Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. T. O. Mabbott), “Fairy-Land [I],” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. I: Poems (1969), pp. 138-142 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 138:]


In “A Few Words About Brainard,” in Graham's for February 1842, Poe has a passage that may be given as his comment on his own “Fairyland.” In this article, he puts forth a theory of the relations of poetry and humor. Both occasionally use rhyme, for different reasons. But he says that one “branch of humor ... blends so happily with the ideal,” that the combination is legitimate poetry. “We allude to what is termed ‘archness’ — a trait with which popular feeling, which is unfailingly poetic, has invested ... the whole character of the fairy.”

This poem is pure fantasy, in a vein of arch humor, about fairies using tents of moonglow. Poe gave line 33 a footnote in 1829: “Plagiarism — see the works of Thomas Moore — passim.” That suggests that he was consciously plagiarizing something in Moore, and Killis Campbell (Poems, p. 197) refers to Lalla Rookh for a description of Shadukiam in Jinnistan:

... that City of Delight

In Fairyland, whose streets and towers

Are made of gems and light and flowers; ...

Such miracles and dazzling sights,

As Genii of the Sun behold,

At evening, from their tents of gold

Upon th’ horizon — where they play

Till twilight comes, and, ray by ray,

Their sunny mansions melt away.

This may have partly inspired Poe, but he hardly plagiarized anything here. Actually I think his footnote applies only to the similes: “Like almost anything / Or a yellow albatross.” The joke is that Moore compared anything to almost anything else, real or unreal. The very name of the albatross implies what is true of all the species; they are black and white. Nothing is more unreal than a yellow one! [page 139:]

How successful Poe was in his poem is a matter of opinion. N. P. Willis of the American Monthly not only rejected the piece in 1829 but boasted of burning the manuscript. But John Neal, editor of The Yankee, admired it, calling it “though nonsense, rather exquisite nonsense.” Woodberry (Life, I, 65) says appreciatively that it is the only poem of 1829 bearing the mark of Poe's originality, and that the “unique character in this imagery ... makes it linger in the memory.” Frances Winwar (The Haunted Palace, p. 116) praises the poem's “lightness and whimsicality ... the eeriness of the fantasy and the variation in the music,” and greets it “as much with delight as surprise.” Wilbur (Poe, p. 132), says it reflects “Poe's most successful lighter moments,” and that the self-mockery enhances rather than endangers “the lyrical charm.” Edward H. Davidson, Poe; A Critical Study (1957), pp. 30-31, sees in the piece an apocalyptic vision, but there is no terrible element in any version of the poem.

A few lines of the poem were quoted by John Neal in a note “To Correspondents” in The Yankee for September 1829, and N. P. Willis quoted a few lines in his note on bad poetry in the American Monthly for November, but the first complete version — the basis for all save one that Poe later printed — appeared in Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems (1829), near the end of the year. Poe altered some lines and added considerably to the original text for Poems (1831), making virtually a new poem of it, but he did not retain the new material in subsequent printings.

In Burton's Gentleman's Magazine of August 1839 Poe had a note: “The Fairyland of our correspondent is not orthodox. His description differs from all received accounts of the country — but our readers will pardon the extravagance for the vigor of the delineation.”


(A) The Yankee and Boston Literary Gazette, September 1829 (lines 1-4, 19-28); (B) American Monthly Magazine, November 1829 (lines 35-38); (C) Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems (1829), pp. 69-71; (D) review from an unidentified Baltimore paper, 1829 or 1830, reprinted in Virginia Cavalcade, Summer 1955, p. 7 (lines 1-28); (E) Poems (1831), pp. 57-58. included in “Fairy Land” [II]; (F) Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, August 1839 (5:70); (G) Herring copy of Al Aaraaf ... with revisions of 1845; (H) The Raven [page 140:] and Other Poems (1845), pp. 85-86; (J) Broadway Journal, October 4, 1845 (2:193-194); (K) Works (1850), II, 107-108.

Since the extract (D) has a reading in line 13 that was adopted in Poe's latest texts, the unknown reviewer presumably used a copy of Poe's volume (C) with an author's change. My text is from Poe's volume of 1845 (H), which is like Griswold's (K). The Broadway Journal form (J) was printed after Poe's book appeared, but in line 12 retains “filmy” in italics from older texts C and F.

[page 141, continued:]


Title:  Heaven (A); none (B); Fairyland (C, F, J)

7  Every / Ev’ry (C, F)

13  kind / sort (C, F, changed in D and G)

20  over halls / and rich halls (C, F)

23-24  O’er spirits on the wing

O’er every drowsy thing (A)

33-34  Canceled in G but retained in H, J, K

33  Footnote: Plagiarism — see the works of Thomas Moore — passim — Edr. (C, canceled in G)

44  Never-contented / The unbelieving (C, F)

[page 141, continued:]


1-4  These lines are used with slight changes in “Dream-Land,” lines 9-12.

1-2  Compare with this Andrew Marvell, “Upon Appleton House,” lines 79-80: “In fragrant gardens, shady woods, / Deep meadows, and transparent floods,” and “hollow vales and hanging woods” in the thirty-eighth chapter of Gilbert White's Natural History ... of Selborne (1789).

10  Probably this echoes King Henry IV, Part I, I, iii, 202: “To pluck bright honour from the pale-faced moon.”

16-17  Compare “Tamerlane,” line 139: “on the crown of a high mountain,” and “Serenade,” line 12: “on the spectral mountain's crown.”

35-38  Lucretius, De rerum natura, V, 731-736, refers to an old notion that [page 142:] a moon was created and destroyed each day. “It seems wasteful to use a perfectly good moon only once,” says Richard Wilbur in his Poe (1959), p. 132.

41f.  Compare Midsummer Night's Dream, III, i, 175-176: “Go pluck the wings from painted butterflies, / To fan the moonbeams from his sleeping eyes.” The Greeks portrayed the soul as a butterfly; they had one name for both: “psyche,” to which Poe has a reference in “How to Write a Blackwood Article.” Floyd Stovall is probably right in saying that the butterflies symbolize artists, who, “seeking heaven, catch on their wings fragments of those dissolving moons which, settling over earth at night, transform its daylight reality to a fairyland of beauty.” See Studies in English, no. 11 (University of Texas Bulletin, 1953), p. 59.





[S:1 - TOM1P, 1969] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions-The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (T. O. Mabbott) (Fairy-Land [I])