Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Poe Valentine's Day

As you spread love, chocolate, and flowers this February 14, keep in mind that Poe got into the spirit of Valentine's Day himself. Here are a few examples:

-An acrostic poem written by Poe's wife Virginia, February 14, 1846

Ever with thee I wish to roam —
Dearest my life is thine.
Give me a cottage for my home
And a rich old cypress vine,
Removed from the world with its sin and care
And the tattling of many tongues.
Love alone shall guide us when we are there —
Love shall heal my weakened lungs;
And Oh, the tranquil hours we'll spend,
Never wishing that others may see!
Perfect ease we'll enjoy, without thinking to lend
Ourselves to the world and its glee —
Ever peaceful and blissful we'll be.

(These are the only surviving words written by Virginia. If it's not enough of a tearjerker, check out this musical rendition by an acquaintance of mine.)

Knowing that his wife was dying, Poe kept up flirtations with other women. The same day Virginia presented the above poem, Poe wrote this to Frances Osgood:

-A Valentine February 14, 1846

For her this rhyme is penned, whose luminous eyes,
Brightly expressive as the twins of Leda,
Shall find her own sweet name, that nestling lies
Upon the page, enwrapped from every reader.
Search narrowly the lines!- they hold a treasure
Divine- a talisman- an amulet
That must be worn at heart. Search well the measure-
The words- the syllables! Do not forget
The trivialest point, or you may lose your labor
And yet there is in this no Gordian knot
Which one might not undo without a sabre,
If one could merely comprehend the plot.
Enwritten upon the leaf where now are peering
Eyes scintillating soul, there lie perdus
Three eloquent words oft uttered in the hearing
Of poets, by poets- as the name is a poet's, too,
Its letters, although naturally lying
Like the knight Pinto- Mendez Ferdinando-
Still form a synonym for Truth- Cease trying!
You will not read the riddle, though you do the best you can do.

This next one was written to Marie Louise Shew, a woman who had served as a volunteer nurse as Virginia was dying. It is likely meant platonically.

-To M. L. S.--, dated February 14, 1847

Of all who hail thy presence as the morning-
Of all to whom thine absence is the night-
The blotting utterly from out high heaven
The sacred sun- of all who, weeping, bless thee
Hourly for hope- for life- ah! above all,
For the resurrection of deep-buried faith
In Truth- in Virtue- in Humanity-
Of all who, on Despair's unhallowed bed
Lying down to die, have suddenly arisen
At thy soft-murmured words, "Let there be light!"
At the soft-murmured words that were fulfilled
In the seraphic glancing of thine eyes-
Of all who owe thee most- whose gratitude
Nearest resembles worship- oh, remember
The truest- the most fervently devoted,
And think that these weak lines are written by him-
By him who, as he pens them, thrills to think
His spirit is communing with an angel's.

Poe was surprised in 1848 when he heard that a poem was dedicated to him at a Valentine's party that year. The author, Sarah Helen Whitman, was very, very close to becoming Poe's second wife. Here is the Valentine poem she wrote for him:

-The Raven, February 14, 1848

Raven, from the dim dominions
On the Night's Plutonian shore,
Oft I hear thy dusky pinions
Wave and flutter round my door—
See the shadow of thy pinions
Float along the moon-lit floor;

Often, from the oak-woods glooming
Round some dim ancestral tower,
In the lurid distance looming—
Some high solitary tower—
I can hear thy storm-cry booming
Through the lonely midnight hour.

When the moon is at the zenith,
Thou dost haunt the moated hall,
Where the marish flower greeneth
O'er the waters, like a pall—
Where the House of Usher leaneth,
Darkly nodding to its fall:

There I see thee, dimly gliding—
See thy black plumes waving slow—
In its hollow casements hiding,
When their shadow yawns below,
To the sullen tarn confiding
The dark secrets of their woe:—

See thee, when the stars are burning
In their cressets, silver clear—
When Ligeia's spirit yearning
For the earth-life, wanders near—
When Morella's soul returning,
Weirdly whispers "I am here."

Once, within a realm enchanted,
On a far isle of the seas,
By unearthly visions haunted,
By unearthly melodies,
Where the evening sunlight slanted
Golden through the garden trees—

Where the dreamy moonlight dozes,
Where the early violets dwell,
Listening to the silver closes
Of a lyric loved too well,
Suddenly, among the roses,
Like a cloud, thy shadow fell.

Once, where Ulalume lies sleeping,
Hard by Auber's haunted mere,
With the ghouls a vigil keeping,
On that night of all the year,
Came thy souding pinions, sweeping
Through the leafless woods of Weir!

Oft, with Proserpine I wander
On the Night's Plutonian shore,
Hoping, fearing, while I ponder
On thy loved and lost Lenore—
On the demon doubts that sunder
Soul from soul forevermore;

Trusting, though with sorrow laden,
That when life's dark dream is o'er,
By whatever name the maiden
Lives within thy mystic lore,
Eiros, in that distant Aidenn,
Shall his Charmion meet once more.

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