The Museum Collection

Manuscript for "To Helen"

ID #: 561
Creator: Edgar Allan Poe
Date: 1829-1835
Format: Pencil in Album
Source: Gift of Mrs. Stewart Woodward
Collection: Poe Foundation, Inc.
Place of Publication:
Publish Date:
Detail of "To Helen"
The first stanza of Poe's poem "To Helen" appears on the upper half of one of the pages of this album. This version, which differs slightly from the published versions of the poem, reads:

"Helen thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicean barks of yore
Which gently o'er a perfumed sea
The weary way worn traveller bore
To his own native shore
Page of Album
The anonymously written passage on this page was taken from Anglo-Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith's 1760 book A Citizen of the World.
Front Cover
Amelia Poe's name is printed in gold letters on the front of her album.
Spine of Album
Page from the Album
The person who transcribed this poem is unknown, but he or she signed the contribution "M.P.C." We do not know whether or not he or she is or is not Edgar Allan Poe's aunt and mother-in-law Maria Poe Clemm. What we do know is that the poem was originally written by the American poet Fitz-Greene Halleck (1790-1867) for his 1819 book The Croakers. Critics, including Thomas Ollive Mabbott, have noted the similarities between the first line of this poem ("The world is bright before thee,") and the line from Poe's 1827 poem "Song" which reads "The world all love before thee." This suggests the possibility that Poe read or was influenced by Halleck's poem.

The faint pencil writing to the right of the title on this page is illegible.
Page from Album
The anonymous transcriber of this poem signed his or her contribution "SWm." The poem was copied from the 1826 book Worchester Field, or the Cavalier; a Poem, in Four Cantos, with Historical Notes by the English poet and historian Agnes Strickland (1796-1874).
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This is the only known manuscript for Poe's poem "To Helen," which Poe scholar Thomas Ollive Mabbott regarded as "the finest of Poe's lyrics." Poe dedicated this poem to Richmond matron Jane Stith Craig Stanard, the woman Poe called "the first, purely ideal love of my soul."

The piece was discovering in April 2012 in the album of Edgar Allan Poe's cousin Amelia Poe (1809-1888), twin sister of Neilson Poe (1809-1884) who married Edgar Poe's wife's half sister Josephine Emily Clemm (1808-1889). Finding one of Poe's poems written in such an album is not unprecedented, since Poe is known to have written poetry in the albums of other young ladies, including Lucy Holmes and his cousin Elizabeth Rebecca Herring. In fact, the Poe Museum also owns the album of Lucy Dorothea Henry, which contained a number of Poe items, including a note from Poe to Henry.

The piece never left the Poe family before it was donated to the Poe Museum in 1930 by the original owner's granddaughter, Mrs. Josephine Goldsborough Trail Woodward (b.1871), the daughter of Amelia Poe's daughter Josephine Harriet Trail (1849-1871). In addition to the album, Mrs. Woodward also gave the museum a bound typescript of The Poe Family of Maryland as well as a pair of kid leather dancing shoes said to have been purchased in 1805 in London by John Clemm for Amelia Poe's mother Bridget Amelia Fitz Gerald Kennedy Poe (1790-1844), wife of Jacob Poe (1775-1860). The album is recorded in the Poe Museum's original accession book as "Scrapbook of Amelia Poe." This record does not, however, mention the presence of Poe's handwriting in the album, and this detail appears to have gone unnoticed for the next eighty-two years.

Because many of the poems in the album are addressed to "Miss Poe," the album must date to before Amelia Poe's marriage in Novermber 1836. It is possible Edgar Poe wrote the stanza during his residence in Baltimore in either May 1829-January 1830 or May 1831-August 1835. Miss Poe would have been living with her parents in Frederick, Maryland but could have visited her brother Nielson in Baltimore while Edgar Poe was living there. Since "To Helen" did not appear in either of Poe's first two collections, published in 1827 and 1829, the original composition of the poem likely dates to sometime between late 1829 and the first printing of the poem, in Poe?s 1831 book Poems. The wording of the stanza in Amelia Poe's album differs slightly from all published versions of the poem.