
Sketch and paint in the Enchanted Garden with internationally exhibited artist Chris Semtner.
Admission $50 Click here to register.
Lecture about Poe’s Richmond with Dr. Richard Kopley
May 18, 2-4 P.M.
Discover newly rediscovered stories of Poe’s early years at this lecture by renowned Poe scholar Dr. Richard Kopley.
Included with Poe Museum Admission
Exhibit: Painting the Enchanted Garden
May 22-July 18, Exhibit Building
In celebration of the Garden Club of Virginia’s restoration of the Enchanted Garden, artists will be painting and drawing the Garden this spring for inclusion in this beautiful art exhibit. Learn more about this exhibit here.
May Unhappy Hour: “Hans Phaall”
May 22, 6-9 P.M.
Get carried away by this event inspired by Poe’s tale of a balloon trip to the moon. Live music will be provided by The Lost Boys. At 8 P.M. there will be a talk by special guest Morwenna Rae, the Curator of Dr. Johnson’s House in London.
Edgar Allan Poe Young Writers’ Conference
If you are a high school student who loves writing, this week-long residential writing experience is for you. The deadline to apply is April 15. Click here for more information.
Exhibit: Poe 3-D
June 26-October 19
Exhibits Building First Floor
Stand face-to-face with Edgar Allan Poe in the Poe Museum’s first exhibit devoted to sculptures of the author. The highlight of the exhibit will be the Poe Museum’s recent acquisition, the plaster model for Charles Rudy’s statue of Poe designed for the Virginia State Capitol Square.
June Unhappy Hour: “The Conqueror Worm”
June 26, 6-9 P.M.
Celebrate the opening of the Poe Museum’s latest exhibit with an evening of live music and performance in the Enchanted Garden.
July 13, 2-3:30
In conjunction with its new exhibit Poe 3D, the Poe Museum will host an afternoon of family friendly fun in which kids will make artwork inspired by Poe’s stories.
Author Talk with Brian Keene and Mary Sangiovanni
July 27, 2-5 P.M.
Meet Bram Stoker Award winner and 2014 International Horror Grandmaster Brian Keene and Bram Stoker nominee Mary Sangiovanni speak about their work and Poe’s influence on the modern horror genre.
Included with Poe Museum general admission.
Click here to see our complete schedule.
For the Poe Museum’s April 2014 Object of the Month, we have selected these candelabra which once belonged to the subject of three of Poe’s poems, “To M.L.S.,” “To Marie Louise,” and “The Beloved Physician.” In A June 1848 letter, Poe described her as “the ‘Beloved Physician,’… the truest, tenderest, of this world’s most womanly souls, and an angel to my forlorn and darkened nature.”
Marie Louise Shew
Born in 1821 in Henderson, New York, Marie Louise Barney was the daughter of a country doctor. By the time she was twelve, she started accompanying her father on medical rounds. At about age sixteen, she married Dr. Joel Shew. Mrs. Shew would study at the Jefferson County Institute before she and her husband opened a water cure clinic in their home in 1843. The following year she wrote the book Water-Cure for Ladies: A Popular Work on the Health, Diet, and Regimen of Females and Children, and the Prevention and Cure of Diseases; with a Full Account of the Processes of Water-Cure. In the years ahead, she would promote women’s health through exercise, good diet, fresh air, and abstinence from alcohol and tobacco.
The author and women’s health reformer Mary Gove Nichols (1810-1884) introduced Mrs. Shew to Edgar Allan Poe, whose wife was suffering from tuberculosis. According to Nichols’s account in the February 1863 issue of Sixpenny Magazine, “The autumn came, and Mrs. Poe sank rapidly in consumption…There was no clothing on the bed, which was only straw, but had a snow-white counterpane and sheets. The weather was cold, and the sick lady had the dreadful chills that accompanied the hectic fever of consumption. she lay on the straw bed, wrapped in her husband’s great coat, with a large tortoise-shell cat in her bosom…The coat and the cat were the sufferer’s only means of warmth, except as her husband held her hands and her mother her feet…As soon as I was made aware of these painful facts, I came to New York and enlisted the sympathies and services of a lady whose heart and hand were ever open to the poor and miserable. A feather bed and abundance of bed clothing and other comforts were the first fruits of my labor of love. The lady headed a private subscription, and carried them sixty dollars the next week. From the first day this kind lady saw the suffering family of the poet, she watched over them as a mother watches over her babe. She saw them often and ministered to the comfort of the dying and the living.”
The extent to which the Poes appreciated Mrs. Shew’s assistance is evident in Edgar Allan Poe’s letters to her. He wrote her on January 29, 1847, “Kindest–dearest friend–My poor Virginia still lives, although failing fast and now suffering much pain. May God grant her life until she sees you and thanks you once again! Her bosom is full to overflowing–like my own–with a boundless–inexpressible gratitude to you. Lest she may never see you more–she bids me say that she sends you her sweetest kiss of love and will die blessing you[.] But come–oh come to-morrow! Yes, I will be calm–everything you so nobly wish to see me. My mother sends you, also, her ‘warmest love and thanks.’”
Virginia Poe would succumb to tuberculosis the following day. According to Mrs. Shew’s account in a March 28, 1875 letter to John H. Ingram, “The day before Mrs. Poe died I left to make some arrangements for her comfort. She called me to her bedside, took a picture of her husband from under her pillow kissed it and gave it to me. She opened her work box and gave me the little jewel case I mentioned to you.”
After Mrs. Poe’s death, a portrait of her was painted while she still lay in bed. Some believe Mrs. Shew, an amateur artist, may have painted it because she is the only person present at the time of Mrs. Poe’s death who is known to have had any artistic training. Whether or not Mrs. Shew painted this important image is unknown, and the fact that she is not known to have mentioned the portrait in her many surviving accounts of Poe makes it unlikely.
A couple weeks after Virginia Poe’s death, on Valentine’s Day, Edgar Poe wrote the poem “To M.L.S.,” which would appear in the March 13, 1847 issue of the Home Journal.
OF all who hail thy presence as the morning —
Of all to whom thine absence is the night —
The blotting utterly from out high heaven
The sacred sun — of all who, weeping, bless thee
Hourly for hope — for life — ah! above all,
For the resurrection of deep-buried faith
In Truth — in Virtue — in Humanity —
Of all who, on Despair’s unhallowed bed
Lying down to die, have suddenly arisen
At thy soft-murmured words, “Let there be light!”
At the soft-murmured words that were fulfilled
In the seraphic glancing of thine eyes —
Of all who owe thee most — whose gratitude
Nearest resembles worship — oh, remember
The truest — the most fervently devoted,
And think that these weak lines are written by him —
By him who, as he pens them, thrills to think
His spirit is communing with an angel’s.
Poe’s health declined dramatically after his wife’s death. In her letters, Shew claims to have “saved Mr. Poe’s life” by tending to him during this time. She continues, “I made my diagnosis & went to the great Dr. Mott with it. I told him that at best when he was well, Mr Poe’s pulse beat was only 10 regular beats after which it suspended or intermitted (as doctors say). I decided that in his best health, he had lesion on one side of the brain, and as he could not bear stimulants or tonics, without producing insanity, I did not feel much hope that he could be raised up from brain fever…”
In the poem, “Beloved Physician,” written in April of that year, Poe refers to Shew’s diagnosis. Although Poe was offered $20 for the poem, Mrs. Shew recalled that she “asked him to wait a little, and I gave him a check for $25, as everybody would know who it was about, and it was so very personal & complimentary, I dreaded the ordeal, as I was about to be married to a man who had old fashioned notions of woman & her sphere – (a foolish idea of mine born of my great love for this man -but which proved my great loss for I never amounted to anything afterwards, having lost all my individuality from that hour).” Unfortunately, the poem is lost, and the fragments that remain were recalled by Mrs. Shew years later.
The pulse beats ten and intermits;
God nerve the soul that ne’er forgets
In calm or storm, by night or day,
Its steady toil, its loyalty.
[. . . ]
[. . . ]
The pulse beats ten and intermits;
God shield the soul that ne’er forgets.
[. . . ]
[. . . ]
The pulse beats ten and intermits;
God guide the soul that ne’er forgets.
[. . . ]
[. . . ] so tired, so weary,
The soft head bows, the sweet eyes close,
The faithful heart yields to repose.
Later that year, Poe would write the poem “To Marie Louise,” which would appear in the March 1848 issue of Columbian Magazine.
NOT long ago, the writer of these lines,
In the mad pride of intellectuality,
Maintained “the power of words” — denied that ever
A thought arose within the human brain
Beyond the utterance of the human tongue;
And now, as if in mockery of that boast,
Two words — two foreign soft dissyllables —
Italian tones made only to be murmured
By angels dreaming in the moonlit “dew
That hangs like chains of pearl on Hermon hill” —
Have stirred from out the abysses of his heart,
Unthought-like thoughts that are the souls of thought,
Richer, far wilder, far diviner visions
Than even the seraph harper, Israfel,
Who has “the sweetest voice of all God’s creatures,”
Could hope to utter. And I ! my spells are broken.
The pen falls powerless from my shivering hand.
With thy dear name as text, though bidden by thee,
I cannot write — I cannot speak or think,
Alas! I cannot feel; for ’tis not feeling,
This standing motionless upon the golden
Threshold of the wide-open gate of dreams,
Gazing, entranced, adown the gorgeous vista,
And thrilling as I see upon the right,
Upon the left, and all the way along
Amid empurpled vapors, far away
To where the prospect terminates — thee only.
Poe’s health gradually recovered, and he was able to visit Shew at her home in Greenwich Village. According to Shew, Poe told her during such a visit, “I have to write a poem; I have no feeling, no sentiment, no inspiration.” After hearing some nearby church bells, Poe commented, “I so dislike the noise of bells to-night, I cannot write. I have no subject — I am exhausted.”
By Shew’s account, she “took up the pen, and, pretending to mimic his style, wrote, ‘The Bells, by E. A. Poe’; and then . . . ‘The Bells, the little silver Bells,’ Poe finishing off the stanza. She then suggested for the next verse, ‘The heavy iron ¬Bells’; and this Poe also expanded into a stanza. He next copied out the complete poem, and headed it, ‘By Mrs. M. L. Shew,’ remarking that it was her poem; as she had suggested and composed so much of it.” On the manuscript for the poem in the Harry Ransom Center in Texas, Poe has written Shew’s name as the author.
In a March 1929 letter in the Poe Museum’s files, Shew’s youngest sister, Elva P. Barney writes, “My sister also said to me Poe came to my home one Sunday evening seeming despondent saying he had nothing to write about, no subject, and while he sat there the various church bells were sending forth their tones she suggested–the Bells for a topic which he did.” The finished poem reads:
Hear the sledges with the bells —
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the Heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells —
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.
Hear the mellow wedding bells —
What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!
Through the balmy air of night
How they ring out their delight! —
From the molten-golden notes,
And all in tune,
What a liquid ditty floats
To the turtle-dove that listens, while she gloats
On the moon!
Oh, from out the sounding cells,
What a gush of euphony voluminously wells!
How it swells!
How it dwells
On the future! — how it tells
Of the rapture that impels
To the swinging and the ringing
Of the bells, bells, bells —
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells —
To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells!
Hear the loud alarum bells —
What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!
In the startled ear of Night
How they scream out their affright!
Too much horrified to speak,
They can only shriek, shriek,
Out of tune,
In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire,
In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire
Leaping higher, higher, higher,
With a desperate desire,
And a resolute endeavour
Now — now to sit, or never,
By the side of the pale-faced moon.
Oh, the bells, bells, bells!
What a tale their terror tells
How they clang, and clash, and roar!
What a horror they outpour
On the bosom of the palpitating air!
Yet the ear, it fully knows,
By the twanging
And the clanging,
How the danger ebbs and flows;
Yes, the ear distinctly tells,
In the jangling
And the wrangling,
How the danger sinks and swells,
By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells —
Of the bells —
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells —
In the clamor and the clangor of the bells!
Hear the tolling of the bells —
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!
In the silence of the night,
How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy menace of their tone!
For every sound that floats
From the rust within their throats
Is a groan.
And the people — ah, the people —
They that dwell up in the steeple,
And who, tolling, tolling, tolling,
In that muffled monotone,
Feel a glory in so rolling
On the human heart a stone —
They are neither man nor woman —
They are neither brute nor human —
They are Ghouls: —
And their king it is who tolls: —
And he rolls, rolls, rolls,
A Pæan from the bells!
And his merry bosom swells
With the Pæan of the bells!
And he dances and he yells;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the Pæan of the bells —
Of the bells: —
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the throbbing of the bells —
Of the bells, bells, bells —
To the sobbing of the bells: —
Keeping time, time, time,
As he knells, knells, knells,
In a happy Runic rhyme,
To the rolling of the bells —
Of the bells, bells, bells: —
To the tolling of the bells —
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells —
To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.
About the time Poe wrote, “The Bells,” Shew was gradually withdrawing from him. By June she would write him to say she could not see him again. She explained her decision in a February 16, 1875 letter to Ingram. “Mr. Hopkins [a theological student and close friend of Mrs. Shew’s] was a great admirer of Mr. Poe, and often met him at my house, but when the question of pantheism came up, you see he thought him either insane or a hopeless infadel [sic], and . . . he would tell the story of that dreadful night when they took him home to Fordham, Mr. Poe reciting, ‘some unheard of jargon with glorious pathos — or deadly hate’ . . . . Of course I felt he was lost, either way.”
A couple weeks before Shew cut off contact with Poe, her confidant Hopkins read the manuscript for Poe’s book Eureka and wrote the author to voice his objections over the closing paragraphs. In a May 15, 1848 letter to Poe, he writes, “But this is not all. You know well that the great body of Christians regard pantheism as a damnable heresy, if not worse. Such a brand would be a blight upon your book, which not even your genius could efface, and your great discovery would at once be ranked by the majority among the vain dreams of skepticism and the empty chimaeras of infidelity. If published as it now stands, I should myself be compelled to attack that part of it, for I could not in conscience do otherwise.”
Poe answered Shew’s letter, “Can it be true Louise that you have the idea fixed in your mind to desert your unhappy and unfortunate friend and patient. . . . I have read over your letter again, and again, and can not make it possible with any degree of certainty, that you wrote it in your right mind (I know you did not without tears of anguish and regret) . . . . Oh Louise how many sorrows are before you, your ingenuous and sympathetic nature, will be constantly wounded in contact with the hollow heartless world, and for me alas! unless some true and tender and pure womanly love saves me, I shall hardly last a year longer, alone!”
Recalling a recent visit by Shew and Hopkins, Poe continues, “I heard your voice as you passed out of my sight leaving me with the Parson, ‘The man of God, The servant of the most High.’ He stood smiling and bowing at the madman Poe! But, that I had invited him to my house, I would have rushed out into Gods light and freedom!”
Poe died the following year, at the age of forty, on October 7, 1849. His mother-in-law Maria Clemm sold the household items before leaving the cottage in which she, Poe, and his wife had lived. According to the Watertown Daily’s Old Houses of the North Country series, Mrs. Shew assisted Mrs. Clemm by buying some of this furniture and other items and moving them to her father’s home, the Barney homestead in Henderson Township.
In 1850, Shew and her husband divorced, and she married Dr. Roland Houghton. In the 1870s, she corresponded with Poe’s English biographer, John Henry Ingram, providing him much information about Poe’s final years and his wife’s death. She died in 1877 at the age of fifty-five. Her young daughter Mary Houghton Overton, moved to the Barney home in Henderson, taking with her much of the artwork and furniture from Shew’s New York home. Here she lived with Shew’s father and youngest sister Elva Barney.
Still living in the Barney home in 1929, Ms. Barney was a member of Richmond’s Edgar Allan Poe Museum. Among the treasures in the home were a Duncan Phyfe sofa used by Poe when he visited Shew’s Greenwich Village home, autographed biographies of Poe, and the “Poe candelabra.” Barney would soon sell the latter to the Poe Museum for $200.
The September 21, 1929 issue of The Times carried an article by Margaret Blakely about the Barney Homestead in Henderson where Barney and Overton were living. “Not long ago, a visitor to the Henderson farmhouse would have noticed immediately upon entering the home, a painting of ‘M.L.S.’ hanging over the fireplace, a pair of graceful Sheffield plate candelabra standing at either side of the portrait. These candelabra were long known in the family as the ‘Poe candelabra,’ and it is believed Mrs. Shew purchased them at the time of Virginia Clemm’s illness in order to assist the poverty-stricken family. Now these candelabra are gone for they were recently sold to the Edgar Allen [sic] Poe shrine of Richmond of which Mrs. Overton is a member…”
Based on their style, these candelabra probably date to the first decade of the nineteenth century. Just how they came into Shew’s possession is not known for certain. The accounts quoted above mention that Shew could have bought them from Poe to assist him financially during his wife’s illness or that Shew bought them from Poe’s mother-in-law after his death. It is also possible that neither of these accounts is accurate. Another legend relates that Poe wrote his poem “The Bells” under their light, but, like most of the stories told about Poe, this is difficult to verify. Given what seem to be exaggerations in some of her accounts of the author’s life, Poe biographers tend to classify Shew as a less than completely reliable source. What is known for certain about her is that she played an important role in Poe’s life before and after his wife’s death.
Today, the two candelabra are on display in the Poe Museum’s Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building where their gleaming silver recalls the opulence of Shew’s home as Poe would have known it. They also help tell the story of Poe’s relationship with Marie Louise Shew, the composition of a classic poem “The Bells,” and the controversy surrounding his last book Eureka.
In observance of National Poetry Month, the Poe Museum will profile a different poem each week in April. The first is one of Poe’s last poems and a favorite of the Poe Museum staff. Poe scholar called “Eldorado” the “noblest of Poe’s poems, the most universal in implication, and the most intensely personal. It is utterly simple, yet rich in suggestion and allusion.” Poe’s biographer Arthur Hobson Quinn, however, thought the poem “is mainly interesting because it reveals once more Poe’s inspiration for a poem through current American events.”
El Dorado is a mythical city of gold hidden somewhere in South America. In the sixteenth century, the Conquistadors searched for it in vain, and the name eventually became synonymous with unattainable goals and treasures. “Eldorado” is not the first time a reference to the city had appeared in Poe’s poetry. In his 1844 poem “Dream-Land,” one stanza reads:
For the heart whose woes are legion
‘Tis a peaceful, soothing region —
For the spirit that walks in shadow
O! it is an Eldorado!
But the traveller, travelling through it,
May not — dare not openly view it;
Never its mysteries are exposed
To the weak human eye unclosed;
So wills its King, who hath forbid
The uplifting of the fringed lid;
And thus the sad Soul that here passes
Beholds it but through darkened glasses.
By the time Poe wrote “Eldorado” in 1849, Eldorado (shortened to one word) was a nickname for California, where fortunes were made and lives, lost during the California Gold Rush. Whether or not Poe ever considered joining the Gold Rush, he wrote his friend F.W. Thomas in February 1849, “I shall be a littérateur, at least, all my life; nor would I abandon the hopes which still lead me on for all the gold in California.” The poem was first published a couple months later in the April 21, 1849 issue of Boston’s The Flag of Our Union. Here is the text:
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.
But he grew old —
This knight so bold —
And o’er his heart a shadow
Fell, as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.
And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow —
‘Shadow,’ said he,
‘Where can it be —
This land of Eldorado?’
‘Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,’
The shade replied, —
‘If you seek for Eldorado!’
We will be profiling a different poem each week during National Poetry Month, so, if you have a favorite Poe poem you would like us to feature, let us know.
April is National Poetry Month, so the poet Joanna Lee (who will be speaking at this summer’s Edgar Allan Poe Young Writers’ Conference AND giving a reading at this month’s Unhappy Hour) compiled this list of ways to make the month more poetic.
10 Ways to Add Some Poetry to your April
1. Put poetry somewhere unexpected. Transcribe your favorite verse in chalk on the sidewalk. Add a quick poem to your child’s lunch bag. Dropping off clothes to a charity? Slip a couple of lines in a note in the pocket.
2. Attend an event. Step outside your box and check out an open mic. Go hear a poet you’ve never heard of. Try a workshop or a class. (Ideas: Check out visiting poets at VCU or U of R. Local spoken word team Slam Richmond has a workshop & open mic every Saturday night. Or simply click here for the plethora of readings, workshops and critique groups we’ve got going on all April long.)
3. Revisit a poem from your youth. Pull out that dusty volume of Frost or Whitman and re-discover an old gem.
4. Go out of your way for poetry… with a road trip (a personal goal for me in April 2014). RVA is a great place for poetry– to hear it and to share it– but not the only place. There are ever-growing communities all around us, planted & watered by great folks who love the written & spoken word. The Tidewater area has something going on just about every night, or head north to Fredericksburg (look for Commonwealth Slam on Facebook) and beyond.
5. Slip some poetry in your technology. Add a favorite verse to your email signature. Tweet a micropoem–you’d be surprised at the creativity you can find in 140 characters or less– and check out hashtags like #micropoetry, #haiku, #americansentence. Caption a verse to your next Instagram.
6. Support a poet! Buy a book or chap and immerse yourself in the soul of someone you’ve never met. Double points if you pick it up from an indie seller. Triple points if you contact the poet and let them know what you think. And just so you know, poets tend not to keep score… so the points don’t really matter.
7. Take a poem out to lunch. Slip a quiet volume in your purse or pocket for whenever you have (or need!) an inspiration break.
8. Visit a poetry landmark. The Poe Museum is right downtown. Or fire up the concord to see Shelley’s grave in Rome. Either way.
9. Speaking of Poe… (Warning: shameless plug here.) Add some inspiration to your morning caffeine kick. Pick up a cup (or a pound!) of Nevermore, the Poets’ Blend. Roasted right here in Richmond by Blanchards’ Coffee Co., this eye-opening writer fuel gives a nod to our poetic roots. Plus, a portion of online sales supports poetry in the River City. How cool is that?
10. Write a poem. Duh! Whether it’s a masterpiece you’ll want to share with the world or a private line to tuck into a notebook somewhere, allow yourself the luxury of finding your own language. Get it out. Put it on paper. The world needs more poetry.