A recent business trip gave me an excuse to visit Boston and Providence to see some Poe sites in the area. Sandra Luzzi Sneesby had invited me to speak at an exhibit of her installation The Women who Loved Poe in Providence.
Once she picked me up from the airport, she took me to Edgar Allan Poe Square where, with the help of a map of Boston Poe sites produced by The Edgar Allan Poe Foundation of Boston, we began to trace Poe’s footsteps through the city.
We headed for Poe’s birthplace at 62 Charles Street South (formerly 62 Carver Street). In honor of this historic site, some lover of literature has memorialized Poe with a fine parking lot surrounded by a chain-link fence. The next photo shows what the building looked like before it was demolished. Notice the building on the left is still there in the above image.
Next we visited the site of the Boston’s first regular theater (pictured above), where Poe’s mother, Eliza Arnold Hopkins Poe, made her first appearance on stage on April 15, 1796. Between 1806 and 1809 she performed there several more times. Her roles included Cordelia in King Lear, Blanch in King John, and Ariel in The Tempest. Here is a notice of her playing Fanny in The Clandestine Marriage. Here is a review of Poe’s mother’s performance as Cordelia.
We located the office of The Dial at 15 West Street. Poe was no fan of The Dial, which featured “the so-called poetry of the so-called Transcendentalists.”
A number of important sites one stood near the Old State House. Within a block from this location, Poe’s first book was published in 1827, “The Tell-Tale Heart” was printed in The Pioneer in 1843, Poe’s mother lived shortly after her arrival in America in 1796, and Poe’s mother gave her last Boston performance in 1809.
Before leaving Boston, we visited the Boston Common, site of the Frog Pond which inspired Poe to call Boston writers “Frogpondians.”
The next day, we toured Providence. Our first stop was the North Burial Ground and the grave of Poe’s fiancée Sarah Helen Whitman. We picked up a self-guide tour sheet near the entrance to assist us in locating the grave. My guides told me this was probably the cemetery where Poe and Whitman would take long walks together since it is only a mile from her house. We also visited Swan Point Cemetery, which is also said to be the cemetery Poe and Whitman liked to visit, even though it is a bit farther from her house.
On Benefit Street, we saw Sarah Helen Whitman’s house, a place Poe visited while courting Whitman.
Behind the house we found some rose bushes which immediately called to mind Poe’s description of seeing Whitman in this garden three years before he would meet her.
I saw thee once — once only — years ago:
I must not say how many — but not many.
It was a July midnight; and from out
A full-orbed moon, that, like thine own soul, soaring,
Sought a precipitate pathway up through heaven,
There fell a silvery-silken veil of light,
With quietude, and sultriness, and slumber,
Upon the upturn’d faces of a thousand
Roses that grew in an enchanted garden,
Where no wind dared to stir, unless on tiptoe —
Fell on the upturn’d faces of these roses
That gave out, in return for the love-light,
Their odorous souls in an ecstatic death —
Fell on the upturn’d faces of these roses
That smiled and died in this parterre, enchanted
By thee, and by the poetry of thy presence.
Clad all in white, upon a violet bank
I saw thee half reclining; while the moon
Fell on the upturn’d faces of the roses,
And on thine own, upturn’d — alas, in sorrow!
Was it not Fate, that, on this July midnight —
Was it not Fate, (whose name is also Sorrow,)
That bade me pause before that garden-gate,
To breathe the incense of those slumbering roses?
No footstep stirred: the hated world all slept,
Save only thee and me. (Oh, Heaven! — oh, God!
How my heart beats in coupling those two words!)
Save only thee and me. I paused — I looked —
And in an instant all things disappeared.
(Ah, bear in mind this garden was enchanted!)
The pearly lustre of the moon went out:
The mossy banks and the meandering paths,
The happy flowers and the repining trees,
Were seen no more: the very roses’ odors
Died in the arms of the adoring airs.
All — all expired save thee — save less than thou:
Save only the divine light in thine eyes —
Save but the soul in thine uplifted eyes.
I saw but them — they were the world to me.
I saw but them — saw only them for hours —
Saw only them until the moon went down.
What wild heart-histories seemed to lie enwritten
Upon those crystalline, celestial spheres!
How dark a wo!, yet how sublime a hope!
How silently serene a sea of pride!
How daring an ambition! yet how deep —
How fathomless a capacity for love!
But now, at length, dear Dian sank from sight,
Into a western couch of thunder-cloud;
And thou, a ghost, amid the entombing trees
Didst glide away. Only thine eyes remained.
They would not go — they never yet have gone.
Lighting my lonely pathway home that night,
They have not left me (as my hopes have) since.
They follow me — they lead me through the years.
They are my ministers — yet I their slave.
Their office is to illumine and enkindle —
My duty, to be saved by their bright light,
And purified in their electric fire,
And sanctified in their elysian fire.
They fill my soul with Beauty (which is Hope,)
And are far up in Heaven — the stars I kneel to
In the sad, silent watches of my night;
While even in the meridian glare of day
I see them still — two sweetly scintillant
Venuses, unextinguished by the sun!
Our next stop was the Providence Athenaeum where Poe and Whitman spent time together among the shelves. The Athenaeum still has a volume of The American Review in which Poe signed his name next to the anonymously published poem “Ulalume,” which is now considered one of Poe’s greatest poems.
The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crispèd 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: —
Oh, hasten! — oh, let us not linger!
Oh, 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,
And 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 —
‘Tis the vault of thy lost Ulalume!”
Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crispèd 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,
Oh, what demon has 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,
In the 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 —
Had drawn up the spectre of a planet
From the limbo of lunary souls —
This sinfully scintillant planet
From the Hell of the planetary souls?”
From there we went to the Governor Henry Lippitt House Museum to the see the installation The Women Who Loved Poe. The video installation revealed Poe’s character by showing him through the eyes of the women closest to him. Our hostess was Sarah Helen Whitman, portrayed by Linda Goetz.
Thanks to the hospitality of my guides in Boston and Providence and to the staffs of the Providence Anthenaeum and the Lippitt House Museum, I got know Sarah Helen Whitman, Poe’s mother Eliza Poe, and Edgar Poe a lot better.