Just this morning I was asked how Poe would feel about the exaggerated image of himself in today’s popular culture. After all, the Poe Myth most people “know” bears only a passing resemblance to the hard-working, innovative author who changed the face of literature almost two centuries ago. Would he be offended that some of the less reputable text books and biographies portray him as a madman or that his ghost was a character on the cartoon Southpark?
The Poe Museum’s Object of the Month might help shed some light on Poe’s own relationship with the mythmaking that continues to grow up around him. This month’s Object of the Month is Poe’s Autobiographical Memo.
The memo is only the lower half of a letter. The upper portion, now housed in the Boston Public Library, is addressed to the editor and anthologist Rufus W. Griswold (1815-1857) and dates to May 29, 1841. The half of the address on the back of the Boston letter matches perfectly with the half on the back of the Poe Museum’s fragment (below), confirming that they were once a single sheet. In the Boston half of the letter, Poe writes that he is sending a selection of his best poems, among which is “The Haunted Palace.” Griswold, the recipient, is preparing an important new anthology to highlight the best American poetry, so Poe has included not only some examples of his poetry for the collection but also this memo. Poe writes, “As I understood you to say chat you meant to preface each set of poems by some biographical notice, I have ventured to send you the above memo — the particulars of which (in a case where an author is so little known as myself) might not be easily obtained elsewhere.”
Verso of Memo
The Poe Museum’s half of the letter reads:
Memo. Born January 1811. Family one of the oldest and most respectable in Baltimore. Gen. David Poe, my paternal grandfather, was a quarter-master general, in the Maryland line, during the revolution, and the intimate friend of Lafayette, who, during his visit to the U.S., called personally upon the Gen’s widow, and tendered her in warmest acknowledgements for the services rendered him by her husband. His father, John Poe married, in England, Jane, a daughter of Admiral James McBride, noted in British naval history, and claiming kindred with many of the most illustrious houses of Great Britain. My father and mother died within a few weeks of each other of consumption, leaving me an orphan at 2 years of age. Mr. John Allan, a very wealthy gentleman of Richmond Va, took a fancy to me, and persuaded my grandfather Gen Poe to suffer him to adopt me. Was brought up in Mr. A’s family, and regarded always as his son and heir—he having no other children. In 1816 went with Mr. A’s family to G. Britain—visited every portion of it—went to school for 5 years to the Rev. Doctor Bransby, at Stoke Newington, then 4 miles from London. Returned to America in 1822. In 1825 went to Jefferson University at Charlottesville, Va, where for 3 years I led a very dissipated life—the college in that period being shamefully dissolute—D’Dunglison of Philadelphia; President. Took the first honors, however, and came home greatly in debt. Mr. A refused to pay some of the debts of honor, and I ran away from home without a dollar on a Quixotic expedition to join the Greeks, then struggling for liberty. Failed in reaching Greece, but made my way to St Petersburg, in Russia. Got into many difficulties, but was extricated by the kindness of Mr. H. Middleton, the American consul at St P. Came home safe in 1829, found Mrs. A. dead, and immediately went to West Point as a Cadet. In about 18 months afterwards Mr A. married a second time (a Miss Patterson, a near relative of Gen. Winfield Scott) – he being then 65 years of age. Mrs A and myself quarreled, and he, siding with her, wrote me an angry letter, to which I replied in the same spirit. Soon afterwards he died, having had a son by Mrs A. and, although leaving a vast property, bequeathed me nothing. The army does not suit a poor man—so I left West Point abruptly, and threw myself upon literature as a resource. I became first known to the literary world thus. A Baltimore weekly paper (The Visiter) offered two premiums—one for best prose story, one for best poem. The Committee awarded both to me, and took occasion to insert into the journal a card, signed by themselves, in which I was very highly flattered. The Committee were John P. Kennedy (author of Horse-Shoe Robinson) J.H.B. Latrobe, and Dr. J.H. Miller. Soon after this I was invited by Mr T.W. White proprietor of the South. Lit. Messenger, to edit it. Afterwards wrote for New York Review at the invitation of Dr Hawks and Professor Henry, its proprietors. Lately have written articles continuously for two British journals whose names I am not permitted to mention. In my engagement with Burton, it was not my design to let my name appear—but he tricked me into it.
This memo is evidence of Poe’s own process of mythmaking. He begins the account by saying he was born two years later than he really was. Then he emphasizes that his family was one of the “oldest and most respectable in Baltimore” when his grandfather was an Irish immigrant who had lost most of his money supporting the Patriots during the American Revolution. His boast of staying at the University of Virginia for three years and graduating with “first honors” is also a bit of a stretch. Although he was one of the top French students, he only stayed at the University one term before leaving because he could not afford to pay either his tuition and board or the gambling debts he incurred while trying to pay those expenses.
Poe continues with a fanciful account of a journey to Europe to join the Greek Wars of Independence that ends with Poe being imprisoned in St. Petersburg, Russia. By his account, Poe returned to the United States in 1829. In reality, Poe enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1827 in Boston and was stationed at Fort Independence, Fort Moultrie, and Fort Monroe before hiring a substitute in 1829.
Despite those fabrications, there are some facts in Poe’s account. He really did win a prize for Best Short Story from the Baltimore Visiter, but he was not awarded the prize for poetry. The judges decided that the same person should not be allowed to win both prizes in the contest, so they gave the poetry prize to someone else.
Rufus W. Griswold
The year after Poe sent Griswold this memo, Griswold published the anthology The Poets and Poetry of America, which was a hit and went through numerous editions during the nineteenth century. Over eighty poets were featured in the collection. Griswold included three of Poe’s poems, “Coliseum,” “The Sleeper,” and “The Haunted Palace.” (This was still three years before Poe would publish “The Raven.”) Griswold’s introduction included much of the information Poe had provided him:
THE family of Mr. POE is one of the oldest and most respectable in Baltimore. DAVID POE, his paternal grandfather, was a quartermaster-general in the Maryland line during the Revolution, and the intimate friend of LAFAYETTE, who, during his last visit to the United States, called personally upon the general’s widow, and tendered her his acknowledgments for the services rendered to him by her husband. His great-grandfather, JOHN POE, married, in England, JANE, a daughter of Admiral JAMES McBRIDE, noted in British naval history, and claiming kindred with some of the most illustrious English families. His father and mother died within a few weeks of each other, of consumption, leaving him an orphan, at two years of age. Mr. JOHN ALLAN, a wealthy gentleman of Richmond, Virginia, took a fancy to him, and persuaded General POE, his grandfather, to suffer him to adopt him. He was brought up in Mr. ALLAN’s family; and as that gentleman had no other children, he was regarded as his son and heir. In 1816 he accompanied Mr. and Mrs. ALLAN to Great Britain, visited every portion of it, and afterward passed four or five years in a school kept at Stoke Newington, near London, by the Reverend Doctor BRANSBY. He returned to America in 1822, and in 1825 went to the Jefferson University, at Charlottesville, in Virginia, where he led a very dissipated life, the manners of the college being at that time extremely dissolute. He took the first honours, however, and went home greatly in debt. Mr. ALLAN refused to pay some of his debts of honour, and he hastily quitted the country on a Quixotic expedition to join the Greeks, then struggling for liberty. He did not reach his original destination, however, but made his way to St. Petersburg, in Russia, where he became involved in difficulties, from which he was extricated by Mr. MIDDLETON, the American consul at that place. He returned home in 1829, and immediately afterward entered the military academy at West Point. In about eighteen months from that time, Mr. ALLAN, who had lost his first wife while POE was in Russia, married again. He was sixty-five years of age, and the lady was young; POE quarrelled with her, and the veteran husband, taking the part of his wife, addressed him an angry letter, which was answered in the same spirit. He died soon after, leaving an infant son the heir to his vast property, and bequeathed POE nothing. The army, in the opinion of the young cadet, was not a place for a poor man, so he left West Point abruptly, and determined to maintain himself by authorship. The proprietor of a weekly literary gazette in Baltimore offered two premiums, one for the best prose story, and the other for the best poem. In due time POE sent in two articles, and the examining committee, of whom Mr. KENNEDAY, the author of “Horse-Shoe Robinson,” was one, awarded to him both the premiums, and took occasion to insert in the gazette a card under their signatures, in which he was very highly praised. Soon after this, he became associated with Mr. THOMAS W. WHITE in the conduct of the “Southern Literary Messenger,” and he subsequently wrote for the “New York Review,” and for several foreign periodicals. He is married, and now resides in Philadelphia, where he is connected with a popular monthly magazine.
The book launched Griswold’s career, and he would edit a number of anthologies including the first posthumous collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s complete works.
Poe, however, was not a fan of Griswold’s anthology. He thought too much space had been allotted to minor poets like Griswold’s friend Charles Fenno Hoffman, who had 45 of his poems included. In a November 1842 review in the Boston Miscellany, Poe complained that Griswold was biased in his selections in favor of New England authors, had left out a few important poets, and had included a few poets Poe would “ have treated with contempt.” This was fairly tame for one of Poe’s reviews. After all, he had attained national fame and earned himself the nickname “The Tomahawk Man” for his scathing literary criticisms.
Poe reserved his harshest condemnation of The Poets and Poetry of America for his lectures, beginning with a November 21, 1843 lecture in Philadelphia that would be repeated in other cities. The November 29 issue of the Citizen Soldier recalled of Poe’s lecture, “The subject, ‘American Poetry,’ was handled in a manner, that placed all the pseudo-critics, the Rev. Mr. Rufus Griswold, Esq. among others, to the blush, and showed the audience, how a man born a poet, could describe the true nature and object, [a]s well as the principles of poetry. The sentences of the Lecturer were vigorous, energetic and impassioned, his criticisms scathingly severe in some cases, and des[e]rvedly eulogistic in others.”
After a repeat of this lecture in Wilmington, Delaware, the Delaware State Journal reported that “the book and its author were handled by the critical Lecturer in not the most gentle manner” and that Poe had complained that “an extravagant proportion of space allotted to personal friends — altho’ inferior poets — (as in the case of Mr. Hoffman) — while superior merit has been put off with a single page.”
Poe in 1842
Poe’s lecture was a popular success, but this did not endear him to Griswold, who harbored resentment towards Poe that lasted long after the poet’s death. In fact, Griswold would write an obituary of Poe that was so harsh that he felt the need to publish it anonymously. It begins, “EDGAR ALLAN POE is dead. He died in Baltimore the day before yesterday. This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it. The poet was well known, personally or by reputation, in all this country; he had readers in England, and in several of the states of Continental Europe; but he had few or no friends; and the regrets for his death will be suggested principally by the consideration that in him literary art has lost one of its most brilliant but erratic stars.”
Without knowing Griswold had written the obituary, Poe’s mother-in-law appointed him Poe’s literary executor and tasked him with compiling Poe’s complete works. In a final act of vengeance, Griswold included in this anthology a memoir of Poe designed to portray Poe as a madman and drug addict, a false portrayal which has since formed the basis of Poe’s popular image. Among the falsehoods promoted in Griswold’s account was Poe’s own account of going to Europe to fight the Turks. Griswold assumed this memoir would destroy Poe’s reputation, but it made Poe even more popular than he had been during his lifetime. The legend of Poe, which the author played a part in shaping, has grown into a caricature that even he would scarcely recognize.
When asked this morning what Poe would think about his distorted posthumous reputation, I was reminded of Poe’s fictitious autobiography, of how proud he sounded in his letters home from West Point when he wrote that a rumor had spread that he was the grandson of Benedict Arnold, and of how many successful hoaxes he had perpetrated during his lifetime. Was Poe’s autobiographical memo just another of his literary hoaxes, like “The Balloon Hoax” and “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar?” Would Poe have been offended by Griswold’s smear campaign against him, or would he be just a little pleased to see how it helped him become an enduring literary legend? With or without the Poe legend, we would not remember him at all if it were not for the power of his stories and poems to captivate and inspire generations of readers to this day.
The Poe Museum’s manuscript was given to the Poe Museum by Griswold’s grandson, Roger Griswold, in 1949. It is on display this month in the Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building.
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 [email protected]
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?”
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.
Among the respected authors scheduled to speak at this summer’s Edgar Allan Poe Young Writers’ Conference (June 22-28, 2014) is novelist Brad Parks, the only writer to ever win the Shamus Award, the Nero Award, AND the Lefty Award. He received the Shamus (for best first private eye novel) and the Nero (for best American mystery) for his debut, Faces of the Gone, the first book in history to take both awards. The Lefty (for best humorous mystery) went to his third book, The Girl Next Door. His novels have received starred reviews from Booklist, Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews. Shelf-Awareness has deemed the Carter Ross books “perfect for the reader who loves an LOL moment but wants a mystery that’s more than empty calories” and Library Journal has called the series “essential reading” and “a refreshing tonic for the mystery soul.” RT Book Reviews opined, “Parks has quietly entered the top echelon of the mystery field.” Parks is a graduate of Dartmouth College and spent a dozen years as a reporter for The Washington Post and The Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger.
Another important writer sharing her insights into writing is Tina Eshleman, the Managing Editor of Richmond Magazine. Eshleman is a journalist with more than 20 years of experience in writing and editing a range of topics and leading teams of reporters. Before joining Richmond Magazine, she was Deputy Editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and she has also edited the Daily Progress and the York Town Crier/Poquoson Post.
Dr. Harry Lee Poe, Founder of the Conference
Founded and designed in 2004 by Edgar™ Award-winning author Dr. Harry Lee Poe, the Edgar Allan Poe Young Writers’ Conference brings high school students from across the country to Richmond, Virginia for an intensive week-long residential writing experience. Each day of the conference, the students meet a different writing professional including editors, poets, novelists, and playwrights. This year’s visiting speakers will include novelist Brad Parks, editor Tina Eshleman, poet Joanna Lee, and more.
This year’s conference leader will be Austin Lange. Lange earned her MFA in Poetry from Converse College. She has work forthcoming in The South Carolina Review and was nominated for an AWP Intro Journal Award in 2011. She currently serves as the Assistant Poetry Editor for the online literary journal, South85. She currently works in Alamance County for a local non profit and spends as much time possible writing, reading and hiking the beautiful area nature trails.
In addition to workshops and writing time, Writers’ Conference attendees will find inspiration by visiting the sites that inspired Edgar Allan Poe’s stories and poems. A tour of Edgar Allan Poe sites in Richmond will be given by Poe Museum Curator Chris Semtner, who has written two books about Edgar Allan Poe’s Richmond (one of which was nominated for a Library of Virginia Literary Award for Nonfiction), and a tour of the site of Poe’s honeymoon in Petersburg will be led by Jeffrey Abugel, who wrote the book Edgar Allan Poe’s Petersburg. Attendees will also visit Poe’s dorm room, the setting of “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains,” and collections of rarely seen Poe artifacts.
Attendees of the 2013 Conference with Edgar
The Edgar Allan Poe Young Writers’ Conference is now accepting applications until April 15, 2014. For more information, please call Chris Semtner at the Poe Museum at 804-648-5523, email [email protected] , or click here. An application is available here.
Attendees of the 2012 Conference Touring Shockoe Hill Cemetery
The Edgar Allan Poe Young Writers’ Conference has extended its application deadline to April 15. In light of the several recent snow days, the Poe Museum has decided to give potential applicants more time to collect their recommendation forms and complete their applications for this summer’s conference.
Held June 22-28, 2014 in Richmond, Virginia, the Edgar Allan Poe Young Writers’ Conference is a week-long residential writing conference designed to develop the writing skills of high school students. Designed by Edgar™ Award-winning author Dr. Harry Lee Poe, the Conference brings students together with editors, novelists, journalists, poets, and other writing professionals who can share their advice and experience. Attendees will also find inspiration by visiting the places Poe spent time and by exploring rarely seen collections of the author’s manuscripts and possessions.
Since its inception in 2004, the Edgar Allan Poe Young Writers’ Conference had accepted students from across the United States. Last year alone, students from eight different states attended the Conference.
If you or someone you know might be interested in attending this unique writing experience, please call Chris Semtner at the Poe Museum at 888-21-EAPOE, email [email protected], or visit our website. You can also download an application here.
Edgar, one of the Poe Museum’s feline mascots, received a gift yesterday from admirer. Trish Foxwell, author of A Visitors’ Guide to the Literary South, sent a coffee mug she designed with Edgar’s picture on it. This photo shows Edgar posing with his gift.
Edgar is one of three black kittens found in November 2012 in the Poe Museum’s Enchanted Garden. While the female kitten Catterina went to live with one of the Museum’s guides, Edgar and his brother Pluto stayed at the Museum and are favorites with the public. Last year they were named “Best Museum Discovery” by Style Weekly. Here are some photos of the kittens over the years from their profile on Richmond.com.
Edgar Allan Poe might have appreciated the Poe Museum cats. He was always very fond of animals. As a boy living with his foster parents, he had a dog, a parrot who could speak French, and a cat named Tib. Later in life, he would keep various birds and cats. One of his friends, Hiram Haines, even offered to give Poe and his wife a pet fawn. Of course, many of his houseguests were disappointed to find Poe did not have a pet raven. Some, however, commented on his large tortoiseshell cat Catterina.
In 1840, Poe wrote an essay about his pet black cat which was capable of opening a latched door. A few years later, he wrote a humorous essay about cats for the Philadelphia Public Ledger. Quite unlike the narrator in his short story “The Black Cat,” Poe was reputedly kind to animals, and Catterina so adored him she would sit on his shoulder while he wrote.
The Poe Museum would like to thank Trish for sending the great coffee mug.
You never know who you will meet at the Poe Museum. Since it opened in 1922, it has welcomed some of the world’s leading authors, artists, and actors. Thirty-nine years ago, in February 1975, the actor Vincent Price visited the Museum, where he was treated to a lunch in his honor. A horror film legend, Price starred in several adaptations of Poe’s works, including “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” and “Tales of Terror.”
The February 11, 1975 issue of the Richmond News Leader reported that, in addition to visiting the Poe Museum, Price gave a lecture and dramatic reading at the Women’s Club where he drew “loud applause for his readings of such Poe classics as ‘The Raven.’”
The reporter Joy Propert describes Price during his visit as “conservatively dressed in a dark suit, light blue shirt and a red and blue paisley tie.” Of his appearance, Propert adds, “Price has carefully waved gray hair and a small mustache that seem appropriate for a voice that can change instantly from dulcet to sinister tones.” Price is quoted as telling the Women’s Club, “I love playing the villain…It’s boring playing good men.”
When asked about Poe, Price tells the reporter, “He was born with a demon called genius, and his poems show an inner despair in much the same way as some contemporary art.”
The raven that appears in the above photo with Price is still at the Poe Museum.
In honor of Price’s 100th birthday in 2011, the Poe Museum hosted a special exhibit in honor of the man who introduced generations of audiences to Poe’s works through the medium of film.
Vincent Price Life Mask
Above is a life mask of Vincent Price from the Poe Museum’s collection. The Museum also holds several posters for Vincent Price’s Poe movies and related items like this Vincent Price figurine.
To give the public a better idea of the variety of artifacts and memorabilia that makes up the Poe Museum’s world renowned collection, we will be profiling a different object each month. Some of these objects may be long-time favorites like Poe’s bed or Poe’s vest, but others may be lesser known pieces that are rarely, if ever, displayed. When making the list of items to profile, we began by asking which pieces tell stories or reveal unknown aspects of Poe’s life or work. We then considered which objects we wish could receive more attention or more time on display. Finally, we wondered which would be the first item to be profiled.
It made perfect sense to begin with a little known object that nonetheless attracts, repulses, and intrigues many of the guests who see it. Our tour guides regularly point it out on their tours because it is small enough to go unnoticed but too important to miss.
That is why the Poe Museum’s first Object of the Month is a lock of Eliza White’s hair.
Eliza White (ca.1820-1888) was the daughter of Poe’s employer, Thomas White, the owner of the Southern Literary Messenger. What little is known of Eliza White is a mixture of exaggeration, legend, and an occasional fact. Poe’s friend Susan Archer Talley Weiss wrote in her notoriously unreliable 1907 book Home Life of Poe, “When I was a girl I more than once heard of Eliza White and her love affair with Edgar Poe. ‘She was the sweetest girl that I ever knew,’ said a lady who had been her schoolmate; ‘a slender, graceful blonde, with deep blue eyes, who reminded you of the Watteau Shepherdesses upon fans. She was a great student, and very bright and intelligent. She was said to be engaged to Poe, but they never appeared anywhere together. It was soon broken off on account of his dissipation. I don’t think she ever got over it. She had many admirers, but is still unmarried.’”
Susan Archer Talley
According to Weiss, when Poe moved to Richmond in 1835 to work at the Southern Literary Messenger, “Mr. White, as a safeguard from the temptation to evil habits, received him as an inmate of his own home, where he immediately fell in love with the editor’s youngest daughter, ‘little Eliza,’ a lovely girl of eighteen [actually twenty-three]. It was said that the father, who idolized his daughter, and was also very fond of Poe, did not forbid the match, but made his consent conditional upon the young man’s remaining perfectly sober for a certain length of time. All was going well, and the couple were looked upon as engaged, when [Poe’s aunt] Mrs. Clemm, who kept a watchful eye upon her nephew, may have received information of the affair, and we have seen the result…Poe now, at once, plunged into the dissipation which was, according to general report, the occasion of Mr. White’s prohibition of his attentions to his daughter. It was she to whom the lines, ‘To Eliza,’ now included in Poe’s poems, were addressed.”
For her 1906 article “Some Memories of Poe” in Bob Taylor’s Magazine, Tula D. Pendleton interviewed Ms. White’s cousin, Miss Bell Lynes, a niece of Thomas H. White. In the resulting article, Cummings reports that, “Eliza, the handsome young daughter of Mr. White, inspired Poe with great admiration, and it was said that he singed his wings at the candles of her shrine. ‘To Eliza’ is his tribute to this fair girl.”
The poem “To Eliza,” originally published in the Southern Literary Messenger under the title “Lines Written in an Album,” reads:
Eliza! — let thy generous heart
From its present pathway part not!
Being every thing which now thou art,
Be nothing which thou art not.
So with the world thy gentle ways —
Thy unassuming beauty —
And truth shall be a theme of praise
Forever — and love a duty.
Though this poem was likely dedicated to Eliza White at that time, Poe had already written it in the album of his cousin Eliza Herring. He would later dedicate the poem to Frances S. Osgood and publish it under yet another name.
Thomas W. White
Of the supposed love affair between Poe and Ms. White, Pendleton continues, “But Mr. White would hear none of Poe as a suitor for his daughter. Miss White rarely spoke of the poet. ‘But,’ said Miss Lynes, ‘Eliza never married…’ Miss Lynes remembers seeing Poe at a party at her ‘Uncle White’s’ house. He and the fair girl made such a handsome couple that all present remarked upon it. “Mr. Poe was the most enthusiastic dancer I ever saw,” said Miss Lynes, “although he remained cold and calm, showing his delight only in his eyes.”
Poe and White remained friends for the rest of his life. She even visited Poe while he was living in Fordham, New York. In an April 22, 1859 letter to Poe’s friend Sarah Helen Whitman, Poe’s mother-in-law Maria Clemm writes of Eliza White, “She passed many months with us at Fordham, before and after Virginia’s death, but he never felt or professed other than friendship for her.”
If Poe’s relationship with White was not romantic, the two certainly shared an affinity for poetry. White’s poems appeared a number of times in the pages of the Southern Literary Messenger. Here is a poem of hers in the December 1835 issue.
The first mention of this lock of Eliza White’s hair comes from the above mentioned article by Tula D. Pendleton. The author writes of Ms. White, “Her greatest physical charm was her beautiful hair. Miss Lynes showed me a long braid of exquisite texture and of a fairness so extreme that when laid upon her own silver head there was scarcely any perceptible difference of shade. This hair was cut from Eliza White’s head many years before her death, which occurred about ten years ago.”
Pendleton acquired the lock from Miss Lynes and donated it to the Poe Museum in 1922. The piece had not been displayed for several years when the present curator, having read about it in the old accessions book, decided to take it out of storage. As a poet and as a friend of Poe’s, Eliza White deserved to have her story told. In the absence of a surviving portrait of her (since her only known portrait was destroyed in a fire in the nineteenth century) this hair serves as a tangible link to this often overlooked figure in Poe’s life.