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[Text: Edgar Allan Poe, "Mrs. Lewis' Poems," from the Western Quarterly Review, April 1849, pp. 404-408.]


[page 404:]

ART XVIII. MRS. LEWIS' POEMS.

The Child of the Sea and other Poems. By S. ANNA LEWIS. George P. Putnam, New York.

    Mrs. Lewis acquired, almost immediately upon her literary debut, a reputation of which any American poetess might be proud, and has since steadily and very rapidly advanced in the public estimation, both in securing the voice of the many, and in winning the hearts of the few whose appreciation a poet could alone desire, the author of "Florence," of "Zenel," of "The Bride of Guayaquil," of "The Forsaken" and of "The Child of the Sea," has been pre-eminently successful. Mr. Willis, Mr. Bryant and many others who hold the highest rank in our Literary Republic, have not only felt but cordially expressed their sense of her genius. If laudari a laudatis be grateful to the soul of a poet, then Mrs. Lewis has had abundant reason to be happy and proud.

    Our authoress is one of the youngest of American poetesses, and gave indication, at a very early age, of the powers she has since so strikingly and fully manifested. The first poetical effort, however, which brought her name very especially before the eye of the public, was "The Ruins of Palenque" which appeared originally in "The New World." This poem, which was extensively copied, is based on a passage in Stephens' "Travels in Central America." In 1844 the Appletons published, at New York, her "Records of the Heart," a large edition of which was soon exhausted. In 1846 appeared, in "The Democratic Review," her "Broken Heart," a poem in three cantos; since which she has given to the world a number of minor compositions, chiefly poetical, through the medium of various periodical works among which the principal are the Democratic and American Reviews. Her last, longest, and beyond all question her most meritorious production, however, is that which Mr. Putnam has just issued and which forms the heading of the present hurried critique. [page 405:]

    With the exception, perhaps, of "The Broken Heart," (which forms a portion of the volume now before us) the best of Mrs. Lewis' earlier poems are included, for the most part, in "The Records of the Heart." "Florence" is the opening composition in that collection; and is strongly characteristic embodying nearly all the author's peculiarities of subject, manner, and turn of thought. It is a tale of fervid romance, instinct with the poetic sentiment and spirit, although neither so accurately finished nor so elaborate as some of her late productions. "Laone," "Melpomene," "Zenel," "The Bride of Guayaqil" and "The Last Hour of Sappho," are the most important of the remaining poems in the volume. They all breathe, however, the same spirit and are distinguished by the glow, the enthusiasm, the dreamy romance and apparent (or perhaps real) abandon of expression. To quote individual passages from poems so long as are all those just mentioned, would be to render the author a disservice but we will make our readers amende by the citation of two of her shorter pieces each exquisite in a different way.
 

TO E. 
 
Thou'rt gone from this cold world of ours, 
    A resident above  
An angel midst unfading flowers 
    And songs of changeless love; 
And com'st no more at eventide 
    To lay thy hand in mine, 
With smiles to cheer our fire-side, 
    And bid me not repine; 
And yet, lost one, thou art to me 
    More than the living all can be  
A light that shines from Heaven afar, 
    My morning and my evening star. 
 
I ne'er shall hear again on Earth 
    Thy footstep's blithesome bound, 
Nor meet thee by the parent hearth 
    When there we kneel around:  
No! Nevermore shall see below 
    Beloved, thy form so fair, 
Thy lily cheek and snowy brow  
    Thy wealth of golden hair; 
And yet, lost one, thou are to me 
    More than the living all can be  
A light that shines from Heaven afar, 
    My morning and my evening star. [page 406:]
 
Around me near me every where 
    I hear thy angel voice  
Sweet accents from a viewless sphere, 
    Bidding my heart rejoice. 
At morn or eve in vale or grove  
    Where'er my footsteps tend  
Down from thy starry realms above 
    Thy meek eyes on me bend. 
And thus, lost one, thou art to me 
    More than the living all can be  
A light that shines from Heaven afar, 
    My morning and my evening star. 

    There must be something more than ordinarily impressive, both in the sentiment and expression, as well as in the cadence, of a refrain, to enable us to admire it, or even to tolerate it, unaltered in its phraseology, through the whole of even a brief poem. We must therefore consider the lines "And thus, lost one," &c., &c., as essentially poetical; and they are. Throughout the whole composition there is a sustained and quiet dignity which is very impressive. But in terse, natural, passionate expression they are not to be compared with
 

THE FORSAKEN. 
 
It hath been said for all who die 
        There is a tear  
Some pining, bleeding heart to sigh 
        O'er every bier:  
But, in that hour of pain and dread, 
        Who will draw near 
Around my humble couch and shed 
        One farewell tear? 
 
Who watch life's last departing ray 
        In deep despair, 
And soothe my spirit on its way 
        With holy prayer? 
What mourner round my bier will come 
        "In weeds of wo," 
And follow me to my long home 
        Solemn and slow? 
 
When lying on my clayey bed, 
        In icy sleep, 
Who there by pure affection led 
        Will come and weep [page 407:] 
By the pale moon implant the rose 
        Upon my breast, 
And bid it cheer my dark repose  
        My lowly rest? 
 
Could I but know when I am sleeping 
        Low in the ground, 
One faithful heart would there be keeping 
        Watch all night round, 
As if some gem lay shrined beneath 
        That sod's cold gloom, 
'Twould mitigate the pangs of death 
        And light the tomb. 
 
Yes! in that hour if I could feel, 
        From halls of glee 
And Beauty's presence, one would steal 
        In secrecy, 
And come and sit and weep by me 
        In night's deep noon  
Oh, I would ask of Memory 
        No other boon! 
 
But ah! a lonelier fate is mine  
        A deeper wo: 
From all I love in youth's sweet prime 
        I soon must go  
Draw round me my cold robes of white 
        In some dark spot, 
To sleep through Death's long, dreamless night 
        Lone and forgot. 

    We can never speak of think of these lines without enthusiasm. They are supremely beautiful in their natural pathos. The passages italicised fill us with a shuddering delight in which we recognize the earnest power of the poet. This poem could not have been written without first profoundly despairingly felt.

    The "Child of the Sea" is a tale of romantic adventure of love, sorrow and crime. It most fully exemplifies the peculiar tone of the author's mind its romance first its enthusiasm its abandon. It is more skilfully executed, however, better versified and more artistically constructed as a tale, than "Florence" or any other similar narrative by this author. The story is [page 408:] deeply interesting full of adventure, passion and imagination. It would not be doing Mrs. Lewis justice to give any digest of the story; and we must content ourselves with a merely general expression of admiration, and the citation of some passages at random.
 

CRIME. 
 
Oh Crime! thou mayst escape the Laws of Earth; 
Mayst trample on the hearts of Love and Worth; 
Imbrue thy hideous hands in human blood, 
Remorseless as within the limpid flood, 
The priceless mines of Ophir mayst unfold, 
And clothe thy ghastly form in glowing gold  
The brightest gems from coral caves upcast; 
But Heaven's avenging hand will seek thee out at last! 
DEATH. 
 
Death touched his heart, and every pulse grew still, 
Immovable, and stark, and coldly chill, 
As ice that clings around the Boreal Pole; 
The last warm spark that played around his soul 
Was quenched. Vitality forever flown, 
And like a frigid monument of stone, 
Prostrate he fell, a senseless, lifeless clod, 
Upwept on Earth an outcast from his God  
A foe to Virtue to mankind a curse  
A slave to Crime the Victim of Remorse.
LOVE AND MADNESS. 
 
Ye Powers ! that rule the destinies of men! 
By some swift blow, obliterate my pain! 
My brain is maddened with revengeful Ire, 
My heart encompassed by the scorpion's fire. 
Angel of Beauty! Virtue defied 
On Earth! yet not to earthly things allied! 
Thou art too beautiful for mortal touch  
For this vile orb, Heaven ne'er created such  
Thou art the fair Redeemer of my heart: 
All sinful thoughts thy presence bade depart  
Heaven cannot fathom all my Love for thee  
'Tis pure 'tis boundless as Eternity! 
 
~~~ End of Text ~~~

[S:0 - WQR, 1849]