Thursday, February 12, 2009

The first lost "Lenore"

Years before he lost his Lenore in "The Raven," Poe used the name in a poem aptly titled "Lenore."

It was first titled "A Pæan" (a poem of praise, but often directed toward the dead) and its lines were spoken by a bereaved husband — with no mention of Lenore — in 1831. Poe, always re-writing and revising, went back to "A Pæan" and substantially changed it a dozen years later. And so, Poe's first usage of the name "Lenore" came to be, in the February 1843 issue of The Pioneer, a journal edited by James Russell Lowell.

The name itself is relatively meaningless (though some biographers, notably Kenneth Silverman, enjoy trying to find a connection to someone in Poe's life, including his brother William Henry Leonard Poe — which, let's be honest, is a big stretch). However, the name was based on Poe's staunch poetic logic: in order to evoke emotion, words need to use appropriate sounds. As I explained in an earlier blog post, Poe loves the inherent melancholy in a long, protracted "O" sound, and he seems to enjoy the "L" sound too — it pops up in "Lenore," "Annabel Lee," "Eulalie," "Ulalume"...

Former equivalent of the poet laureate Daniel Hoffman made an important comment about this poem, which I completely agree with: for a poet that emphasizes the logical composition of poetry so much, Poe really made it easy on himself when he named his character "Guy De Vere" in this poem. You might also notice another word, "Nevermore," that makes a triumphant return in "The Raven". Take a look. This is the 1843 version from The Pioneer:

AH, broken is the golden bowl!
The spirit flown forever!
Let the bell toll! — A saintly soul
Glides down the Stygian river!
And let the burial rite be read —
The funeral song be sung —
A dirge for the most lovely dead
That ever died so young!
And, Guy De Vere,
Hast thou no tear?
Weep now or nevermore!
See, on yon drear
And rigid bier,
Low lies thy love Lenore!

"Yon heir, whose cheeks of pallid hue
With tears are streaming wet,
Sees only, through
Their crocodile dew,
A vacant coronet —
False friends! ye loved her for her wealth
And hated her for her pride,
And, when she fell in feeble health,
Ye blessed her — that she died.
How shall the ritual, then, be read?
The requiem how be sung
For her most wrong'd of all the dead
That ever died so young?"

But rave not thus!
And let the solemn song
Go up to God so mournfully that she may feel no wrong!
The sweet Lenore
Hath "gone before"
With young hope at her side,
And thou art wild
For the dear child
That should have been thy bride —
For her, the fair
And debonair,
That now so lowly lies —
The life still there
Upon her hair,
The death upon her eyes.

"Avaunt! — to-night
My heart is light —
No dirge will I upraise,
But waft the angel on her flight
With a Pæan of old days!
Let no bell toll!
Lest her sweet soul,
Amid its hallow'd mirth,
Should catch the note
As it doth float
Up from the damned earth —
To friends above, from fiends below, th' indignant ghost is riven —
From grief and moan
To a gold throne
Beside the King of Heaven?"


Anonymous said...

I heard he wanted to use the name "Paul Revere" instead of "Guy de Vere," but Longfellow threatened to sue the pants off of him.

(Seriously, great post, Rob!)

Gina said...

I never liked the name "Lenore" -- but I have to say it beats the heck out of "Eulalie." :-)

Rob Velella said...

Yeah, "Eulalie" is a bit of a stretch... that poem is not on my short list of favorites.

Yes, Longfellow actually trademarked any instance where the name Paul Revere rhymes. He was a good business man!