Museum News

Oh, the Places You’ll Poe!

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Several weeks ago, a group of Poe fans telephoned the Poe Museum in Richmond to complain that they had scheduled a tour for that day, and had just arrived only to find that the museum was closed. The Poe Museum assured them that they were, indeed, open and to come right in. The group insisted that the door was locked and the windows were dark. Suspicious, the museum representative asked where exactly they were. Quoth the tourists “Baltimore.”

Wrong museum. And who could blame them? For Poe fans, there is no Walden Pond. A pilgrimage for us does not end at one tidily preserved home-turned-museum like it does for fans of some well-known authors. Along the East Coast, there are no fewer than eight major destinations associated with Poe. Differentiating between the Poe Cottage, Poe Museum, Poe House and Museum (also known as Poe Baltimore), the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site, two graves, and his birthplace in Boston can be problematic to say the least. And this is without considering the Poe Arch at West Point, his dorm room at the University of Virginia, and Sullivan’s Island in Charleston.

There have been efforts over the past 166 years to recognize one of the cities associated with the master of the macabre as the Poe-est place of all. This would not only give one lucky city highly-coveted bragging rights, but would also provide fans with a more contained, convenient Poe experience. Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Richmond have positioned themselves as the main contenders for playing host to Poe’s legacy. Each has a unique and valid reason for claiming Poe, but despite their best efforts, Poe refuses to be claimed.

Poe was born in Boston, but he grew up in Richmond, and died in Baltimore. He wrote many of his finest works in Philadelphia, but “The Raven” was not finished until New York, where he would watch his wife succumb to tuberculosis. The man simply would not stay put.

Much of this was, of course, due to his persistent lack of funds. Always on the brink of financial ruin, Poe went wherever he felt he could turn his literary and editorial talents into cold, hard cash.

The biggest mistake that can be made, however, is to assume that Poe’s lifestyle was driven solely by financial embarrassments. Throughout his career, he led a quiet revolt against the idea of rooting oneself and one’s writing in a single location.

An example of this can be found in his tenure as editor of the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond.

As the name suggests, the Messenger was founded to encourage the creation of Southern literature. As editor, Poe was supposed to contribute articles and stories dealing with issues unique to genteel, Southern culture. It was his chance to show the world that he was a Richmonder (if not born, then certainly bred). Had he done what was expected of him, the Poe Museum would probably be the undisputed capitol of Poe-dom.

But Poe did no such thing. Instead, his first short story for the Messenger was set in an unidentified (but definitely not southern) region, and featured a protagonist with a Greek name who digs up his deceased fiancée in order to extract her teeth. It’s worth noting that the same issue also featured pieces entitled “The Village Pastor’s Wife,” “Sketch of Virginia Scenery,” “Courtship and Marriage,” and “To the Bible.”

Poe’s “Berenice” was not a rejection of Richmond or Southern culture—merely a rejection of regionalism. For Poe people, this little act of rebellion is both irritating and oddly freeing. We will never be able to pin him down, never be able to contain his weird and wonderful legacy in one convenient location. But is that such a bad thing?

A Poe pilgrimage makes for an epic road trip. Tracking his legacy will take the stout of heart (and car) from the boom of Boston to the wilds of South Carolina. The Poe experience is unlike any other because Poe was unlike any other.

In short, the group that found itself in Baltimore instead of Richmond had the right idea. Getting lost in what J.W. Ocker calls “Poe-Land” is both incredibly rewarding, and is possibly the best way to pay homage to Poe’s life.

But of course, we don’t want you to stay lost. If you’re looking for the Poe Museum, our address is 1914 East Main Street, Richmond, Virginia. We love visitors, and Pluto and Edgar (our black cats) love a good massage.

N.W.A vs Edgar Allan Poe

What do a gangsta rap group from the 1990’s and a melancholy poet from the 1840’s have in common? Listen here to find out. In addition to writing poems and novels Poe also performed his works of poetry and some of his criticisms.

Who’s the Real Reynolds?

“On that last night, as the shadows fell across him, it must have been the horrors of shipwreck, of thirst, and of drifting away into unknown seas of darkness that troubled his last dreams, for, by some trick of his ruined brain, it was the scenes of Arthur Gordon Pym that rose in his imagination, and the man who was connected most intimately with them. ‘Reynolds!’ he called, ‘Reynolds!, Oh, Reynolds!’ The room rang with it. It echoed down the corridors hour after hour all that Saturday night” (Allen Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe, 846-47).


The legend of Poe shouting Reynolds on his deathbed is mysterious and attention grabbing, but nobody has figured out who this infamous Reynolds was. Many theories revolve around the ambiguous name, and below are some of the theories we’ve come up with.

According to W. T. Bandy in his article, “Dr. Moran and the Poe-Reynolds Myth,” “‘[His] state continued until Saturday evening . . . when he commenced calling for one “Reynolds,” which he did through the night up to three on Sunday morning.’” This would be the start of the Reynolds mystery.

James A. Harrison, who published a letter written to Maria Clemm, stated that Reynolds may have been the author of the “Address on the subject of a Surveying and Exploring Expedition to the Pacific Ocean and the South Seas,” which may have given Poe ideas for his novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. This address, presented in the Southern Literary Messenger January 1837, by Jeremiah N. Reynolds, was a proposal for exploring the Pacific and South seas for the benefit of Whale Fishing expansion. Under the header of this article is the note, “Critical Notes by Edgar A. Poe, Editor.” Because we know Edgar worked for the Southern Literary Messenger, these two coincide and this brings light to the idea that this Reynolds, whose article Poe edited, may have been the Reynolds whom Poe spoke aloud for.


Jeremiah Reynolds

Arthur Hobson Quinn, in his biography, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography, backs up this theory by writing,

On Saturday night he began to yell loudly for “Reynolds!” Perhaps to his dim and tortured brain, he seemed to be on the brink of a great descending circle sweeping down like the phantom ship in the “Manuscript Found in a Bottle” into “darkness and distance.” In that first published story, Poe had written, “It is evident we are hurrying onward to some exciting knowledge – some never to be imparted secret, whose attainment is destruction. Perhaps this current leads to the South Pole itself.” It would have been natural enough for his favorite theme, the terror of the opening chasm, to lead his thoughts to that other story, Arthur Gordon Pym, and from that to Jeremiah Reynolds, projector of the voyages to the South Seas, whose very language he had used in that tale. He could easily have known Reynolds, but what led to his wild cries must still remain uncertain (640).

Something to note is that there is also a J. N. Reynolds who appears in a bankruptcy petition written by Poe, from 1842. This Reynolds, who most likely is the same Reynolds noted above, had given ten dollars to Poe. Not only did Poe edit Reynolds address, but Poe owed him money, and thus we surmise the two had remained in some form of contact until this point.

Another example of a Reynolds is a gentleman in Baltimore who was a carpenter serving at the Fourth Ward Polls as election judge, Henry R. Reynolds. However, this is the extent of our knowledge regarding this fellow, so we can neither completely validate, nor deny this gentleman being the true Reynolds. Something to note regarding this Reynolds is that this may potentially tie into a popular theory of Poe’s death, the “cooping” theory. This theory involved ambassadors for political figures going about town and snatching victims, who they would strip of and replace their own clothes, send them to polls and force them to stuff ballots. Could it be that, because Henry Reynolds was involved in the political campaigns at the same time these events regarding Poe occurred, he may have caused wrong to Poe or may have been involved in some way to the point where Poe would cry out his last name?

John Evangelist Walsh in Midnight Dreary, states,

Even now, to the little mystery there can be added only one new fact, small but rather interesting. As newspapers of the day record, at Ryan’s Fourth Ward polls in Gunner’s Hall on election day, one of the three presiding judges was a man who bore the name of Henry R. Reynolds. Present in the same room as Poe on October 3rd at Ryan’s place, only days before he began in his delirium to call out the name, was an actual, flesh-and-blood Reynolds (122).

Walsh goes on to suggest, however, that, “The sodden brain may simply have picked up a sound it heard spoken in the haze of the noisy room, sparking some far-drawn memory” (122).

Although Walsh paints a potential portrait of the Reynolds theory, he even discounts the facts.

This leads us to indicate that there are, unfortunately, inconsistencies with the account of Poe shouting “Reynolds,” not only based on what we’ve found, but also based on revised and re-revised versions of Moran’s story. The first account was given in 1849. By his account in 1875, he claimed, “I had sent for his cousin, Nelson Poe [sic], having learned that he was his relative, and a family named Reynolds, who lived in the neighborhood of the hospital . . . Mr. W. N. Poe came, and the female members of Mr. Reynold’s family.” According to Bandy, Jeremiah Reynolds is ruled out as he was living in New York, not Baltimore, and could not be of the family Reynolds living in the neighborhood. This may coincide with Henry R. Reynolds, however.

Another inconsistency lies in the fact that by 1885, in Moran’s Defense, he had omitted the “Reynolds” legend. According to Bandy, Moran quotes a similar passage to his previous one, stating, “I had sent for his cousin, Mr. Nielson [sic] Poe, now Judge Poe, of the orphan’s court of Baltimore, having learned that he was related to my patient; and also for a Mr. Herring and family, who lived in the neighborhood. Judge Poe came as soon as he was notified and also the Misses Herring.” Notice that Herring is replaced by Reynolds in this passage. This leads us into the final theory.

This Herring, referring to Poe’s uncle, in fact was called to Poe in the Baltimore tavern, although he refused to take Poe in despite Poe’s disheveled state. It is theorized that because Herring was Poe’s relative, and due to the fact that Moran revised the name in his latter statement, Moran may have meant to provide the name “Herring” rather than “Reynolds,” although the two are incomparably dissimilar.

Finally, the Reynolds story even expands to modern day. Just a few years ago, Reynolds was featured as the main antagonist in James McTeigue’s film The Raven. As Poe (John Cusack) sits on a bench, shivering to the bone, an unknown gentleman approaches him, to which Poe asks him to “Get Reynolds.” He leans his head back and a fade-out-fade-in reveals Moran announcing Poe’s death. Moran explains to another character, Fields, a detective, that Poe was referring to Fields as being Reynolds, which prompts Fields to chase after Reynolds. Although we won’t spoil the antics that Reynolds was up to in the film, we will say that this creative interpretation is most likely not the case, and we do not believe Reynolds was a (spoiler) serial killer out for Poe’s blood.

Over all, there is no telling who this mysterious “Reynolds” truly was. Some believe that Moran’s original account was true and that, despite the inconsistent accounts given later on, his first is to be believed. Others believe, such as Bandy, that a Reynolds did not truly exist, calling Moran “…a chronic liar, interested only in taking advantage of his fortuitous acquaintance with Poe to attract attention to himself.”

What do you think? Do you think Moran was true in his accounts, or do you believe he really was only attempting to gain attention by creating such false lies? This certainly would not be the first time a contemporary of Poe’s would attempt to falsify accounts of Poe’s life (and death).

Katy Perry vs Edgar Allan Poe

One is a pop princess and the other a master of macabre. What could Edgar Allan Poe and Katy Perry possibly have in common?  Listen to find out.

Poe’s Actress Mother-Part Two

Last year, we shared part one of Eliza Poe’s life. Follow the rest of her journey as David, Edgar, and Edgar’s siblings are introduced.

Following Eliza’s marriage, she and her husband, Charles, arrived in Alexandria, Virginia, and were set to perform at Liberty Hall for six weeks in August 1802 (Smith 59-60). When Eliza began rehearsals there, the hall was the newest theatre in Virginia, having been only three years old. According to Smith, a tragic accident had befallen during the summer of its opening, as the company lost Thomas Wade West, the manager of the company. His wife, Margaret, took over and successfully kept the company alive. Under new management, Eliza was working alongside old, fellow actors, and together the company performed operas, ballets, melodramas, and pantomimes during their six week season (60).

Eliza was a skillful dancer and was featured in a triple hornpipe, a lively dance performed in sailor costume and accompanied by hornpipes, according to Smith (61). She also danced a Spanish Fandango in The Mountaineers (61). After their engagement, the couple traveled to Fredericksburg, Virginia, in the “land of hog, hominey, and hoe-cake” (61). The couple opened September 18 under the same group they had worked with in Alexandria, performing a little over a month with the company. At the end of that engagement, the company disbanded and Charles and Eliza traveled to Petersburg to join the Virginia Company (62).

In November 1802, Eliza and Charles arrived in Petersburg, Virginia, which then had a population of less than four thousand (63). According to Smith, the Virginia Company was well established in this city of equestrian races, carnivals, and a prominent shipping port (63). Eliza and Charles found themselves with their previous fellow members, and Eliza began learning new parts immediately. For their first performance, she performed as Zelina in Oberon. Although the reviewers for that opening night bemoaned the other actors, Eliza and Charles received good reviews: “The pleasing manner in which Mrs. Hopkins performed the part and sung the songs of Zelina had a very good effect…Mr. Hopkin’s performance of Ratta and Caustic, were in the best style of acting” (64).


The New Market, Corner of Market and Sixth Street

The troupe then proceeded on to Richmond, where Eliza had performed just four years earlier. The city, although having increased in population, remained familiar and nearly unchanged. The old Academy Theatre had burned in 1798, however, and the new theatre was located in the Market Hall on 17th Street, around the corner from the Bell Tavern (65).

Opening night was December 14, and shortly after the company received news that Thomas Wignell, who had supported and influenced Eliza, passed away suddenly. Despite this sad news, Eliza moved on to Norfolk, where she was to make one of her greatest and most important debuts. Scheduled for opening night, Eliza performed in leading roles Louisa in August von Kotzebue’s Sighs and Rosina in William Shield’s opera Rosina (65-66). Following her dramatic performances, she switched to comedic roles, including Moggy McGilpin in The Highland Reel (67).

After various engagements between Norfolk and Petersburg, their Norfolk season ended July 13, and Eliza had successfully completed her first tour with the Virginia Company (68). She had made “important gains with this management” and began playing more challenging roles (69). Over all, things seemed to be in her favor.

Eliza and Charles traveled back to Richmond in August 1803, where they appeared in a concert at the Bell Tavern (70). A reviewer had the following to say about her:

Mrs. Hopkins…is amply compensated by the loud plaudits with which she is always received, which evince, that of all the ladies of the theatre, she is at least a second favorite with the public – though perhaps incapable of ever arriving at the eminence of a Siddons or a Merry. Mrs. Hopkins’ interesting figure, her correct performance, and the accuracy with which she always commits her part, together with her sweetly melodious voice when she charms us with a song, have deservedly raised her to that respectable rank which she indisputably holds in the public favor (70).

The summer of 1804 marked a notable season for Eliza. The company was in Richmond and Eliza and Charles were cast as Susan Ashfield and Sir Abel Handy in Speed the Plow (72). Cast as the hero, Henry, was a young actor making his Richmond debut, nineteen year old David Poe (72). Poe, an avid theatregoer was from Baltimore, and the son of Irish-born Revolutionary War figure, Major David Poe, or “General Poe,” and his wife, Elizabeth Carnes Poe. David left his family while studying law and sought an acting career, joining the Charleston Theatre company in December 1803. Having no experience, the beginning of his career was rocky, and he was called out for being diffident, timid, and paralyzed with stage fright (72-73). However, according to Smith, because of his good looks and fine voice, he was able to get along well.

That summer, the three worked together, and Charles began co-managing the theatre. The new managers chose George Colman II’s The Heir at Law for their new season, with Eliza playing Caroline Dormer and David Poe playing Dormer’s lover, Henry Morland. Eliza found herself benefiting from the roles her co-manager husband chose for her, which expanded her repertoire and allowed her to play more dramatic roles, including Stella in James Boaden’s The Maid of Bristol. According to Geddeth, “At this time of her career the vivaciousness of Moggy McGilpin or the predictability of Caroline Dormer were far less challenging than portraying the bitterness and despair of this leading character. It was a difficult role with long speeches and scenes of sustained tension…” (73).

After the close of the season, another followed soon in September, when they traveled to Fredericksburg and then returned to Petersburg. While the trio performed in Adam Cherry’s The Soldier’s Daughter, they were featured in the next issue of The Intelligencer, which wrote about Eliza,

Among those who acquitted themselves with the greatest eclat, I cannot omit to mention the names of Mrs. West, Jr., in the character of the Widow Cheerly and Mrs. Hopkins in Mrs. Malfort–the sprightly vitality of the one, and the placid melancholy of the other, alternately awakened the opposite feelings of innocent hilarity, and heart-rending sorrow (75).

That winter, a cold wave swept through Richmond, causing the theatre to close and the death of one of the troop’s actresses, Anne West. West’s mother, who was involved in management with the group, left after her daughter’s death and the company was affected greatly. This proved to be good for Eliza, however, and she also found herself having to fill in the prominent shoes of West as an actress (76-77).

David returned to Baltimore for a benefit night, debuting in June 1805, while Eliza and Charles traveled to Washington to perform at a theatre they had not been to in five years (77-79). For their opening, two comedies were performed, Elizabeth Inchbald’s Wives as They Were and Maids as They Are and George Colman II’s Ways and Means. Charles performed the leading role in the first play, and Eliza in the second. During this time, David was cast in and was playing the role of Joseph Surface in The School of Scandal (80).

To Eliza’s dismay, a yellow fever epidemic had spread throughout Washington and infected Charles, who passed away on October 26. According to Geddeth, the Richmond Enquirer read, “He has left an affectionate wife to lament his loss,” and at eighteen Eliza was widowed (81). This did not stop her from continuing the show however, and a week later she had a benefit for herself, choosing Adelmorn the Outlaw, a play she and Charles had performed frequently together as the romantic duo Orilla and Herman (81).

She returned to Richmond where she was cast in multiple plays with David Poe, who also had returned. Although, according to Geddeth, “David was very handsome…nervous, highly strung, and had a volatile temper, there was an appealing sensitivity about him,” and Eliza was smitten. The feelings were mutual, and the nineteen and twenty-year-olds issued a marriage bond on March 14, 1806 (82-83). Eliza’s benefit night, performing in Douglas, was the last night she was listed as Mrs. Hopkins, and when the theatre reopened after Easter, she and David were married (83).

She and David returned to Boston, ten years after she had left, and performed among other thespians whom they barely knew. Actors and friends, Charlotte and Luke Usher were notable to Eliza however, and may have been the inspiration for Edgar Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher.

Usher copy

After opening night on October 13, a review for the play the couple performed in, Speed the Plow, stated,

The parts of Henry and Miss Blandford were filled by Mr. and Mrs. Poe from the Virginia theatres, their first appearance in Boston. Estimating the talents of this couple by comparison, we might say the same characters have been more ably sustained on our boards. A first performance however does not always afford a criterion by which merit may be estimated. Mr. Poe possess a full manly voice, of considerable extend; his utterance clear and distinct. The managers will undoubtedly find him a useful, and the town a pleasing, performer in the Henrys, Charles Stanleys, etc. Of the talents of Mrs. Poe we are disposed to judge favorably (The Polyanthos).

In the fourteen weeks of that season, Eliza and David played more than twenty parts before the critical crowd. According to Geddeth, she learned more than one new part a week for the next season, and her talent was not unnoticed. She was described as “excellent” in The Emerald and in a pleasing way deemed “truly laughable” in The Polyanthos (87).

David was not receiving the same reviews, however, and audiences were becoming displeased with his performances. This discouraged David and lead to jealousy between his and Eliza’s marriage, although his feelings may have been abated with a child on the way.

The couple’s first child, William Henry Leonard Poe, was born January 30, 1807. David continued on stage while Eliza remained at home, although she would return only three and a half weeks later to the stage. In the meantime, with David on stage, he was receiving criticism for his attempt to play the character of Charles Surface in The School for Scandal, which he had never played before and which he was forced to play. The Emerald, noted, “We are ready to make allowances for Mr. Poe’s deficiency in Sir Charles Surface, in manners, spirit, and orthoepy…The suddenness with which the character must have been assumed is a mantle, which like charity, covers a multitude of sins” (88-89).

Eliza’s return was not positive, either. She was to perform as Cordelia in King Lear; however, due to an actor’s sprained ankle, she performed as Little Pickle in The Spoiled Child, which she had not performed in two years (90). The Polyanthos gave Eliza harsh criticism, calling her “a very green Little Pickle” (91). David called on the critic, J. T. Buckingham, to avenge for Eliza; however, he left hurting both of their careers even more.

Finally, after the end of that season in May, Eliza and David were able to rest until the end of the year, and the couple, along with son Henry, took a vacation to Baltimore to visit David’s parents. David’s parents had rejected Eliza initially; however, they now accepted her and Henry into their home. Since Henry was General Poe’s first grandson, he had stolen his and Elizabeth’s hearts, and they would take him into their home after the death of his mother. David Poe’s sister, Maria Clemm, the Maria who was Edgar’s aunt and mother-in-law, said about Eliza, “She was a lovely little creature and highly talented. I loved her most devotedly” (93).

After returning to Boston in the fall, Eliza and David were delighted to hear that the infamous critic, J. T. Buckingham of The Polyanthos, would not be criticizing them any longer because the paper had shut down. During this season, David found more encouraging reviews, although the critic of The Emerald stated about his performance as Vernon in Henry IV, that he had “mutilated some of his speeches in a most shameful manner” (94). This review was in contrast to a positive review, which stated he “was courtly in manners, if he was not perfect in his delivery” (94).


Boston Harbor and East Boston

During a performance of Cinderella that the troupe put on, Eliza found time, according to Geddeth, to walk down to the Boston harbor where she sketched many of the vessels at bay, inscribing, “Morning 1808,” adding, “For my little son Edgar, who should ever love Boston the place of his birth and where his mother found her best and most sympathetic friends.” This gift would be given to Edgar later and cherished by the son greatly (96).

That Fall, and multiple performances later, Eliza found herself among new actors and actresses, and five months pregnant. Within two weeks after she had stopped performing that January, she gave birth on January 19, 1809, to their son Edgar. Three weeks later, she was back on the stage; however, nine weeks apparently show that David was not listed for any performances, and it is unclear where he was at. According to letters he had written to his cousin, he was in Pennsylvania on March 22 (100).

Geddeth describes Eliza’s situation while David is gone,

David was evidently still away, and she had a three-month-old baby at home. This meant that she was still probably unable to sleep through the night. If Henry was with her, she also had a two-year-old to be taken care of. Her hands were full to say the very least. The physical and nervous strain of the next six weeks of her life must have been enormous: along with the constant responsibility of her two small sons she faced a task at the theatre that demanded a superbly trained actress with leonine courage and nerve (104).

With David abandoning her briefly, Eliza’s world was probably spinning from the hectic stage life and motherhood. She gained a strong repertoire of roles and success despite these hardships, performing alongside a seventeen-year-old actor, John Howard Payne. To David’s regret, his wife had gained attention and success while he was elsewhere, causing a greater rift in their marriage and his increased jealously (107).


The Park Theatre Interior

When David returned, the couple hurried from Boston to New York to perform under new management at the Park Theatre. Despite the theatre’s grand interior and exterior, the audiences were less than attractive. Washington Irving had written, two years earlier, that the audience was “no inconsiderable part of the entertainment” (109). Unfortunately for the two, they found it difficult to establish themselves at first, and David had made a gaffe, which would haunt his career while there. Performing in Abaellino, Eliza played the Lady Rosamund and David performed as Dandoli. According to the critic for The Rambler, David persisted calling his character “Dan Dilly,” which would be his nickname in future reviews (111).

The negative reviews concerning David’s acting continued, with the same reviewer critiquing David’s performance in Pizarro stating, “…a more wretched Alonzo we have never witnessed. This man was never destined for the high walks of the drama…his person, voice, and non-expression of countenance, all combine to stamp him…” (111-112).

By the end of this season, after only six and a half weeks, David was either fired from or left the company, thus ending his acting career. According to Geddeth, his name no longer appeared in bills and all traces of him vanished (114).

Although it is unknown if David stayed with Eliza after he left the company or if he disappeared for good, Eliza remained vigilant and strong and continued working in the theatre group. She even received a good critique from the gentleman who had ridiculed David’s performances, potentially putting an end to his career (116).

That year, in July 1810, a benefit was held for Eliza. Geddeth explains that the New Yorkers wanted to help Eliza financially, although they were unaware, she was alone with her children, because David had left her permanently, and was expecting her third child (118-119).

She returned to Richmond later that month with Henry who was three, Edgar who was a year old, and expecting a third child who was due in four months. She was alone at twenty-three and had to support herself and her children.

In Richmond, Eliza’s new group was managed by William Green and Alexandre Placide, whom she had known from her work with Sollee’s company in 1797. Unfortunately, the Virginia Company she had worked with no longer existed (121). One of her most important roles in this new company was as Letitia Hardy in Hannah Cowley’s The Belle’s Stratagem. In this role, she acted, sang, and performed a double allemande with Placide, which Geddeth explains as being a, “courtly, somewhat serious dance” (121). She continued with the company to Fredericksburg in October and on to Norfolk, where she gave birth December 18 , 1810, to Rosalie at the Forrest home, a boarding house (123).

Rosalie's Birthplace

Now with five-year-old Henry, two-year-old Edgar, and baby Rosalie, Eliza had a lot to cope with and may have hired a nurse to help care for the children. Henry eventually was sent to Baltimore to live with his grandparents and Eliza continued traveling, most likely broken-hearted having had to part with her son (123).

Arriving in Charleston in 1811, she again played the parts of Priscilla Tomboy in The Romp and Angela in The Castle Spectre. She persisted, despite feeling emotionally, physically, and most likely mentally exhausted, and arrived in Norfolk March of that year. A benefit was to be held for her, and the following letter was printed in the Norfolk Herald:

Sir, permit me to call the attention of the public to the benefit of Mrs. Poe and Miss Thomas for this evening….The former of these ladies I remember (just as I was going in my teens) on her first appearance here met with the most unbounded applause–She was said to be one of the handsomest women in America; she was certainly the handsomest I had ever seen. She never came on the stage, but a general murmur ran through the house, “What an enchanting creature! Heavens what a form!–what an animated and expressive countenance!–and how well she performs! Her voice too! sure never any thing half so sweet!” –Year after year did she continue to extort these involuntary bursts of rapture from the Norfolk audience, and to deserve them too; for never did one of her profession take more pains to please than she. But now “the scene is changed.”–Misfortunes have pressed heavy on her. Left alone, the only support of herself and several young children–Friendless and unprotected, she no longer commands that admiration and attention she formerly did….And yet she is as assiduous to please as ever, and tho’ grief may have stolen a few of the roses from her cheeks, still she retains the same sweetness of expression and symmetry of form and feature (127).

She returned to Richmond, where she would perform her last role as Lady Santon in The Stranger. Her health, rapidly declining, forced her to bed rest. Geddeth states that Malaria was the cause of her death; however, most biographers list Tuberculosis as the cause. Regardless, a benefit was held on November 29, 1811. The Richmond Enquirer stated, “To the Humane Heart: On this night, Mrs. Poe, lingering on the bed of disease and surrounded by her children, asks your assistance; and asks it perhaps for the last time—The generosity of a Richmond Audience can need no other appeal…” (129).

She died Sunday, December 8, 1811, and was buried in an unmarked grave in St. John’s Churchyard that Tuesday. As the Richmond Enquirer stated in her obituary, “By the death of this lady the stage has been deprived of one of its chief ornaments” (129).

Following her death, Henry stayed with his grandparents, Edgar was taken into the Allan family, and Rosalie was received into the Mackenzie family. Most biographers state that David passed within two weeks of Eliza’s own death; however, it remains unknown. Henry and Edgar seemed to be most affected by her death, especially Edgar.

Henry wrote the following poem when he was fourteen, discussing his father and mother:

My Father’s!–I will bless it yet–
For thou hast given life to me:
Tho’ poor the boon–I’ll ne’er forget
The filial love I owe to thee.
My Mother’s too!–then let me press
This gift of her I loved so well,–
For I have had thy last caress,
And heard thy long, thy last farewell.
My Rosa’s! pain doth dim my eye,
When gazing on this pledge of thine–
Thou wer’t a dream–a falsity–
Alas!–’tis wrong to call thee mine!
A Father! he hath loved indeed!
A mother! she hath blessed her son,–
But Love is like the pois’ning weed,
That taints the air it lives upon.

Edgar received the painting of the Boston harbor Eliza had painted, and the inscription on the back would remain dear to his heart.

Geddeth perfectly describes Eliza, which may also be the way Edgar most likely would have seen the portrait of his mother:

Eliza’s beauty had always won her admirers, and when one studies the miniature of her dating from this period, it is easy to see why. The small portrait conveys a delicate beauty of feature–ivory skin tingled with a soft, talisman rose color at the cheeks and lips, a fine nose, tiny sensual mouth, and slightly dimpled, Cupid-like chin. The hair is light brown, fine, tightly curled, but not luxuriant. The artist has captured a warm, sweet, and sensitive expression in the eyes, which are light brown and project glowing vitality…(123)

And, it is without doubt that, just as in life, in death, throughout Henry, Edgar, and Rosalie’s lives, their mother may have been smiling down upon them with that delicate beauty and those sensitive, glowing eyes.

Poe as Naughty Boy: Celebrity Feuds in the 19th Century

poe as mohawk

What do One Direction and Edgar Allan Poe have in common? The answer does not involve great hair or an ardent fan base, but an argument—two arguments, rather. One took place over the course of several months in 1845, the other over a period of hours in May of 2015. On May 30th of this year, the world suddenly learned that there was a DJ named Naughty Boy, and that this DJ had lived up to his pseudonym by insulting One Direction member Louis Tomlinson. We heard about it the same way we hear about everything: on social media. The insult had been tweeted, ensuring that everyone possessed of a social media account (and morbid curiosity) was treated to yet another celebrity Twitter war.

While social media sites such as Twitter have become the new platform for celebrity feuds, they are not the first. Nor are this century’s celebrities the first to indulge their appetite for argument.

In 1845, Edgar Allan Poe became embroiled in a celebrity feud of his own. His opponent? None other than Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Plagiarism was the theme, and fat jokes were banned. The battlefield can be thought of as an ancient relative of Twitter—newspaper columns. The contrast between the two combatants could not have been more striking. On one side, we see Poe—the shabby, struggling editor of a magazine with just a handful of published poems and short stories to his name. On the other side, Longfellow—the wealthy, distinguished author and professor at Harvard. Poe was light-years away from Longfellow’s world of leather-bound books and Harvard halls, and he knew it. Perhaps this was one of the reasons he began his beef with “The Professor” (his bitter nickname for Longfellow) in the first place.


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Edgar Allan Poe

Yet, although personal resentment might have influenced Poe, the fact of the matter is that Poe loved a good fight. His brutality as a critic had earned him the nickname of the “Tomahawk Man,” but until 1845, he had not blatantly denounced a figure as beloved and respected as Longfellow.

And just how does one go about accusing one of the country’s foremost authors of plagiarism? As Poe discovered, it’s really quite easy when you happen to be the editor of a literary magazine with a column to fill and circulation to boost. In the winter of 1845, Poe ended his review of Longfellow’s The Waif with this remark:

“We conclude our notes on the “Waif,” with the observation that, although full of beauties, it is infected with a moral taint — or is this a mere freak of our own fancy? We shall be pleased if it be so; — but there does appear, in this exquisite little volume, a very careful avoidance of all American poets who may be supposed especially to interfere with the claims of Mr. Longfellow. These men Mr. Longfellow can continuously imitate ( is that the word?) and yet never even incidentally commend.”

The response to the accusation was immediate, and seemed to come from all corners of the literary East Coast. Longfellow’s “coterie,” as Poe dubbed them, fell over themselves responding in various newspapers to his foul indictment of their beloved Longfellow. Longfellow himself haughtily refrained from acknowledging Poe’s insults publicly, but we do find this little rhyme in the diary he was keeping at the time: “In Hexameter sings serenely a Harvard professor / In Pentameter him damns censorious Poe.”

Sadly for Longfellow, censorious Poe was far from damned. He was not the only person who thought American poets imitative and Longfellow overrated. He continued in his quest for literary justice. At the height of what was becoming known as the “Little Longfellow War,” Poe was invited to the New York Historical Society to deliver his “Lecture on the Poets of America.” We can only hope the New York Historical Society knew what it was doing when it invited Poe, because the “lecture” turned out to be much more like a celebrity roast, only without Dean Martin and without the laughs. Longfellow was, of course, the main target of the evening. One paper described it as a “decapitation,” while another applauded Poe for making “unmitigated war upon the prevailing Puffery, and dragg[ing] several popular idols from their pedestals.”

Before the dust had settled from this latest attack, another combatant made his appearance.  In a column submitted to a New York literary journal, a mysterious writer using the pseudonym “Outis” (Greek for “nobody”) attempted to silence Poe’s accusations once and for all. To this day, scholars are unable to establish the identity of Outis, although some evidence suggests that he might have been an invention of Lawrence Lebree (the editor of the New York paper Rover). Out of the many articles in defense of Longfellow during this season, Outis’ alone succeeded in finding a chink in Poe’s armor. Copying a technique that Poe himself had used in his early accusations of Longfellow, Outis printed excerpts of “The Raven” alongside an anonymous poem entitled “The Bird of the Dream.” The goal was to allow the readers to detect the similarities for themselves. Just in case they missed a few, Outis then proceeded to point out no less than 18 similarities between “The Raven” and “The Bird of the Dream.”

To the delight of Longfellow’s supporters, Poe’s response to Outis was ungraceful and revealed the extent of his embarrassment. One editor snickered “a Joker will rarely ever receive one in return good-naturedly; and this is the extent true of Mr. Poe.” Over the course of four lengthy responses, Poe struggled to defend his works and regain his dignity. Although he successfully disproved Outis’ claim that he had plagiarized “The Raven,” he found himself unable to continue in his accusations of Longfellow. Following his response to Outis, Poe waved the white flag by revoking his (many) statements accusing Longfellow of plagiarism. Even then, however, he stubbornly held to his view that Longfellow’s imitative style did not deserve the praise it continued to receive.

With that, Poe’s involvement in the Little Longfellow war came to an awkward close. His writing in years following contained very few references to “The Professor”, and in the end it was Longfellow himself who had the last word. Following Poe’s untimely death, he wrote to a friend, “My works seemed to give him much trouble, first and last; but Mr. Poe is dead and gone, and I am alive and still writing–and that is the end of the matter.”

Nevermore: the Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe


Nevermore logo, courtesy of Nevermore NYC LLC.

WARNING: Contains Spoilers

As our museum reported earlier this year, a musical by the name of Nevermore: the Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe made its debut off-Broadway in New York City at New World Stages. Written, composed, and directed by Jonathan Christenson, the musical follows the birth and early life of Poe, touching lightly on the later half of his life before ending abruptly with his death. Sets, lighting, and costumes were designed by Bretta Gerecke, with sound design by Wade Staples. You can read more credits here.


Album art, courtesy of Nevermore NYC LLC.

Although I was unable to see the show during its New York run, I recently received the CD newly released June 14th, and the following will be a brief review of the story, music, sound design, and overall actors’ performances.

The opening song, “Prologue,” crescendos from a fadeout-to-fade-in note with forceful beats interrupting the ease of the first note. Waves crash, a harbor bell tolls, and piano plinks sound. A music box tinkles, and one of the “Eldorado Players” chimes, introducing the audience to a man, “a most peculiar man,” whom they had met on a steamer on his way to New York-Poe. They explain that although he looked “dreary,” he was still full of hope. The theme of hope and loss encapsulates the entire musical.


Photograph by Richard Termine, featuring Scott Shpeley as Edgar Poe and Ryan Parker as “Eldorado Player.” Courtesy of Nevermore NYC LLC.

As each of the six players’ voices gradually add their own testimony of Poe, Poe (Scott Shpeley) himself comes out and inquires about his mother, whom one of the players knows, and he yearns to hear about the life he seemingly has forgotten. Thus, the audience is at the mercy of the players telling Poe’s life, starting from the beginning, and Eliza Poe’s involvement with theatre and her husband, David Poe. The audience is quickly introduced to Rosalie (Beth Graham), Henry (Gaelan Beatty), David (Garett Ross), and Eliza (Lindsie VanWinkle), and just as each song, each chapter closes with the loss of someone close to Poe, another chapter opens. The musical continues with the theme of gain and loss, life and death, and the audience becomes overwhelmingly immersed in Poe’s life and struggle to want to live, to hold on to hope.

Upon listening to the soundtrack (admittedly multiple times now), there are many gems and delights, which cater to Poe enthusiasts, as well as some questionably creative rights taken to interpret certain characters and their outcomes. For example, Fanny Allan’s character gradually becomes synonymous with a familiar character in The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether, (namely the “chicken”). Another example of creative rights expanding beyond historical truth is the fact that Rufus Griswold (Ryan Parker) and Edgar were very good friends before Griswold destroyed his reputation (which is not true) and took Edgar’s place as editor for Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine. It is astonishing that Graham’s Magazine was nowhere to be found, but at least one of Poe’s editorial jobs was mentioned.

A few gems include the songs in general, which incorporate many of Poe’s poems, including “Eulalie,” “Tamerlane,” and “Dream Within A Dream,” using snippets from stanzas to convey Poe’s circumstances and feelings, as well as the other characters’ feeling, throughout the musical. Not to mention that a musical interpretation of Virginia’s poem, “Ever With Thee…” can be found in the song, “The Death of Sissy.”

I feel one could write pages regarding what was correct and what was historically inaccurate; however, everything seems to work. I would recommend reading a biography of Poe to check the facts rather than gain them from this musical.


Photograph by Joan Marcus, featuring Scott Shpeley as Edgar Poe and Lindsie VanWinkle and Shannon Blanchet as the Misses Duval. Courtesy of Nevermore NYC LLC.

Over all, the dark, gloomy, atmospheric tone of the music seems like a lullaby that carries one through Poe’s seemingly haunted, ethereal life, which Christenson accomplished flawlessly. The sound effects are cleverly distributed throughout the recorded album, giving the feel to one who wasn’t present to see the performance live a chance to experience it on their own. Finally, the casting choice was incredible. Beth Graham’s vocal talents and knack for voice interpretation are beyond belief. Gaelan Beatty’s vibrato rings with purity and distinction. Shannon Blanchett’s alto tones add to the haunting dynamic successfully portrayed, both in her character, Elmira, and in songs where harmony is called for. Ryan Parker’s voice belts richly and cleverly. Garett Ross’s similar knack for voice impressions, namely portraying a Scottish accent with John Allan, is fun and a thrill. Lindsie VanWinkle has a pristine voice that rings flawlessly and fully. Finally, Scott Shpeley’s performance as Edgar is remarkably done, with his ability to shift between the timid young Edgar, to the frightened child in the Allan household, to the confident man bold about his writing skills, to the man who, ultimately, ends up dejected and lost.

If you are interested in listening to the musical soundtrack, you can purchase it from the following places:

Have you either seen or listened to the musical? What did you think?

Features of The Poe Museum Starting with The Old Stone House


Click here to listen to Nate and his second Podcast. The topics include Unhappy Hour, Tours, and information on the Old Stone House.

Charles Cantalupo Reads From Poe In Place

Charles Cantalupo (born on October 17, 1951) is a poet and Professor of English at Penn State. After earning his PHD at Rutgers in 1980, he began his career as a teaching assistant. Cantalupo’s most recent publication is Poetry, Mysticism, and Feminism from the Nave to th’ Chops: An Interview with Barbara Mor. On June 4, 2015, Cantalupo performed his latest poetry series, Poe In Place, at the Poe Museum in Richmond. The poems in the series were inspired by Poe’s life and the cities in which he lived. Cantalupo visited these cities, including Richmond, during the course of his research for the series. While some of the series has been published in The Edgar Allan Poe Review, this is the first time Cantalupo has performed Poe in Place in its entirety.

Click below to see Charles Cantalupo reading at The Poe Museum.

To Fanny

While strolling through the world’s finest collection of Poeana, visitors to the Poe Museum may be intrigued by a collection of items belonging not to the master of the macabre, but to a group of his acquaintances. A brimming manila folder, housed in the Valentine Museum archives, has kindly taken it upon itself to give these acquaintances the collective and slightly euphemistic title: “Women He Knew.” Items belonging to Edgar Allan Poe’s various paramours and female family members truly are gems within the museum’s already impressive collection. After all, we cannot fully understand Poe without understanding the vital roles played by these women. Today, we’re going to focus on one of the earliest members of this elite group: one who has not (for reasons we will explore) had her fair share of the spotlight.

Whom do we picture when we think of the women in Edgar Allan Poe’s life? Young, tubercular, Virginia Clemm? Exquisite, unstable Jane Stith Craig Stanard? Perhaps Elmira Shelton, Poe’s girl-next-door-turned-long-lost-love? We think of these women because they are inextricably linked to Poe’s writing. Individually or collectively, they were the inspiration for Lenore, Annabel Lee, Helen, and arguably every other romantically-inspired female in his vast collection of stories and poems. There is one woman, however, who is generally overlooked. Frances Allan, Poe’s foster mother from the time he was 2½ years old, is difficult to class among the others. Unlike the women mentioned above, Fanny’s life was virtually devoid of the histrionic (and often fictional) tales that make Poe enthusiasts prick up their ears. Reading through Poe’s letters, we see her affectionately, but simply, referred to as “ma.” Throughout her relatively short life, Fanny seems to have led the kind of quiet existence every wealthy Richmond lady might have led. The little we know of her life and her relationship to Poe is pieced together from the few surviving letters written by her, as well as from John Allan’s voluminous correspondence with friends, business associates, and Poe himself.

Born in 1785, Frances Keeling Valentine Allan was the daughter of John Valentine (the prominent family behind the Valentine Museum in Richmond) and his wife, Frances Thorowgood. Like Poe, Fanny was orphaned at a young age. She and her younger sister, Ann, were raised by their half-sister, Sarah Valentine, and her husband, John Dixon. Fast-forwarding to Fanny’s early years as an adult, it is evident that she was a much-admired figure in Richmond. A portrait of her done by Robert Sully depicts an elegant and refined young woman—the perfect match for up-and-coming merchant John Allan. The two were married, according to an announcement in the local newspaper, on February 5, 1803 and lived above the Ellis & Allan store at the northeast corner of Main and Thirteenth streets. It is probable that, like so many other Richmond women, Fanny was extremely fond of the theater, and was familiar with Poe’s mother’s performances. She was one of three women to answer Eliza Poe’s plea for help printed in the Richmond Inquirer.


Portrait of Frances Allan by Robert Sully, ca. 1828


The Allan Home

Barely a week after the ladies’ first visit, Eliza Poe was dead and Edgar had been warmly welcomed (by Fanny at least) into the home above Ellis & Allan. Contrary to today’s expectations, the Allans took no formal steps towards adopting the infant Edgar. Many biographers believe that he and his sister Rosalie (cared for by William and Jane Scott Mackenzie) were baptized several weeks after their mother’s death, at which time “Allan” was added to Poe’s full name. The choice not to formally adopt Poe certainly did not come from Frances, who continued in her determination to be the primary provider for Edgar. There is evidence that both the parents and sister of David Poe (Edgar’s father) wrote to the Allans, expressing concern over Edgar’s situation. One particularly poignant letter from Poe’s aunt is addressed to “Mrs. Allan the kind Benefactress of the infant Orphan Edgar, Allan.” In it, Elizabeth Poe gushes:

“Permit me my dear madam to thank you for your kindness to the little Edgar—he is truly the Child of fortune to be placed under the fostering care of the amiable Mr. and Mrs. Allan, Oh how few meet with such A lot—the Almighty Father of the universe grant that he may never abuse the kindness he has received and that from those who were not bound by any ties except those that the feeling and humane heart dictates.”

Despite the effusiveness of Elizabeth Poe’s letter, there is evidence to suggest that both she and Edgar’s grandparents had expected to take care of the young boy themselves. The letter quoted above was the second sent to Frances–written, it would appear, on the assumption that the first had been lost. Suggestions such as this have prompted biographers to speculate whether Fanny purposefully neglected to answer the anxious letters written by Edgar’s grandparents and aunt, or whether the agreement to allow the Allans to continuing caring for Poe was, in fact, mutual.

Roughly three and a half years after Poe’s arrival, John relocated his small family to London in order to establish another branch of Ellis & Allan. Letters written by John during this period have been preserved in the Valentine Museum, and through them we glimpse something more of Fanny’s personality and quirks. Her chronic ill health, in particular, is brought to the forefront following the difficult voyage from Richmond to Liverpool. John Allan’s correspondence makes frequent but vague references to Fanny’s illness, at one point merely saying that she was “complaining as usual.” After reading letters exchanged between the couple, it becomes clear that the legitimacy of Fanny’s indisposition was, at times, questioned (to her annoyance) by the robust and pragmatic John. In one of the only surviving letters between them, Fanny remarks: “I fear it will be long ere I shall write with any facility or ease to myself, as I fiend [find] you are determined to think my health better contrary to all I say it will be needless for me to say more on that subject.” The scolding tone of this passage is, however, quickly belied by jovial hints at her flirtation with a certain “smart Beau” and the resulting need for “a little finery.” The capricious letter reveals a somewhat surprising side of Fanny Allan’s character. Despite hypochondriacal tendencies, it is obvious that Fanny was not without spunk and good humor.

john allan portrait for web

Portrait of John Allan by Thomas Sully, ca. 1804

Sadly, we see less of Fanny’s high-spirits during the latter part of the Allan’s stay in England, and even less upon their return to Richmond. The Allan’s departure from London after unexpected financial troubles was delayed repeatedly due to Frances’ indisposition, to the point where John wrote that Frances had “the greatest aversion to the sea and nothing but dire necessity and the prospect of a reunion with her old and dear Friends could induce her to attempt [the journey].” Thankfully, the inducement was sufficient to get Fanny, seasickness and all, across the Atlantic to Virginia. With the Allans back in Richmond, we enter a period of even greater uncertainty concerning Fanny. In his biography of Poe, Hervey Allen suggests that something besides financial woes precipitated Fanny’s more serious bouts of illness, as well as the increased coolness between Edgar and John Allan. He writes “it seems warrantable to infer that Frances Allan was by now aware of the fact that she had not been the whole object of her husband’s affections.” By the time the Allans took in Edgar, John had already fathered two children with two different women. It is impossible to be sure when or even if Fanny learned about her husband’s infidelity, but the sudden tension within the Allan family, coupled with Fanny’s failing health, makes it tempting to agree with Hervey Allen’s theory.

Beginning in this difficult period, Fanny seems to fade weakly into the background. In the meantime, the Allans go from nearly bankrupt to flush with cash after the death of John Allan’s uncle William Galt. As Edgar and John grew farther and farther apart, it is probable that Fanny endeavored to remain as neutral as possible, and it is certain that her affection for Poe remained unchanged. In the same way, even his bitterest communications with his foster father, Poe expressed a desire to be remembered fondly to “ma.” Describing Poe’s dramatic departure from the Allan house after the disastrous stint at the University of Virginia, The Poe Log refers to an idea suggested by several Poe biographers—namely that Fanny wrote not one but two letters to Poe absolving him from blame. Both letters have yet to be found, however, and thus must be taken with a grain of salt. Sadly for poor Fanny, matters between John and Edgar grew steadily worse up until her final days. On March 2, 1829 the Richmond Whig announced her death with an entry reading:“Died on Saturday morning last, after a lingering and painful illness, Mrs. Frances K. Allan, consort of Mr. John Allan, aged 47 years. The friends and acquaintances of the family are respectfully invited to attend the funeral from the late residence on this day at 12 o’clock.”

To his anguish, Poe did not arrive until the night after her burial. It is worth noting, however, that the period immediately following Fanny’s death saw a brief reconciliation between Edgar and John Allan. Out of respect, it would seem, for his dead wife, John relented enough to pen a cold but effective letter to Major John Eaton (the Secretary of War at the time), in support of Edgar’s application to West Point.

It is in these rare moments of softness between the two men that we come closest to understanding Fanny’s role in Edgar Allan Poe’s life. Compared to the other “women he knew” her contributions may seem mundane, but perhaps this is what makes Fanny such a unique and important part of Poe’s life. In a newspaper article printed in 1905, Susan Ingram (a friend of Poe) describes an incident that occurred barely a month before the poet’s death. She says:

“I was fond of orris-root and always had its odor about my clothing. One day when we were walking together he said, — ‘I like it too. Do you know whom it makes me think of? My adopted mother. Whenever the bureau drawers in her room were opened there came from them a whiff of orris-root, and ever since then, when I smell it, I go back to the time when I was a boy and it brings back thoughts of my mother.’”

The recent appearance of the first four pages of Poe’s letter to Maria Clemm gives us hope that we may find more material on Frances Allan. Until then, it might be wise to view her obscurity as a clue rather than a barrier to understanding her character. If she does not seem to belong with the other “Women He Knew,” it may be because her relationship to Poe was of a vastly different nature.  Based on Susan Ingram’s account, it seems clear that Poe did not associate Fanny with some classical ideal of beauty or tragedy, but with something possibly even more indefinable–something that the warm, homey fragrance of orris root could somehow capture. And in the end, perhaps the best description one can give of Fanny is that of a sweet and gentle, if at times intangible, presence in the tumultuous life of America’s famous poet.