April is National Poetry Month and the perfect time to celebrate all the poetry in the world around us. Whether we read it in a book or listen to it on the radio, we enjoy poetry in countless forms. In Edgar Allan Poe’s time, when poetry was far more popular than it is today, people experienced poetry in a number of different ways. Much like today, poets gave public readings for their work or published it in books or magazines. Poe and his contemporaries also wrote their poems in ladies’ albums.
Ladies’ albums were popular gifts for girls throughout much of the nineteenth century. The owner would send her album to her friends and relatives who would fill them with poetry and drawings in much the same way today’s high school students sign each other’s yearbooks. In the nineteenth century, however, people put a lot more effort into signing their friends’ albums. Here are three good examples from the collection of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum.
The first belonged to Lucy Dorothea Henry (1822-1898), the granddaughter of Revolutionary War orator Patrick Henry. In spite of living on a rural Virginia plantation, she befriended some of the leading authors of her day by writing them to request their autographs for her collection. In the process, she befriended New York editor and autograph collector John Keese who gave her this album.
This is Keese’s inscription.
This page contains a poem by American poet Charles Fenno Hoffman.
Here is poem by Elizabeth Oakes Smith that shows off the poet’s beautiful handwriting.
Henry’s daughters donated both her autograph collection and her album to the Poe Museum in 1928.
The next album belonged to Louisa Anna Lynch (1825-1891), who grew up in Petersburg, Virginia. When she was a girl, Edgar Allan Poe gave her a copy of a book and autographed it for her. Read all about it here. When her descendants donated that book to the Poe Museum, they also donated her autograph album, which is full of poems dating to the early 1840s.
Somebody wrote these unsigned captions for the book’s few illustrations. The captions are quotes from various books and periodicals.
The anonymous writer of this Shakespeare quote has given Louisa the nickname Annie.
One suitor thought he could impress Louisa by writing this essay on friendship in her album.
Here are the closing lines of a poem signed “CMF” and the opening verses of a poem signed “Amicus.”
The third album belonged to Amelia Poe, the twin sister of Neilson Poe, the husband of Josephine Emily Clemm Poe Poe, half-sister of Edgar Poe’s wife Virginia Clemm Poe, who was also Edgar’s first cousin. (If that is confusing, you can read about the Poe family genealogy here.) This album is a treasure trove of poetry, artworks, and pressed flowers.
The person who wrote this poem also decorated the page with drawings.
Here is another elaborate decoration.
When writing in a lady’s album, one could either compose an original poem or quote an appropriate poem by a popular author. In the sample below, someone has quoted a couple verses of Scottish poet Thomas Campbell’s 1799 poem “The Pleasure of Hope” and signed it with a dotted line. If you look very closely, someone wrote some initials in pencil on that dotted line. They appear to be “EAP.”
In either 1829 or 1832-1836, Edgar Allan Poe wrote the first stanza of his poem “To Helen” in the album. Today this is thought to be the only surviving copy of that poem in Poe’s handwriting.
Amelia Poe’s granddaughter donated this album and other Poe family items to the Poe Museum in 1930.
This has been only a small sample of the many poems written throughout each of these albums. At a time when writing in cursive is a dying art and when writing poetry in albums has long-since gone out of fashion, we can read through the poetry in the Poe Museum’s albums to get a sense of the role poetry played in people’s daily lives back in Poe’s time.
For the third year in a row, the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia is inviting artists to paint, sketch, or photograph the museum’s legendary Enchanted Garden for its exhibit Painting the Enchanted Garden 3, which opens May 26 and runs until July 17. The great quality and variety of the artists in the first two Painting the Enchanted Garden exhibits has encouraged the Poe Museum to bring back the popular show.
Art by Dwight Paulette
The rules of entering the exhibit are simple. Interested artists sign up by April 1 by emailing the Poe Museum’s curator Chris Semtner at [email protected] Then the artists can visit the museum to sketch, photograph, or paint the museum’s garden. Artists interested in working in a group painting session can join Semtner on April 24 from 2 to 5 p.m. The finished artwork should be delivered ready to hang between May 17 through 22 during regular business hours. A portion of the proceeds from the artwork will benefit the Poe Museum. Click here for the complete prospectus. Click here to see the consignment agreement.
About the Poe Museum’s Enchanted Garden:
Landscaped in 1921 and opened in April 1922, the Poe Museum’s Enchanted Garden is Virginia’s first monument to a writer. The layout of the garden was inspired by Poe’s poem “To One in Paradise,” and the building materials were salvaged from different structures in which Poe lived or worked. The Garden Club of Virginia is in the process of restoring the Enchanted Garden to its original beauty, ensuring that the museum’s visitors continue to see the garden very much as it would have appeared in the 1920s. Click here to read more about the Enchanted Garden.
Painting the Enchanted Garden 2 in 2015
Click this link for an Exhibit Prospectus:
Prospectus for Painting the Enchanted Garden 2016
Click the following link for an Artwork Consignment Form:
Painting the Enchanted Garden 2016 Incoming Loan Agreement
Artwork by Bill Dompke
Millions of students have memorized Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” but what great work of literature did the author of that famous speech memorize? According to one of his friends, John T. Stuart, Lincoln “carried Poe around on the Circuit—read and loved ‘The Raven’—repeated it over & over.” How might Lincoln have sounded when reading Poe’s solemn poem of death and despair? William H. Herndon wrote in an 1887 letter that “Lincoln’s voice was, when he first began speaking, shrill, squeaking, piping, unpleasant.”
Ever since he was young, Lincoln loved reading. His biographer, Michael Burlingame, wrote that among Lincoln’s favorite works were Poe’s mystery “The Gold Bug” and his science fiction/horror tale “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.” Lincoln even tried his hand at writing his own true-crime story based on a murder trial for which he had served as the defense attorney. The story “Remarkable Case of Arrest for Murder” was reprinted over a century later in the March 1952 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.
He also wrote a number of poems. Here is one he wrote in his arithmetic book when he was about sixteen:
Abraham Lincoln is my nam[e]
And with my pen I wrote the same
I wrote in both hast and speed
and left it here for fools to read…
In 1858, Lincoln wrote this poem in his landlord’s daughter’s album:
You are young, and I am older;
You are hopeful, I am not—
Enjoy life, ere it grow colder—
Pluck the roses ere they rot.
Teach your beau to heed the lay—
That sunshine soon is lost in shade—
That now’s as good as any day—
To take thee, Rose, ere she fade.
Even though Poe and Lincoln were born a few weeks apart in 1809, they never met. One wonders what might have happened if they had.
The First Printing of “The Raven” from 1845
On February 11 from 7-9 p.m. at the Patrick Henry Pub and Grille in Richmond, the Poe Museum will team up with James River Writers to bring back the grand tradition of the salon, an intimate setting to meet & fraternize with local authors as they in turn guide you in your own writing practice. Whatever your genre, this will be a great way to connect, to learn, and to philosophize. There is no cover charge. We welcome writerly types of all experience levels and readers, thinkers, and artists of every sort. To top it off, the building in which we will be meeting was the home of J.W. Fergusson, Poe’s assistant at the Southern Literary Messenger and one of the few people to attend Poe’s wedding. The theme for the first salon will be “The Secret Heart–Considering the Dark Side of Romance” with speaker Slash Coleman.
Here are the Details:
February Topic: The Secret Heart – Considering the Dark Side of Romance
Speaker: Slash Coleman
Thursday, February 11, 7:00-9:00 p.m.
Patrick Henry Pub & Grille, in the upstairs salon
2300 East Broad Street (free street parking)
About the Speaker:
NPR calls award-winning storyteller Slash Coleman “Extremely provocative and entertaining,” and WGBH says the NYC based author, “has the power to change the way people think.”
The author of The Bohemian Love Diaries, the personal perspectives blogger for Psychology Today, and an advice columnist at howdoidate.com (Ask Uncle Slash), Slash is best known for his PBS Special The Neon Man and Me and is currently creating The New American Storyteller for PBS. Slash’s performances have been featured in American Theatre Magazine, Backstage Magazine, The Washington Post, and most recently on the NPR series How Artists Make Money.
Click here for more information.
For more than a century, Edgar Allan Poe’s works have inspired countless writers, visual artists, musicians, and filmmakers; but now his works will inspire a ballet, which will be performed in the Poe Museum of Richmond’s legendary Enchanted Garden on March 19 at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and on March 20 at 3 p.m.
The Latin Ballet of Virginia is proud to announce the world premiere of POEMAS, a dance theatre production inspired by the life and poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, Alfonsina Storni, Pablo Neruda and Federico Garcia Lorca. Latin Ballet of Virginia’s Artistic Director, Ana Ines King in collaboration with international artists and choreographers, Antonio Hidalgo Paz and Domingo Ortega of Spain and Ana Patricia Nuckols of El Salvador, produced the works and interpretations seen in POEMAS. As part of the performance, the Poe Museum’s curator Chris Semtner will be reading Poe’s poetry.
POEMAS is choreographed in dance theatre, contemporary dance, contemporary and traditional Flamenco, Latino American dance and Spanish classical dance forms to give each poet an accurate character illustration in the most traditional and cultural interpretation.
POEMAS supports Latin Ballet of Virginia’s scholastic initiatives Everybody READS!, an educational component of the Be Proud of Yourself program, which promotes a love of reading, writing and literature through performances, lectures and workshops.
The Latin Ballet of Virginia is honored to be partnering with The Edgar Allan Poe Museum, to aid in their mission of interpreting the life and influence of Edgar Allan Poe for a global audience. POEMAS will be just one in a series of “Poe Inspires” events and exhibits through which the Poe Museum will showcase Poe’s continuing legacy of inspiration for today’s artists. This is will be the first time a ballet has ever been performed at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum.
The Poets whose works will be featured in POEMAS are:
Edgar Allan Poe’s work has had a profound impact on American and international literature. His stories mark him as one of the originators of both detective fiction and the modern tale of psychological terror. Today, Poe is remembered as one of the first American writers to become a major figure in world literature.
Federico García Lorca is one of the most prominent Spanish cultural figures of the twentieth century. His lyrical work incorporates elements of Spanish folklore, Andalusian flamenco and gypsy culture while exploring themes of romantic love and tragedy
Alfonsina Storni is considered one of the most prominent Latino American women poets of the twentieth century. Inspired by her own personal experiences, Storni courageously wrote about the struggles of women in modern urban society, advocating equality for women and bemoaning the inadequacies of romantic relationships in a male-dominated culture.
Pablo Neruda led a life charged with poetic and political activity, whose most notable collection of poetry was written at the young age of 19. The book, Veinte Poemas de Amor y una Canción Desesperada (“Twenty Poems of Love and a Song Despair”) made a celebrity of Neruda, who gave up his studies to devote himself to his craft.
Click here for more information about this innovative performance.
March 17-18 at Gottwald Playhouse (Richmond CenterStage)
Thursday 10:30 am & 12:30 pm, Friday 10:30 am, 12:30 pm and 7:30 pm
March 19-20 at The Edgar Allan Poe Museum:
Saturday 3:00 pm & 7:30 pm, Sunday at 3:00 pm
Tickets available for purchase at:
www.latinballet.com/tickets or through The Edgar Allan Poe Museum at www.poemuseum.org/shop
$20 Adults | $15 Students & Seniors | $10 Groups and Fieldtrips
FREE for Children 6 years old and under.
Click here to purchase your tickets today!
Already the world’s largest celebration of author Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday, the Poe Museum of Richmond’s annual Poe Birthday Bash will outdo itself this January 16 from noon to midnight with twelve straight hours counting down Poe’s greatest hits with performance, film, music, readings, exhibits, and more for just $5 per person.
New exhibits opening that day include the interactive “Poe’s Greatest Hits” in which the visitor gets to be part of a Poe story. There will also be a display of original artwork from the new film Extraordinary Tales. Live music includes fan favorites The Embalmers and more great bands. There will be readings and performances throughout the day in addition to neighborhood tours, museum tours, and historical interpreters. We will be joined by James River Writers and Sisters in Crime for readings and the announcement of the winner of the inaugural Poe Inspires Award for flash fiction and poetry at 5:30 p.m. Guests will vote for Poe’s greatest short story, and the winner will be announced at 6 p.m.
There will be crafts and games for the kids, a sad poetry reading contest for all ages, and a midnight champagne toast for the adults. Other highlights of the day include a screening of the film Extraordinary Tales, The Embalmers playing live music to accompany screenings of silent Poe films, a walking tour the neighborhood by Poe’s mother, and readings by members of Sisters in Crime. A cash bar will be provided by Center of the Universe.
Here is the schedule so far:
11:00 a.m. to Dark
Walking Tour with Poe’s Fiancee Elmira Shelton
Begins and ends at Poe Museum and includes a stop at St. John’s Church.
Noon to 1:30 p.m.
With Margot MacDonald
“The Conqueror Worm”
Performed by Dean Knight
Walking Tour of Shockoe Bottom with Poe’s Mother
Begins and ends at Poe Museum with a stop at the oldest continuously used Masonic Lodge in the country.
Sisters in Crime
Talk and Book Signing
Talk by the Poe Museum’s curator
Birthday Cake Served
See some little known oddities and rarities from the collection taken out of the vault just for this event!
Sad Poetry Reading Contest, Reading Activities
“Poe Inspired” Contest Presentation with Poe Museum and James River Writers
Poe’s Greatest Hit Countdown Announcement
6:30 p.m. Walking Tour
Poe’s Last Night in Richmond
Retrace Poe’s path during his final night in Richmond, just over a week before his death.
6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
With Ocean Versus Daughter
7:00 p.m. Museum Tour
“Berenice” Reading by Dean Knight
“The Raven” Reading by Michael Fawcett
8:00 p.m. – 9:15 p.m.
9:30 p.m. Museum Tour
10:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Live Music by Embalmers and Silent Films
Champagne Toast in the Poe Shrine
From the man who sneaked into his dead wife’s crypt to spend the night on her corpse to the woman who believed she was in communication with Poe’s spirit after his death, colorful characters seemed to flock to Edgar Allan Poe. But Stella stands out even among this crowd. It is said that, when he saw her approaching his front door, Poe fled through the back door to avoid her. She may have even convinced her husband to pay Poe to write positive reviews of her work. In spite of that, she told Poe’s biographer John Henry Ingram she had been Poe’s good and trusted friend, and she boasted that she had been the inspiration for his poem “Annabel Lee.” The Poe Museum now owns a strange letter she wrote to one of Poe’s biographers. Because it reveals some entertaining insights in her personality and her relationship with Poe, we have named it the Poe Museum’s Object of the Month.
Estelle Anna “Stella” Lewis (1824-1880) was a moderately successful writer and the wife of lawyer Sylvanus Lewis. She first became acquainted with Poe around 1846. She soon joined a group of Poe’s female admirers in helping the poet, his mother-in-law Maria Clemm, and his gravely ill wife Virginia in a time of need. After Virginia’s death in January 1847, Stella continued to visit Poe and his mother-in-law. According to Stella, she became his trusted confidant, but other sources believed she was really trying to bribe him to write complimentary reviews. Meanwhile, Stella’s “trusted confidant” Poe wrote in a June 16, 1848 letter to Annie Richmond, “If she [Stella] comes here I shall refuse to see her.”
Poe was close enough to Stella to write the following acrostic poem for her. The first letter of the first line, the second of the second, and so forth spell out her name.
“Seldom we find,” says Solomon Don Dunce,
“Half an idea in the profoundest sonnet.
Through all the flimsy things we see at once
As easily as through a Naples bonnet—
Trash of all trash!—how can a lady don it?
Yet heavier far than your Petrarchan stuff—
Owl-downy nonsense that the faintest puff
Twirls into trunk-paper the while you con it.”
And, veritably, Sol is right enough.
The general tuckermanities are arrant
Bubbles—ephemeral and so transparent—
But this is, now,—you may depend upon it—
Stable, opaque, immortal—all by dint
Of the dear names that he concealed within’t.
Unlike many of the poems Poe addressed to women, there is no hint of romance in this one. He also had this daguerreotype of himself made for her.
He gave Annie Richmond another, very similar, daguerreotype taken at the same session.
Stella later told John Henry Ingram, “I saw much of Mr. Poe during the last year of his life. He was one of the most sensitive and refined gentlemen I ever met. My girlish poem — ‘The Forsaken’ — made us acquainted. He had seen it floating the rounds of the press, and wrote to tell me how much he liked it: ‘It is inexpressibly beautiful,’ he said, ‘and I should like much to know the young author.’ After the first call he frequently dined with us, and passed the evening in playing whist or in reading to me his last poem.”
On his last night in New York before starting his ill-fated trip to Richmond, Stella invited Poe and his mother-in-law to her home for dinner. As Stella told it, “The day before he left New York for Richmond,” continues Stella, “Mr. Poe came to dinner, and stayed the night. He seemed very sad and retired early. On leaving the next morning he took my hand in his, and, looking in my face, said, ‘Dear Stella, my much beloved friend. You truly understand and appreciate me — I have a presentiment that I shall never see you again. I must leave to-day for Richmond. If I never return, write my life. You can and will do me justice.’ ‘I will!’ I exclaimed. And we parted to meet no more in this life. That promise I have not yet felt equal to fulfil.” Poe died a few months afterwards. Stella died three decades later without fulfilling that promise.
In the years following Poe’s death, Stella invited his mother-in-law to live with her. It seems that, in order to endear herself to Stella, Mrs. Clemm told her she had been the inspiration for “Annabel Lee”—even though nothing in the poem suggests this. Stella almost immediately told her friends, and the rumor appeared in the papers not long after that. Another of Poe’s friends, Frances Osgood, responded in the December 8, 1849 issue of Saroni’s Musical Times that Poe’s wife was the only woman he had ever loved and was unquestionably the true subject of “Annabel Lee.” Osgood continues, “I have heard it said that it was intended to illustrate a love affair of the author; but they who believe this, have in their dullness, evidently misunderstood or missed the beautiful meaning latent in the most lovely of all its verses…” Most people now agree with Osgood.
Poe’s ex-fiancée Sarah Helen Whitman, however, (who also thought she had been the inspiration for “Annabel Lee”) was so insulted by Stella’s claim that she spread the rumor that a New York writer familiar with all the parties involved told her Maria Clemm had only been flattering Stella to repay some favors and that Osgood had invented the claim that Virginia was the real Annabel Lee solely to spite Stella. (In case you’re counting, that’s three possible Annabel Lees in this blog post.)
Just to make sure her role in Poe’s life was recorded for posterity, she befriended his enemy and biographer Rufus W. Griswold. She still failed to convince the public she could have been the real Annabel Lee.
In 1858, Stella divorced her husband, began a feud with Maria Clemm (who apparently sided with Sylvanus Lewis in the divorce), accused another writer of stealing from her, and headed for Europe. About this time, Martin Van Buren Moore (1837-1900), a young reporter from Tennessee, wrote her for assistance in writing an article about Edgar Allan Poe. In her response, she boasts that Poe himself had entrusted her to be his biographer, calls Maria Clemm the “black cat” of Poe’s life, talks about her divorce, and asks Moore if she should change her name to La Stella or Anna Stella. She eventually settled on the name Stella. Here is a photo of this note.
The text of the letter reads:
I had not time to reply to you [sic] letter which reached me the day before I sailed for Europe. I called at Mr. Scribner’s on my way to the vessel and told his brother to say to you that I would write the notice of Poe–I will if you can wait. It was his last request of me– “Write my life–you know better than anyone else.” he said. If any one else should write it do not permit the name of that old woman who calls herself his mother-in-law to appear in it. I have heard that she is not his mother-in-law–That she has something else on him. Any how. I believe that she was [the] black cat of his life. And that she strangled him to death. I will tell you about it when we meet. If you get the work out before I return to America put Poe first, and Stella next in the Poets of Maryland. You cannot get it out till next year as it ought to be– do wait–that is a good Van.
I intend to drop the name of Lewis–but cannot do it at once–What do you think of La Stella or Anna Stella. Call me Stella on all occasions–ring on it in biographical notice– You know that the Divorce was all in my favor–That is after trying for a year they could not get anything against me–and gave it up–say this in the notice–say that I stood unscathed against the treachery of a half dozen Lawyers. Let me hear from you the moment you get this. Direct to care of Mr. John Monroe, Banker, no 5, Rue de La Paix, Paris—
After leaving the United States, Stella meandered around Europe before settling in London around 1874. While there, she provided information about the poet to another of Poe’s biographers John Henry Ingram. At the same time, Poe’s nurse Marie Louise Shew and his fiancée Sarah Helen Whitman were also supplying Ingram sometimes contradictory accounts of their own relationships with Poe.
Stella still found time to write poetry and plays. Her major works include the tragedies Helémah, or the Fall of Montezuma (1864) and Sappho of Lesbos (1868). The latter was printed in seven editions and translated into Greek to be performed in Athens. The Poe Museum owns a autographed copy of this, her most celebrated work. In 1865 she composed a series of sonnets about Poe. Her other works include The Child of the Sea and other Poems (1848), The Myths of the Minstrel (1852), Poems (1866) and The King’s Stratagem(1869).
Stella died in London in 1880. By then, the French poet Alphonse de Lamartine deemed her the “Female Petrarch” while Ingram considered her merely a “harpy” who had preyed upon Poe in his final years.
Martin Van Buren Moore eventually wrote his essay about Poe. The manuscript for it is also in the Poe Museum’s collection. His grandson Otis D. Smith of Richmond, Virginia donated both the Stella letter and the manuscript to the Museum in 1979 but kept the envelope because he thought he might be able to sell it to a stamp collector.
On this page from Moore’s manuscript, he acknowledges the assistance of the “brilliant” Stella to whom he is “indebted for many of the facts in regards to Poe’s life” that were used in the essay. Among these facts, he continues, “She stated positively that Poe was born in Baltimore and not in Boston.” Click here to find out where Poe was really born. Fortunately, Moore’s essay makes no attempt to promote the discredited claims that Stella was the real Annabel Lee.
While the Poe Museum owns a number of Edgar Allan Poe’s letters, most visitors do not realize the collection also holds several rarely seen letters from the people in his life. While these are rarely anthologized and seldom read, they nevertheless provide value insights into Poe’s life and work as seen by his contemporaries. Since this Stella letter was written to a person researching an article about Poe, the document reveals the way in which Poe’s biography was shaped (or distorted) by the biases and self-interests of the people who knew him as they provided information of varying quality to his biographers.
On Thursday, June 4 at 6 p.m. at the Poe Museum in Richmond, poet and Penn State University professor Charles Cantalupo will read a unique series of poems inspired by each of the cities in which Edgar Allan Poe lived. In researching the poems, Cantalupo travelled to the cities connected with Poe and searched for evidence of the ways those places inspired Poe as well as the continuing presence of Poe in each location. After years of research and writing, Cantalupo will perform the entire series for the first time. This thrilling performance will blend sound and rhythm with the poet’s own unique take on each of the cities featured.
As Edgar Allan Poe’s hometown, Richmond is the subject of one of the poems. Cantalupo visited Richmond and the Poe Museum last year and incorporated the city’s people and places, including Shockoe Slip and Linden Row, into the poem. For more information, please contact the Poe Museum at 804-648-5523 or [email protected]
Those coming to see Cantalupo’s performance will also want to hear his wife Barbara Cantalupo, a distinguished Poe scholar, speak about “The Poe You May Not Know” at the Virginia Historical Society earlier the same day at noon on June 4. Click here for more information about her talk.
About Charles Cantalupo
Charles Cantalupo is the author of a series of poems on the cities where Edgar Allan Poe lived throughout his life, called “Poe in Place.” Excerpts have been published in The Edgar Allan Poe Review, Poe’s Pervasive Influence, and The Spirit of Poe. Cantalupo’s reading at The Poe Museum will mark the first time “Poe in Place” has ever been performed in its entirety.
Poet, translator, scholar, and documentary filmmaker, Charles Cantalupo is Distinguished Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and African Studies at The Pennsylvania State University. His literary memoir, Joining Africa – From Anthills to Asmara (2012), won a Next Generation Indie Book Award in 2012. His newest collection of poetry, Where War Was, will be published later this year, and he has published three previous collections: Light the Lights (2004), Anima/l Woman and Other Spirits (1996), and The Art of Hope (1985). He is one of the world’s leading translators of African language poetry. A co-author of the historic Asmara Declaration on African Languages and Literatures, he is the writer and director of Against All Odds, a documentary about poets and poetry in Africa. His work has received major support from the Ford and Rockefeller foundations and the World Bank, and he is also the author of books on Thomas Hobbes, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and Eritrea.
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.