Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “To — — — [To Helen]” (Text-03), Union Magazine, November 1848, 3:200


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[page 200, unnumbered, full page:]

TO —— —— ——.

——

BY EDGAR A. POE.

——

[column 1:]

I SAW thee once — once only — years ago:

I must not say how many — but not many.

It was a July midnight; and from out

A full-orbed moon, that, like thine own soul, soaring,

Sought a precipitant pathway up through heaven,

There fell a silvery-silken veil of light,

With quietude, and sultriness, and slumber,

Upon the upturn’d faces of a thousand

Roses that grew in an enchanted garden,

Where no wind dared to stir, unless on tip-toe —

Fell on the upturn’d faces of these roses

That gave out, in return for the love-light,

Their odorous souls in an ecstatic death —

Fell on the upturn’d faces of these roses

That smiled and died in this parterre, enchanted

By thee and by the poetry of thy presence.

 

Clad all in white, upon a violet bank

I see [[saw]] thee half reclining; while the moon

Fell on the upturn’d faces of the roses,

And on thine own, upturn’d — alas! in sorrow!

 

Was it not Fate that, on this July midnight —

Was it not Fate (whose name is also Sorrow)

That bade me pause before that garden-gate

To breathe the incense of those slumbering roses?

No footstep stirred: the hated world all slept,

Save only thee and me. I paused — I looked —

And in an instant all things disappeared.

(Ah, bear in mind this garden was enchanted!)

The pearly lustre of the moon went out:

The mossy banks and the meandering paths,

The happy flowers and the repining trees,

Were seen no more: the very roses’ odors [column 2:]

Died in the arms of the adoring airs.

All — all expired save thee — save less than thou:

Save only the divine light in thine eyes —

Save but the soul in thine uplifted eyes.

I saw but them — they were the world to me.

I saw but them — saw only them for hours —

Saw only them until the moon went down.

What wild heart-histories seemed to lie enwritten

Upon those crystalline, celestial spheres!

How dark a wo! yet how sublime a hope!

How silently serene a sea of pride!

How daring an ambition! yet how deep —

How fathomless a capacity for love!

 

But now, at length, dear Dian sank from sight,

Into a western couch of thunder-cloud,

And thou, a ghost, amid the entombing trees

Didst glide away. Only thine eyes remained.

They would not go — they never yet have gone.

Lighting my lonely pathway home that night,

They have not left me (as my hopes have) since.

They follow me — they lead me through the years.

They are my ministers — yet I their slave.

Their office is to illumine and enkindle —

My duty to be saved by their bright light

And purified in their electric fire —

And sanctified in their elysian fire.

They fill my soul with Beauty (which is Hope,)

And are far up in Heaven, the stars I kneel to

In the sad, silent watches of my night;

While even in the meridian glare of day

I see them still — two sweetly scintillant

Venuses, unextinguished by the sun!

 


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Notes:

In this poem, “Helen” is Sarah Helen Whitman. The earlier poem, also titled “To Helen,” was originally addressed to Mrs. Craig Stith Stannard.

Two lines were omitted after “No footstep stirred: the hated world all slept.” These missing lines were eventually printed by Griswold in Works (1850). In a letter of May 27, 1875, Mrs. Whitman told John H. Ingram: “The lines to Helen were first published in Graham’s Magazine in October 1848. Poe brought me the number & pointed out to me that they had left out the words, ‘Oh God, oh heaven! how my heart beats in coupling those two words’.” That portion of Mrs. Whitman’s letter is now lost, but quoted in Ingram’s letter to her of May 2, 1876 (see Miller, Poe’s Helen Remembers, p. 418). She is mistaken as to the printing have been in Graham’s Magazine and to the date, surely intending the present printing in the Union Magazine of November 1848. This issue also contains “Chant of A Soul” by Willliam Wallace (3:214-215). According to Mrs. Whitman, Poe read to her both his own poem and that of Wallace (see Mrs. Whitman to J. H. Ingram, June 16, 1876 in Miller, Poe’s Helen Remembers, p. 434-435). Unfortunately, she had apparently lost or given away the copy he gave her as she had to borrow a bound copy of the Union Magazine in 1876 to confirm her faulty memory.


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[S:1 -UM, 1848] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Poems - To Helen [Text-03]