This past December, we partnered with James River Writers to launch the Edgar Allan Poe Flash Fiction and Poetry Contest with the theme “Poe Inspires.” We were pleasantly inundated with wonderful entries and loved reading them. Poe would have been proud. A huge thank you to all who participated! Out of the many submissions we received, one poem and one flash fiction piece in particular impressed us with the writers’ technical skill, creative imagination, and overall aura of Poe-ness. We are delighted to announce our winners for the contest: Jonathan Tyktor for Flash Fiction and Jan Best for Poetry. Congratulations!! The winning entries are published below and will also be published on James River Writers’ website as well as in their “Get Your Word On” (circulation of 3,400+). These will also be proudly displayed at the Poe Museum’s Birthday Bash on January 16. Again, congratulations to Jon and Jan and thank you so much to everyone who submitted their work.
FLASH FICTION WINNER: The Tollkeeper, Jon Tyktor
Two masked highwaymen hid by a country road. Obscured by a ridge, they
watched as a hobbling, cloaked figure walked by and heard the jingling of
coins. The rogues, Gaetano and Arrigo, jumped out and brandished their
“Pay the toll!” said Gaetano.
“And what toll is that?” said the figure.
“Ours!” said Arrigo. “Make payment in money or life.”
“Hah! Indeed,” said the figure. “All that is mine comes back to me, but
here, take it for now.”
The figure reached into his cloak and threw a bulging purse at their feet.
He set back to the road before either thief could say another word. Gaetano
and Arrigo examined their prize.
“We are rich!” said Arrigo.
“And without a fight!” said Gaetano.
“What fight could he muster? He was so near death, he looked to be nothing
but bones walking upright!”
Gaetano took two bronze coins from the pile and said “We should have spared
him these so he could pay his final toll!”
“I suppose they now will be your own!”
Gaetano placed the coins over his eyes in jest and began to scream. He tore
at the coins, now fused to his flesh, and fell to his knees. His eyes
glowed with an infernal fire that charred his face and hands in an instant.
With a final searing flash, his screams were silent and his smoldering body
Arrigo watched the body lay. He then heard a jingling come down the country road.
POETRY WINNER: Lorena, Jan Best
In a room
dark as a tomb
‘cept for a candle’s flame,
his eyes fixed on
his one true love
he’ll never see again.
Her tender skin
like a veil
of cloud-wisped sail
across her moon-shaped face.
Her name so sweet
his hardened cheek
had lifted in recall,
a poignant frame
against the reddened wall.
All that was left-
his echoed breath
that wilted in the air,
Lorena, Sweet Lorena, kissed
a bullet through his chair.
In honor of National Poetry Month, one of the Poe Museum’s former volunteers, Laura Bittner of Florida, sent us some poetry for our blog. We thank her for sharing her work with the Museum and hope you will enjoy them.
The Dark Curtain
The dark curtain
attached to stone
silently and listlessly blowing
back and forth
no sound from outside
dust particles play
in two-faced light rays;
of curled, grey leaves.
Walking at Night
after the hours/after dark
when the bars
have let out
could make your heart
skip a beat
‘Ere I go
on my own
-so a word never spoke.
on a nightly errand,
From another’s watch
you can never surely keep.
Picking up the pace now.
Hearing steps now.
Clutching my case
closer to my side,
paying no mind
to the dim lights
flittering flames outside
the dark vendor’s signs,
as I go by.
The Eeriness of an Open Gate
-Walking down Main Street
in the dark, past the field
located in the city, between
two buildings. Wind whipping
the several grains, the
sparse clovers. A moonlight
so dim, something hiding
could be obscured.
-Up a little ways,
past a few laughing,
bronzed, gleaming from
the bars, thorns or sharp sticks
crawl like the vines of a fist
next to the open gate.
No one is around.
But someone, did
go through or
and left standing still-
spirits passing through.
To it, time inconceivable;
These sturdy bars of iron,
whose rivulets only serve a purpose
of not striking fear
into the hearts of onlookers.
The city dweller
in his bedroom
shuts his lights off.
Another day past.
And him, unaware of the
history within the
layers of wheat paste
and paper- surrounding
all he owns.
Many nights ago,
this room was someone else’s.
It all looked very
different. The streets
what they are today.
A traveler looking on
unaware of linear time
observes the changes,
the people walking
down his streets,
and wanders on.
The Day Watchman
The day watchman
observing out the
the shop. piles of
papers line the
he protects his
extending an out-
Countless artists have been inspired to translate Edgar Allan Poe’s works into visual art, music, sculpture, film, ballet, and opera; but few know his works have inspired landscape gardens. This will be no surprise to those who have read his short story “The Domain of Arnheim” or his many poems celebrating the beauty of gardens.
When the founders of Richmond’s Poe Museum decided to memorialize Poe with a garden based on one of his works, they chose the relatively obscure poem “To One in Paradise.” Poe was about twenty-four when he wrote the poem, which first appeared in the January 1834 issue of the Lady’s Book as part of the short story “The Visionary.” In this early story, a young man based on Poe’s boyhood idol, the British poet Lord Byron, falls in love with the young wife of a much older man. Suffering from his unrequited love for her, the young man writes the following poem on paper in a book with pages “blotted with fresh tears.”
Thou wast that all to me, love,
For which my soul did pine —
A green isle in the sea, love,
A fountain and a shrine,
All wreathed with fairy fruits and flowers;
And all the flowers were mine.
Ah, dream too bright to last!
Ah, starry Hope, that didst arise
But to be overcast!
A voice from out the Future cries,
“Onward!” — but o’er the Past
(Dim gulf!) my spirit hovering lies,
Mute — motionless — aghast!
For alas! alas! with me
The light of life is o’er.
“No more — no more — no more,”
(Such language holds the solemn sea
To the sands upon the shore,)
Shall bloom the thunder-blasted tree,
Or the stricken eagle soar!
Now all my hours are trances;
And all my nightly dreams
Are where the dark eye glances,
And where thy footstep gleams,
In what ethereal dances,
By what Italian streams.
Alas! far that accursed time
They bore thee o’er the billow,
From Love, to titled age and crime,
And an unholy pillow! —
From me, and from our misty clime.
Where weeps the silver willow!
After reading the poem, the young man’s friend answers the door to discover the lady has poisoned herself. The friend rushes to tell the young man, who has also just committed suicide. In the context of the story, the poem reads almost like a suicide note written by a man who believes “the light of life is [over].” The poem begins with a description of Paradise as “green isle in the sea” with a fountain and shrine. The garden is filled with “fruits and flowers,” possibly symbolizing ideal and carnal love. Then the narrator writes that this dream is too bright to last. The garden dies. The tree is struck by lightning and killed. He lives his days as if in a trance and spends his nights dreaming of his lost love.
Given the poem’s melancholy tone, one might wonder why it would have been chosen as the model for the Poe Museum’s garden. The answer likely lies with Museum founder and Poe collector James H. Whitty, who believed the poem references a real Richmond garden in which a teenage Poe courted his first fiancée Sarah Elmira Royster. Much like the plot of “The Visionary,” Royster married an older man in 1828, five years before Poe wrote the story and poem. Given the poem’s autobiographical nature and its connection to a lost Richmond garden Poe himself once frequented, “To One in Paradise” seemed the perfect poem for Poe Museum to recreate in its garden.
Not everyone, however, agreed with Whitty. An alternate theory, recorded in Thomas Ollive Mabbott’s edition of Poe’s poems, holds that Poe was inspired by Lord Byron. According to Thomas Moore’s biography of the poet, the day before Byron’s early love was to marry another man, Byron wrote a similar poem to her in one of her books. Since the baron in “The Visionary” very likely based on Byron, this theory makes sense. As a young man, Poe identified closely with Byron and modeled both his early poetry and his public image after the British poet. Poe went so far as to tell people he had tried to join the Greek Wars of Independence just as Byron had done.
Poe reprinted “The Visionary” in 1835 in the Southern Literary Messenger, in 1840 in Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, and in 1845 in The Broadway Journal (under the title “The Assignation.” Eventually, he decided the poem was strong enough to stand on its own. Removing the last stanza, Poe published the poem (without the story) in 1839 under the title “To Ianthe in Heaven.” In 1841, he changed the title to “To One Beloved.” Poe first printed the poem under its current title, “To One in Paradise,” in 1843.
Whether the first stanza describes Paradise, Heaven, an island in the sea, the garden in which Poe courted his first love, none of these, or a combination of the above; the vivid description provided rich inspiration for the Poe Museum’s founders who built their garden around a central green isle featuring a fountain and shrine. The perimeter of the garden is planted with flowers and shrubs mentioned in Poe’s poems and short stories. Enclosing the entire garden is a tall brick wall recalling the walled garden in which Poe and Royster spent time. Among the many building materials salvaged and repurposed for use in the Poe Museum’s garden are granite paving stones taken from the paths of the garden Poe knew. At one point, the Poe Museum’s garden also featured a stone urn and a gate latch taken from that garden.
Just as Poe inspired the Poe Museum’s garden, the garden itself has inspired generations of writers, artists, and gardeners. You can see some 1924 paintings of the garden here, and you can learn about this month’s exhibit of new paintings of the garden here. National Poetry Month is the perfect time to find your own inspiration in the Poe Museum’s Enchanted Garden. When you visit, be sure to bring a copy of “To One in Paradise.” Until then, you can listen to it here.
To learn more about some of our other favorite Poe poems, click here and here.
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.
The best history, like reality, is messy. Fiction, on the other hand, cleans up really well. Personally I prefer history over fiction nine times out of ten, the messier the better. Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen is good, clean fun if you like that sort of thing. It is good, clean fun even if you do not like that sort of thing. Ms. Cullen is an entertaining author whose other works include The Creation of Eve and Reign of Madness. For Mrs. Poe she has entered the abyss others ventured into before her to explore the [alleged] affair between one of literature’s greatest giants, Edgar Allan Poe, and one of the field’s lesser known but competent contributors, Frances Osgood.
The two met while both were writers in New York, and both were married to other people, more or less faithfully, according to which version you explore. Poe had, at the time this novel is set, just hit it big with his breakout blockbuster of a poem, The Raven, and while Mrs. Osgood styled herself a poet, she was more famous at the time for her children’s story, Puss In Boots.
As a fictionalized account of their relationship, a romantic novel, Mrs. Poe is no worse, and somewhat better than other accounts have been. My guess is that this will not be the final word on the subject either since we are obsessed with celebrities and their every move. And to give him his due, Poe was one of the first, if not the first celebrity of his day. The Raven was such a huge hit, Poe read it aloud to packed audiences every chance he got. He was so famous indeed children on the streets of Richmond taunted him as he passed by, and he cawed and flapped his arms like the legendary bird to amuse them.
If you are looking for a light diversion on a winter’s day, this and a cup of hot cocoa will fill the bill. If, however, you require more reality dosed with your history, you may take your own time travel back to those heady days in the budding intellectual community of New York and read the actual poetry that Poe and Osgood wrote to and for each other. His include two poems, one certainly which is a version of poetic regifting since, true to form, wrote it for someone else before and just rededicated it to F__ O__. Hers to him, if they are to him, were either to flatter her editor so he would publish her, or to stir up scandal, which is what happened. The biographic take on Mrs. Osgood has always been that as a lady, and a married woman, she would not have wanted to draw attention to the affair between herself and Poe, if indeed one existed. If you study her romantic baggage, however, you will discover that she went to the dark side in her amours, and courting Poe, a major stud muffin of his day, would have been right up her alley. She liked her boys bad, very bad indeed. And then of course, there is that baby… Was it Poe’s or was it her wayward husband’s? The fact is, we may never know. But the answer to that question that did not stop Ms. Cullen, as it has not stopped others before her from exploring this tricky area of intriguing mystery. It is a subject that renders itself tolerably well for a novel, but not quite up to the standard of Poe’s faithful readers.
Thank you to everyone who submitted to our poetry contest last month, held in honor of National Poetry Month. We received some great poems from all over the world. The following three poems were chosen by our editorial staff for first, second, and third place.
By Ryan McLellan
Your bonnet rots and my time piece stopped a long
time ago. We became a faded image on a mantel.
My father posed like his father before him, a stone
expression and thumbs in his belt loops. His wife –
not my mother – stood still and did not speak. My
uncle twisted his mustache like a man hatching some
sinister plot. You must have been so uncomfortable
in that corset, bound, while the men wore the billowy
suits and smoked the cigars. How many of these
dreadful photographs did you have to pose for? I
can’t see through the sepia anymore; cataracts are
brown and grey. A group-shot taken the last time we
got together; a funeral. We all die young in this family.
We look away from the lens like we can’t be bothered
with beauty yet we all put a hand on our hips, puff
up our chests and stand still when told to do so. We
died in these frames, lived out our last days under
dust in forgotten parlors but we knew we could be
immortal if we struck the right pose.
About the Author
Ryan McLellan is a teacher, singer/songwriter, nationally touring poet, Buffler fellow and editor from Waltham, Massachusetts. The author of five collections of poetry and the spoken-word album Last-Second Changes to the Set List, his work has been published widely in journals such as The Subterranean Quarterly, The November 3rd Club, Lower East Side Review, Bird’s Eye reView, Concise Delight, Cosmopolitan Review, OVS Magazine as well as the anthologies Chopin with Cherries: A Tribute in Verse and the2010 Poets’ Guide to New Hampshire. He is the only three-time recipient of the Esther Buffler Poetry-In-Schools Fellowship from the Portsmouth (NH) Poet Laureate Program and has presented workshops around the country to a wide range of audiences. He is a semi-finalist and four year veteran at the National Poetry Slam and his full-length collection, Plenty of Blood to Spare, was published by Sargent Press in 2012. He lives in Portland, Maine and teaches in Dover, New Hampshire.
“RVA Storm’s A Brewing”
by Gonjoe Winn
Richmond billows and blows wild wind vines
thru the thousand tiny pebble pressed streets
striped light with three inch thick white lines,
pedestrian hair flocks frantic
like dune reeds in a winter storm—
skirts flirt towards ladies’ noses—
traffic lights sway like strung up strawberries,
autos rush to hurry and bury their heads
fearing hail’s icy knuckles on their skin,
the milk stout James undulates ripples
racing like microscopic sailboats over his face
wrecking carefree into the feeble red clay banks,
gnats grow cross-eyed in the polarizing wind
seeking shelter within the friendly fur of homeless necks
and short-haired K-9’s with flaccid tails
tucking their snouts close to their handler’s crotch,
brief doses of silence hang like empty nooses
waiting for innocent water to become criminally heavy,
my grave eyes sketch the palm reading sky
prying into the beech wood woolen clouds
crying aloud to sidewalk strollers
lightening will rain and thunder will roll over
screaming blaze honey cream droplets
down and set to drown day into night’s arms.
About the Author
Gonjoe Winn works as a Professional School Counselor in Chesterfield County, and is an alum of James Madison University and Virginia Commonwealth University. Gonjoe plays harmonica in a Richmond-area band called “The Approach” (http://theapproachrva.bandcamp.com/) and is always up for an adventure.
By C. L. Clickard
At midnight in Maison la Creep
I wakened from a fitful sleep
to find an incorporeal guest
hovering near the cedar chest.
She dressed quite nicely for a ghost.
Her shroud was daintier than most,
and where her dented skull might show
the ectoplasm formed a bow.
And if you didn’t mind the gore
she smeared across the parquet floor,
she wasn’t half bad company.
I asked her back for Sunday tea
Next evening I was reading late
a stack of crumpets on my plate
when from the painting o’er my bed
emerged a spectre, minus head.
The portrait’s visage he’d have matched
if his head was still attached .
So since one should not snub one’s host
I offered up my buttered toast
But he had business dark and dire
and could not linger by my fire.
Still, as he must return by dawn
I offered breakfast on the lawn.
The third night dozing in my chair
a skull came floating in mid air.
I wondered if the cranium might
belong to he from yester night.
But thinking such a question rude
and being in a quiet mood
we sat in friendly contemplation
of the fireplace conflagration.
And ‘ere he floated out at dawn
I asked him to return anon.
Such peaceful camaraderie
is quite a scarce commodity.
On Thursday night I could not doze
so wand’ring through the hedge maze rows,
I chanced upon a spectral choir
chanting quatrains bleak and dire.
Politely I restrained the urge
to don a robe and join their dirge
And when they stilled, inquired their rate,
then booked them for the vicar’s fete.
Twas Friday when an apparition
dragged me from my deep dormition
and led me to a loathsome crypt
where shadows swirled and ichor dripped.
It raised a black and withered claw
The ghoul’s intent I clearly saw,
and rapped upon that marbled door
with a jolly, “Drinks? -- at four?”
And though no answ’ring voice I heard
from guiding ghoul or the interred,
I felt my terms had been accepted
and company should be expected.
So I retired once more to bed
awaiting visitations dread
and when, at last, the hour tolled four
a noxious smoke roiled from the floor.
I watched as spectral shape congealed
complete with axe and blood drenched shield
Twas Comte la Creep, knight dire and dark
my bloodline’s thrice-cursed patriarch!
I took the axe his hands were gripping
“Pardon, sir, it seems you’re dripping.”
and proffered snifter, pipe and chair.
His howl of outrage rent the air:
“Ere since my unshrived inhumation,
I’ve terrorized each blood relation
who dared reside here e’en one night!
Yet you…. unwholesome, twisted wight…
Have you no nerves? No fear? No dread?
No terror of the vile undead?”
I shook my head and offered up
a steaming jasmine tea-filled cup.
“Enough!” he shrieked.
“I’ll not be taunted
with the shame of being wanted.”
He snatched his blade from off my bed
and clean divorced me from my head.
Ashamed of my ungainly pose
I rose, at least from neck to toes,
and hoisted severed head to see:
the painting now resembled me!
“Be cursed to haunt these halls alone
until this insult you atone.”
Thus with that shout, his anger sated
the Comte la Creep disintegrated.
Appalled, I swept through hall and tomb
each echoing, unspectered room,
and found my ghostly infestation
had dwindled to one pale relation.
And thus I linger, mortified,
until, within these halls, has died
some unsuspecting Creep relation --
who’ll come to join my ululation!
So should these wailings 'round your bed
loose your grasp on life’s thin thread,
pardon my effrontery --
‘tis only done for company.
About the Author
C L Clickard is an internationally published author, poet and puzzle-maker. Her latest book Victricia Malicia,
released from Flashlight Press in 2012. Her next book, Magic for Sale, releases from Holiday House in 2014.
Her work has appeared in Underneath the Juniper Tree, Spellbound, and Crow Toes Quarterly.
You can find out more about Carrie and her work at www.clclickard.com.
In celebration of National Poetry Month, the Poe Museum will be accepting submissions throughout the month of April for a poetry contest. There are no restrictions on content or form. All poems must be no longer than Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” (108 lines). Only one poem may be submitted per author.
Prizes for the top three selected poems will be as follows:
Publication on The Poe Museum’s blog
Publication in The Poe Museum’s print newsletter Evermore (includes 2 contributor copies)
One year of membership to The Poe Museum ($25.00 value)
Publication on The Poe Museum’s blog
One free admission pass to The Poe Museum ($6.00 value)
Publication on The Poe Museum’s blog
11:00 P.M. Eastern Time, April 30th, 2013
Electronic submissions are preferred. Submissions may be inserted directly into the body of the email, or attached as a .DOC, .RTF, or .PDF. Send to [email protected]
Print Submissions may be sent with a self addressed envelope to:
The Poe Museum
1914-16 East Main St.
Richmond, VA 23223
All winners will be contacted by May 10th. Winners will be published electronically in May, with newsletter publication in July.
All rights revert back to the author upon publication. The Poe Museum retains non-exclusive publication rights.
It’s Valentine’s Day, a holiday Americans celebrated even back in Edgar Allan Poe’s time. In fact, one of his friends, Anna Charlotte Lynch, hosted an annual St. Valentine’s Day party at her home in New York.
Poe in 1845
Throughout 1845, Poe was a favorite guest at Lynch’s weekly literary soirees. In her words, “During the time that [Poe] habitually visited me, a period of two or three years, I saw him almost always on my reception evenings, when many other guests were present. . . . In society, so far as my observation went, Poe had always the bearing and manners of a gentleman — interesting in conversation, but not monopolizing; polite and engaging, and never, when I saw him, abstracted or dreamy. He was always elegant in his toilet, quiet and unaffected, unpretentious, in his manner; and he would not have attracted any particular attention from a stranger, except from his strikingly intellectual head and features, which bore the unmistakable character of genius…”
Anna Charlotte Lynch
Over the course of his visits to Lynch’s soirees, Poe befriended many of New York’s leading writers. At the same time, he became the recipient of attention from a few of the female attendees. One of them, Frances S. Osgood, was one of the nation’s most popular poets. She and Poe published flirtatious love poems to each other in the magazines of the day. In a letter to one of Poe’s other admirers, Sarah Helen Whitman, Osgood wrote, “I meet Mr. Poe very often at the receptions. He is the observed of all observers. His stories are thought wonderful, and to hear him repeat the Raven, which he does very quietly, is an event in one’s life. People seem to think there is something uncanny about him, and the strangest stories are told, and, what is more, believed, about his mesmeric experiences, at the mention of which he always smiles. His smile is captivating! . . . . Everybody wants to know him; but only a very few people seem to get well acquainted with him”
Another of the attendees taking an interest in Poe was Mrs. Elizabeth Ellet. Although Poe spurned her advances, she continued to send him love letters. She may be the one Elizabeth Oakes Smith was referring to in this account: “A certain lady . . . . fell in love with Poe and wrote a love-letter to him. Every letter he received he showed to his little wife. This lady went to his house one day; she heard Fanny Osgood and Mrs. Poe having a hearty laugh, they were fairly shouting, as they read over a letter. The lady listened, and found it was hers, when she walked into the room and snatched it from their hands”
Whether or not that account refers to Ellet, it is known that, in late January 1846, she reported having seen an “indiscreet” letter from Osgood to Poe lying on a table in his house. Nobody bothered to ask Ellet why she was reading other people’s mail, but Lynch and her friend Margaret Fuller soon showed up at Poe’s house to demand Poe return all the letters Osgood had ever sent him. He responded that Mrs. Ellet should worry more about her own letters to him.
After Lynch’s departure, Poe unceremoniously dumped all of Ellet’s letters to him on her doorstep. Soon thereafter, Ellet and her brother arrived at Poe’s house to demand the same letters, which he no longer had. After Ellet’s brother threatened him, Poe went to another friend, Thomas Dunn English, for a pistol with which he could defend himself. English not only refused but also accused Poe of lying about ever having received any letters from Ellet in the first place, so a fist fight broke out.
Although Poe would later send Ellet a letter of apology, Lynch removed him from her guest list, and Ellet began spreading rumors that he was insane. This was only a couple weeks before Lynch’s annual Valentine’s Day party. Despite not being allowed to attend that gathering, Poe sent Lynch the following Valentine’s poem, which he intended to have read at the party. It is addressed to Frances Osgood, one of the women at the center of the previous month’s scandal. You can find her name spelled in lines of the poem if you write down the first letter of the first line, the second letter of the second line, and so forth.
For her these lines are penned, whose luminous eyes,
Brightly expressive as the twins of Læda,
Shall find her own sweet name that, nestling, lies
Upon the page, enwrapped from every reader.
Search narrowly this rhyme, which holds a treasure
Divine — a talisman — an amulet
That must be worn at heart. Search well the measure;
The words — the letters themselves. Do not forget
The trivialest point, or you may lose your labor.
And yet there is in this no Gordian knot
Which one might not undo without a sabre
If one could merely understand the plot.
Enwritten upon this page whereon are peering
Such eager eyes, there lies, I say, perdu,
A well-known name, oft uttered in the hearing
Of poets, by poets; as the name is a poet’s, too.
Its letters, although naturally lying —
Like the knight Pinto (Mendez Ferdinando) —
Still form a synonym for truth. Cease trying!
You will not read the riddle though you do the best you can do.
The same day Poe addressed the above poem to Frances Osgood, his wife Virginia wrote him this poem. Poe’s name is spelled out in the first letter of each line.
Ever with thee I wish to roam —
Dearest my life is thine.
Give me a cottage for my home
And a rich old cypress vine,
Removed from the world with its sin and care
And the tattling of many tongues.
Love alone shall guide us when we are there —
Love shall heal my weakened lungs;
And Oh, the tranquil hours we’ll spend,
Never wishing that others may see!
Perfect ease we’ll enjoy, without thinking to lend
Ourselves to the world and its glee —
Ever peaceful and blissful we’ll be.
Saturday February 14. 1846.
Poe's Wife Virginia Poe
After Valentine’s Day 1846, Poe never spoke to Osgood again. In accordance with his wife’s wishes, as expressed in the above poem, Poe and his wife soon moved out of the city to a cottage in the countryside, far from “the tattling of many tongues.” Unfortunately, their love was not enough to heal her “weakened lungs.” Tuberculosis claimed her less than a year later.
The following year, for Lynch’s 1848 Valentine’s Day party, Poe’s long-distance admirer, Sarah Helen Whitman, sent Lynch a Valentine’s poem for Poe. Lynch read Whitman’s poem at the party but did not immediately publish it. She explained in a letter to Whitman, “The [poem] to Poe I admired exceedingly & would like to have published with your consent with the others, but he is in such bad odour with most persons who visit me that if I were to receive him, I should lose the company of many whom I value more. [Name obliterated] will not go where he visits &several others have an inveterate prejudice against him.” The name that was removed from the letter was likely Mrs. Ellet’s.
Sarah Helen Whitman
Whitman’s Valentine poem to Poe appears below.
If thy sad heart, pining for human love,
In its earth solitude grew dark with fear,
Lest the high Sun of Heaven itself should prove
Powerless to save from that phantasmal sphere
Wherein thy spirit wandered, — if the flowers
That pressed around thy feet, seemed but to bloom
In lone Gethsemanes, through starless hours,
When all who loved had left thee to thy doom,–
Oh, yet believe that in that hollow vale
Where thy soul lingers, waiting to attain
So much of Heaven’s sweet grace as shall avail
To lift its burden of remorseful pain,
My soul shall meet thee, and its Heaven forego
Till God’s great love, on both, one hope, one Heaven bestow.
Later in 1848, Whitman and Poe would meet, become engaged, and break off that engagement after only a month.
Visit the Poe Museum this Valentine’s Day to learn more about Edgar and Virginia Poe, Anna Charlotte Lynch, and Sarah Helen Whitman. A lovely portrait of Lynch is now hanging in the Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building. You can read the Poe Museum’s letter from Lynch to Poe here.