Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “[To Helen]” (excerpt), manuscript, album of Amelia Poe, about 1831-1835


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Helen thy beauty is to me

Like those Nicean barks of yore

Which gently o’er a perfumed sea

The weary way[[-]]worn traveller bore

To his own native shore.

E. A. P.

 


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Notes:

Poe wrote this excerpt of the poem, using the first stanza alone, in the album of his cousin, Amelia Poe. There is no clear date for the item. Three of the other poems written in the album, by various people who were presumably friends or acquaintances of Miss Poe, are dated, but in all three cases the year is illegible. (Indeed, in a few cases, the year appears to be deliberately obscured.) Because at least one poem before and after Poe’s excerpt are addressed to “Miss Amelia Poe,” it may be assumed that they all predate her marriage on November 24, 1836 (to Dr. Charles Henry Goldsborough). The first publication of “To Helen” was in Poems, printed in April 1831. Poe left West Point in March 1831, went briefly to New York, and returned to Baltimore about May 1831, ultimately leaving Baltimore for Richmond in September 1835, those dates would appear to establish the range of the most plausible time-period for Poe to write in her book. The opportunity to sign the book indicates either a trip by Poe to Frederick, Maryland, where Amelia Poe lived with her parents, or by Amelia Poe to Baltimore, where her brother Neilson Poe lived.

The album was given to the Poe Foundation in 1930 by Mrs. Steward Woodward, a grand-daughter of Amelia Poe. It was long sitting in storage, until 2012, when it was brought out, examined and used for an exhibit of manuscripts at the Poe Museum in Richmond. Accession records do not indicate the presence of the Poe poem, explaining its long period of obscurity, and the timing and provenance of the album argue strongly against the possiblity of forgery.

The album is a standard 8 vo. of about 200 unnumbered pages, with no title page, bound in green leather, with elaborate gold decoration on the spine and “Miss Amelia Poe” stamped in gold on the front cover. A number of isolated blank pages are left throughout the volume. Several pages have a corner clipped from them, perhaps removing a signature or a date, and at least one page has been entirely removed. Poems and even a few watercolor images are generally written on the front of pages, although a few appear on the back of a page. Most items are written in ink; a few are written in pencil. Poe’s entry is written in pencil, as the only item on the page, occupying the upper portion of the page, with the ends of each line running close to the right edge of the page. The use of his initials as a signature presumably overcomes the awkwardness of identifying himself without having to use his full name, which might seem oddly formal in the album of a cousin.

The two verbal variants (“Which” in place of “That” at the beginning of line 3, and “traveller” in place of the more alliterative “wanderer” in line 4) suggest that Poe wrote the stanza from memory, with these changes made somewhat carelessly.


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[S:1 - MS, 1831-1835] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Poems - [To Helen] (excerpt)