Text: Henry B. Hirst (???), “Poe’s Last Poem,” Philadelphia Saturday Courier (Philadelphia, PA), January 22, 1848, p. 3?, cols 2-3


[page 3, column 2, continued:]


Original Review for the Philadelphia Saturday Courier.



We copy the following poem, partly, because Willis has called attention to it, but principally, because we have a word or two to say in relation to Edgar A. Poe, who is undoubtedly its author. No other American poet, in the first place, has the same command of language and power of versification: it is in no one else’s vein — it is too charnel in its nature; while Mr. Poe is especially at home in pieces of a sepulchral character. “Ulalume” is a continuation of the same Golgothian idiosyncrasy that produced the “Conqueror Worm,” the “Fall of the House of Usher,” “Ligeia,” “Berenice,” the revivification of Monsieur Valdemar, and others of the same genus. — We pity the man who can write such things, and, while we wonder at the artistic talent displayed by Mr. Poe in the working up of his repulsive subjects, — a wonder which it is his sole object to create, we remember his story or poem precisely as we would recall a cancer or tumor under which we had suffered, with feelings of absolute pain, terror and horror, if not disgust. There was a time when we considered [column 3:] Poe a man of genius, a very pardonable because natural mistake, and one, moreover, into which the larger mass of his readers have fallen. He is a man of great talent — wonderful talent — wonderful powers of ratiocination, nothing more, and withal not at all original. In short we question if he ever produced an entirely original article: indeed, he admits, we have understood, quite as much himself.

Let us look into “Ulalume;” and first as to the plot. The hero, Mr. Poe, (he always tells his story in the first person,) is a lover or husband who has lost his mistress by death, and on a night in October, accompanied by a female, entitled Psyche, or in other words, his own soul, wanders at night,

Down by the dark tarn of Auber,

In the ghoul haunted woodland of Weir,

so absorbed in morbid speculation as not to remember the spot, and indeed having lost all sentience of time. A star arises ahead of him, Astarte, another title for Venus, which urges him on until he arrives at the door of a legended tomb. He asks of himself, or, to carry out Mr. Poe’s peculiar manner, of his companion, Psyche:

What is written, sweet sister,

On the door of this legended tomb?

to which she relies:

“Ulalume — Ulalume —

’Tis the vault of thy lost Ulalume.”

The hero suddenly remembers that on the same night in the preceding year, in the month of October, through the same misty landscape, he had born the dead Ulalume to lay her in that legended tomb, and imagines that the Ghouls, who, he fancies, inhabit that region, have called up the spectre of a star, or in other words, the memory of his love for Ulalume, to prevent him from trespassing further on their haunts. The action of the lover in the poem, is intended to be entirely mechanical, and his soul filled with a morbid grief for the dead, impels him to her grave, there to dwell upon the Past. The typification of his love by the star, Astarte, is a fine touch of art, perhaps the finest in the poem, which is not altogether so remarkable for its epicureanism of language as Willis seems to think it. Neither is it so very perfect in its versification.

We noted not the dim lake of Auber —

We remembered not the dank tarn of Auber, —

are defective verses, containing feet which exist in no living language; discords which, although under other circumstances allowable, in this case are radically wrong. The poem contains other lines still more defective, which no one, not even Poe himself, can read harmoniously.

“The limbo of lunary souls,”

embodies a very funny, not to say ridiculous idea, but it is Mr. Poe’s peculiarity to carry the sombre to the very verge of the grotesque. In this case he has stepped beyond it. “Ulalume,” in a few words, despite Mr. Willis’ opinion, is versification in a state of hydrophobia, and we hope that unlike Southey’s “Doctor,” it may not prove the forerunner of an approaching madness in its talented author. It certain borders on the queer.

Perhaps the best proof of Mr. Poe’s general want of originality is the poem before us, whose leading idea is taken from T. Buchanan Read’s “Christine.”

Then my weary soul went from me, and it walks the world alone,

Over a wide and brazen desert, in a hot and brazen zone.

There it walked and trailed its pinions — slowly trailed them in the sands,

With its hopeless eyes uplifted, and its hopeless folded hands.

Here is Mr. Poe’s Psyche, here is his desert — his “misty, mid-region of Weir;” his soul

* * * * Letting sink her

Wings till they trailed in the dust —

In agony sobbed, letting sink her

Plumes till they trailed in the dust —

Till they sorrowfully trailed in the dust.

and, if it is necessary to carry out the proof of the plagiarism still further, turning to the fourth line of Christine from that last quoted, in the continuation of the same scene —

Lay an old and desolate ocean, with a dead and glassy stare, —

Mr. Poe’s “dank tarn of Auber” beyond a doubt. — But this is not all. We have spoken of the mystical appearance of Astarte as a fine touch of art. This is also borrowed, and from the first canto of Hirst’s Endymion, published years since in the “Southern Literary Messenger” —

“Slowly Endymion bent, the light Elysian

Flooding his figure. Kneeling on one knee,

He loosed his sandals, lea

And lake and woodland glittering on his vision,

A fairy landscape, bright and beautiful,

With Venus at her full.”

Astarte is another name for Venus, and when we remember that Diana is about to descent to Endymion — that the scene which is about to follow is one of love — that Venus is the star of love, and that Hirst, by introducing it as he does, shadows out his story exactly as Mr. Poe introduces his Astarte, the plagiarism of the idea becomes evident.


The skies they were ashen and sober;

The leaves they were crisped and sere —

The leaves they were withering and sere;

It was night in the lonesome October

Of my most immemorial year;

It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,

In the misty mid region of Weir —

It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,

In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

Here once, through an alley Titanic,

Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul —

Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul.

These were days when my heart was volcanic

As the scoriac rivers that roll —

As the lavas that restlessly roll

Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek

In the ultimate climes of the pole —

That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek

In the realms of the boreal pole.

Our talk had been serious and sober,

But our thoughts they were palsied and sere —

Our memories were treacherous and sere —

For we knew not the month was October,

And we marked not the night of the year —

(Ah, night of all nights in the year!)

We noted not the dim lake of Auber —

(Though once we had journeyed down here) —

We remembered not the dank tarn of Auber,

Nor the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

And now, as the night was senescent

And star-dials pointed to morn —

As the star-dials hinted of morn —

At the end of our path a liquescent

And nebulous lustre was born. [[,]]

Out of which a miraculous crescent

Arose with a duplicate horn —

Astarte’s bediamonded crescent

Distinct with its duplicate horn.

And I said — “She is warmer than Dian:

She rolls through an ether of sighs —

She revels in a region of sighs:

She has seen that the tears are not dry on

These cheeks, where the worm never dies,

And has come past the stars of the Lion

To point us the path to the skies —

To the Lethean peace of the skies —

Come up, in despite of the Lion,

To shine on us with her bright eyes —

Come up through the lair of the Lion,

With Love in her luminous eyes.”

But Psyche, uplifting her finger,

Said — “Sadly this star I mistrust —

Her pallor I strangely mistrust: —

Oh, hasten! — oh, let us not linger!

Oh, fly! — let us fly! — for we must.”

In terror she spoke, letting sink her

Wings till they trailed in the dust —

In agony sobbed, letting sink her

Plumes till they trailed in the dust —

Till they sorrowfully trailed in the dust.

I replied — “This is nothing but dreaming:

Let us on by this tremulous light!

Let us bathe in this crystalline light!

Its Sybilic splendor is beaming

With Hope and in Beauty to-night: —

See! — it flickers up the sky through the night!

Ah, we safely may trust to its gleaming,

And be sure it will lead us aright —

We safely may trust to a gleaming

That cannot but guide us aright,

Since it flickers up to Heaven through the night.”

Thus I pacified Psyche and kissed her,

And tempted her out of her gloom —

And conquered her scruples and gloom;

And we passed to the end of the vista,

And were stopped by the door of a tomb —

By the door of a legended tomb;

And I said — “What is written, sweet sister,

On the door of this legended tomb?”

She replied — “Ulalume — Ulalume —

’Tis the vault of thy lost Ulalume!”

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober

As the leaves that were crisped and sere —

As the leaves that were withering and sere,

And I cried — “It was surely October

On this very night of last year

That I journeyed — I journeyed down here —

That I brought a dread burden down here —

On this night of all nights in the year,

Oh, what demon has tempted me here?

Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber —

This misty mid region of Weir —

Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber,

In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”

Said we, then — the two, then —” Ah, can it

Have been that the woodlandish ghouls —

The pitiful, the merciful ghouls —

To bar up our way and to ban it

From the secret that lies in these wolds —

From the thing that lies hidden in these wolds —

Had drawn up the spectre of a planet

From the limbo of lunary souls —

This sinfully scintillant planet

From the Hell of the planetary souls?”



Although it is unsigned, the present article is presumably by Henry Beck Hirst, and may be a reflection or a cause of the personal rift that formed between Poe and Hirst about this time.


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