Tuesday, July 7, 2009

To My Mother

Somewhat lacking in deep literary merit yet undoubtedly sentimental, the poem "To My Mother" needs very little commentary to understand. Despite its title, the emotional, very personal poem (perhaps Poe's most personal) is not about the poet's birth mother Eliza Arnold Poe, nor is it about the woman who raised him, foster-mother Frances Allan. Instead, it is about the mother of his dead wife.

Though Poe's wife Virginia had died in 1847, Poe continued living with and supporting her mother, Maria Poe Clemm (who was also his aunt, sister of his father). He wrote a sonnet to his mother-in-law, who he nicknamed "Muddy" (presumably because of its similarity to "mother"), which was published on July 7, 1849 in the Flag of Our Union newspaper. In its entirety:
To My Mother

Because I feel that, in the heavens above,
The angels, whispering to one another,
Can find, among their burning terms of love,
None so devotional as that of 'mother' —
Therefore by that sweet name I long have called you —
You, who are more than mother unto me,
And fill my heart of hearts, where Death installed you,
In setting my Virginia's spirit free.
My mother — my own mother — who died early —
Was but the mother of myself; but you
Are mother to the one I loved so dearly,
And thus are dearer than the mother I knew;
By that infinity with which my wife
Was dearer to my soul than its soul-life.
Perhaps ironically, this same date, July 7, in 1835 marked the death of Poe's grandmother, Elizabeth Cairnes Poe. The wife of David Poe Sr. (a veteran of the American Revolution who was friends with General La Fayette), she was 79 years old when she died. Her daughter, Maria Clemm (the subject of the poem above), was taking care of her at the time as well as utilizing the pension the widow Poe was receiving for her husband's Revolutionary service — this pension was the small family's main means of financial support. Poe had lived with her in Baltimore for a time.

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