Text: John Hill Hewitt, [Review of Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems, Minerva and Emerald (Baltimore, MD), about January 1830


For the Baltimore Minerva and Emerald.


There is something in these poems so original, that we cannot help introducing them to the public, as a literary curiosity, full of burning thoughts, which so charm the reader, that he forgets he is travelling over a pile of brick-bats, for such we must compare the measure to. — The author will pardon us, if we claim his bantlings as our own — paid for, not by downright cash, but by the strength of our credit; consequently, we have a right to do what we please with them. It is said that poetry is the gift of nature; if so, we will venture to say she hesitated in imparting to the author of Al Aaraaf, &c. that portion of inspiration essential to the formation of a poet of common order; we love to foster young budding genius, to place modest merit in the beams of the sun of glory, and to befriend the productions of those whom nature intended to be an honor to the literary character of our country. We have great reason for fearing that Al Aaraaf will not add a single radiant to our diadem.

The author, after his dedication, which amounts to this —

Who drinks deepest? — here's to him;

Seems to liken himself to a transitory star. “A star was discovered by Tycho Brahe, which burst forth, in a moment, with splendor surpassing that of Jupiter — then gradually faded away, and became invisible to the naked eye.” In one sense, an apt quotation, indicative of the transitory glory of the poems which follow.

“Al Aaraaf” is the title of the leading poem — of its object we have yet to be informed; for all our brain-cudgelling could not compel us to understand it line by line or the sum total — perchance, and we think we have hit it, it alludes to the text quoted above, concerning the falling star. We shall leave the plot in its obscurity, and take the poetry into consideration. On page seventeen, we learn the color of a smell in the following line:

“And thy most lovely purple perfume, Zante!”

Again, on page twenty, we learn that sound has form and body, from its throwing a shadow:

“Flap shadowy sounds from visionary wings” —

Concerning the various hues of the atmosphere, we have lived to learn that a decomposition of blue will produce almost all the colors of the rainbow:

“And the red winds were withering in the sky;”

“With all thy train, athwart the moony sky” —

“Uprose the maiden in the yellow night,”

“Of molten stars their pavement, such as fall

“Through the ebon air,”

“A window of one circular diamond, there,

Look'd out above into the purple air.”

“Witness the murmur of the grey twilight.”

But we will allow Al Aaraaf to rest, after having quoted a stanza or two from “the charm the maiden sung.” The author deserves a premium from John Neal, for inventing rhymes:

“Till they glance thro’ the shade, and

Come down to your brow,

Like — eyes of the maiden

Who calls on you now” —

* * * *

“Ligeria! Ligeria!

My beautiful one!

Whose harshest idea

Will to melody run.”

“Tamerlane.” — This poem is dedicated to John Neal — the author has thus wisely secured the favor of “the mustard pot;” no danger from that quarter. Let us see — egad! it improves on acquaintance; its faults are so few and so trifling, that they may be passed over.

We now turn to the miscellaneous poems contained in the volume; which, if they cannot be called beautiful, possess, at least, a share of originality. Not liking to disjoint the verses “To — ” we present them to our readers entire:

Should my early life seem,

[As well it might,] a dream;

Yet I build no faith upon

The king Napoleon;

I look not up afar

For my destiny in a star.

In parting from you now

Thus much I will avow —

There are beings, and have been

Whom my spirit had not seen

Had I let them pass me by

With a dreaming eye;

If my peace hath fled away

In a night, or in a day;

In a vision, or in none;

Is it therefore the less gone?

I am standing ‘mid the roar

Of a weather-beaten shore,

And I hold within my hand

Some particles of sand;

How few! and how they creep

Through my fingers to the deep!

My early hopes? no — they

Went gloriously away,

Like lightning from the sky

At once — and so will I.

So young? ah! no — not now —

Thou hast not seen my brow,

But they tell thee I am proud;

They lie — they lie aloud —

My bosom beats with shame

As the paltriness of name

With which they dare combine

A feeling such as mine —

Nor Stoic? I am not:

In the terror of my lot

I laugh to think how poor

That pleasure “to endure!”

What! shade of Zeno — I!

Endure! — no — no — defy.

From the lines “To M—,” we make the following choice extracts:

“I heed not that the desolate,

Are happier, sweet, than I;

But that you meddle with my fate

Who am a passer-by.

It is not that my founts of bliss

Are gushing — strange! with tears —

Or that the thrill of a single kiss,

Hath palsied many years. (!)

* * * *

Nor that the grass — O! may it thrive!

On my grave is growing or grown;

But that, while I am dead yet alive

I cannot be, lady, alone.”

The dead alive! Has the poet been struck with the numb palsy? We believe not; for then it might only be said, that the poor fellow had but ‘one foot in the grave,’ where, as it appears by the above, that he has gone the whole ——————, and fairly kicked the bucket, still possessing the full enjoyment of his faculties. We have done with the book; what more is to be done remains with the public.




This review has been known since 1877, from Hewitt' Shadows on the Wall, which included some excerpts.

The present transcript was first printed by Richard Barkdale Harwell in Recollections of Poe by John Hill Hewitt, Atlanta, GA: The Library of Emory University, 1949. An earlier reprinting was done by Vincent Starett, “A Poe Mystery Uncovered: the Lost Minerva Review of Al Aaraaf,” Saturday Review of Literature, vol. XXVI, no. 18 (New York, NY), September 1, 1943, pp. 4-5. Starett's text was printed from what he characterized as a manuscript of the review, while Harwell considered it to have been a copy “somewhat inexactly transcribed by Hewitt late in life” (p. 8). A few portions were printed by Hewitt in his own Shadows on the Wall; or, Glimpses of the Past, a Retrospect of the Past Fifty Years, Baltimore: Turnbull Brothers, 1877. Harwell's text is taken from a clipping in a scrapbook in the Hewitt Collection of the Emory University Library. Unfortunately, the clipping is also undated, so the date must still be assigned only as probable.


[S:0 - LMLG, 1830] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Notice of Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems (John Hill Hewitt, 1830)