[Text: Frank Jocelyn, “Poe's Early Poems,” The Aldine (New York, NY), vol. 6, no. 5, May 1873, p. 101


[page 101:]



EDGAR ALLAN POE was so given to mystification (to use the mildest phrase), that any and every statement made by him, in regard to himself and his writings, should be received with caution. He made a mistake of two years in the date of his birth, and was believed; to counterbalance this, he stated correctly the place of his nativity — Boston, and was not believed. It is doubtful whether he was ever in Russia, or, indeed, anywhere on the Continent after his return from England when a child; and it is certain that he did not resign, but was expelled, from West Point. It may seem hard to, say so, but he was not to be believed. A striking instance of his untruth occurs in a Note prefixed to the section of his Poetical Works, headed “Poems Written in Youth,” which reads as follows: “Private reasons — some of which have reference to the sin of plagiarism, and others to the date of Tennyson's first poems — have induced me, after some hesitation, to republish these, the crude compositions of my earliest boyhood. They are printed verbatim, without alteration from the original edition — the date of which is too remote to be judiciously acknowledged.” With Poe's private reasons I have nothing to do, though I have my opinion about them. That he was seriously accused of plagiarism when that Note was written I have my doubts: also, that the date of Tennyson's first poems was one of the reasons which induced him to reprint his own first poems. But were they his first poems — were they, as he claimed, the crude compositions of his earliest boyhood? They were not printed till he was twenty, the date of his first volume being 1829, and the date of his second volume, which is an enlargement and reprint of this, 1831. These dates, so far from being “too remote,” were not remote enough to suit his purpose, which was to pass himself off as a youthful prodigy. But are these poems (whatever the date at which they were written) — are they really reprinted verbatim, as he wrote, the Italics being his own? They are not. The sonnet “To Science,” for example, which opens “Poems Written in Youth,” does not stand now as it did when it was first printed. The line which now reads

“Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,”

read in the first and second editions of his Poems,

“The gentle Naiad from her fountain flood?”

The concluding couplet, too, which now reads,

“The Elfin from the green grass, and from me

The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?”

read originally in both editions,

“The elfin from the green grass? and from me

The summer dream beneath the shrubbery?”

These certainly are not verbatim reprints, though they answer well enough for variorum ones. I pass “Al Aaraaf” and “Tamerlane,” which I have not compared carefully, and come to the poem entitled “Romance,” which is christened “Preface” in the first edition, and which is not reprinted without changes. It was changed materially in the second edition.


Romance, who loves to nod and sing,

With drowsy head and folded wing,

Among the green leaves as they shake

Far down within some shadowy lake,

To me a painted paroquet

Hath been — a most familiar bird —

Taught me my alphabet to say —

To lisp my very earliest word

While in the wild-wood I did lie

A child — with a most knowing eye.

Succeeding years, too wild for song,

Then roll’d like tropic storms along,

Where, tho’ the garish lights that fly

Dying along the troubled sky,

Lay bare, thro’ vistas thunder-riven,

The blackness of the general Heaven,

That very blackness yet doth fling

Light on the lightning's silver wing.

For, being an idle boy lang syne,

Who read Anacreon, and drank wine,

I early found Anacreon rhymes

Were almost passionate sometimes —

And by strange alchemy of brain

His pleasures always turn’d to pain —

His naivete to wild desire —

His wit to love — his wine to fire —

And so, being young and dipt in folly

I fell in love with melancholy,

And used to throw my earthly rest

And quiet all away in jest — [column 2:]

I could not love except when Death

Was mingling his with Beauty's breach —

Or Hymen, Time, and Destiny

Were stalking between her and me.

O, then the eternal Condor years

So shook the very Heavens on high,

With tumult as they thundered by;

I had no time for idle cares,

Thro’ gazing at the unquiet sky!

Or if an hour with calmer wing

Its down did on my spirit fling,

That little hour with lyre and rhyme

To while away — forbidden thing!

My heart half fear’d to be a crime

Unless it trembled with the string.

But now my soul hath too much room —

Gone are the glory and the gloom —

The black hath mellow’d into grey,

And all the fires are fading away.

My draught of passion hath been deep —

I revell’d, and I now would sleep —

A Succeeds the glories of the bowl —

An idle longing night and day

To dream my very life away.

But dreams — if those who dream as I,

Aspiringly, are damned, and die:

Yet should I swear I mean alone,

By notes so very shrilly blown,

To break upon Time's monotone,

While yet my vapid joy and grief

Are; tintless of the yellow leaf —

Why not an imp the greybeard hath,

Will shake his shadow in my path —

And even the greybeard will o’erlook

Connivingly my dreaming-book.

“Fairy Land” is substantially the same in the first and last editions, but much enlarged in the second.

“Sit down beside me, Isabel,

Here, dearest, where the moonbeam fell

Just now so fairy-like and well,

Now thou art dressed for paradise!

I am star-stricken with thine eyes!

My soul is lolling on thy sighs!

Thy hair is lifted by the moon

Like flowers by the low breath of June!

Sit down, sit down — how came we here?

Or is it all but a dream, my dear?

You know that most enormous flower —

That rose — that what d’ye call it — that hung

Up like a dog-star in this bower —

To-day (the wind blew, and) it swung

So impudently in my face,

So like a thing alive you know,

I tore it from its pride of place

And shook it into pieces — so

Be all ingratitude requited.

The winds ran off with it delighted,

And, thro’ the opening left, as soon

As she threw off her cloak, yon moon

Has sent a ray down with a tune.

And this ray is a fairy ray —

Did you not say so, Isabel ?

How fantastically it fell

With a spiral twist and a swell,

And over the wet grass rippled away

With a tinkling like a bell!

In my own country all the way

We can discover a moon ray

Which thro’ some tattered curtain pries

Unto the darkness of a room,

Is by (the very source of gloom)

The motes, and dust, and flies,

On which it trembles and lies,

Like joy upon sorrow!

O, when will come the morrow ?

Isabel! do you not fear

The night and the wonders here ?

Dim vales! and shadowy floods!

And cloudy-looking woods

Whose forms we can’t discover

For the tears that drip all over!

Huge moons — see! wax and wane

Again — again — again —

Every moment of the night —

Forever changing places!

How they put out the starlight

With the breath from their pale faces!

Lo! one is coming down

With its centre on the crown

Of a mountain's eminence!

Down — still down — and down —

Now deep shall be — O deep!

The passion of our sleep!

For that wide circumference

In easy drapery falls

Drowsily over halls —

Over ruin’d walls —

Over waterfalls,

(Silent waterfalls!)

O’er the strange woods — o’er the sea —

Alas! over the sea!” [column 3:]

The second volume of Poe's poems, which was dedicated to the U. S. Corps of Cadets, opens with a long rambling letter, dated West Point, 1831, and addressed to “Dear B——,” who was understood by Poe's associates to mean Bulwer, the novelist. It is, I believe, the earliest specimen of Poe's prose extant, and it is curious as an indication of his critical opinions, which were not favorable to the Lake School of poets. A few paragraphs may interest his admirers:

“Against the subtleties which would make poetry a study — not a passion — it becomes the metaphysician to reason — but the poet to protest. Yet Wordsworth and Coleridge are men in years; the one imbued in contemplation from his childhood, the other a giant in intellect and learning. The diffidence, then, with which I venture to dispute their authority would be overwhelming, did I not feel, from the bottom of my heart, that learning has little to do with the imagination — intellect with the passions — or age with poetry.

‘Trifles, like straws, upon the surface show,

He who would search for pearls must dive below,’

are lines which have done much mischief. As regards the greater truths, men oftener err by seeking them at the bottom than at the top; the depth lies in the huge abysses where wisdom is sought, not in the palpable palaces where she is found. The ancients were not always right in hiding the goddess in a well: witness the light which Bacon has thrown upon philosophy; witness the principles of our divine faith — that moral mechanism by which the simplicity of a child may overbalance the wisdom of a man.

“Poetry, above all things, is a beautiful painting, whose tints, to minute inspection, are confusion worse confounded, but start boldly out to the cursory glance of the connoisseur.

“We see an instance of Coleridge's liability to err in his ‘Biographia Litteraria’ — professedly his literary life and opinions, but, in fact, a treatise de omni scibili et quibusdam aliis. He goes wrong by reason of his very profundity, and of his error we have a natural type in the contemplation of a star. He who regards it directly and intently sees, it is true, the star, but it is the star without a ray — while he who surveys it less inquisitively is conscious of all for which the star is useful to us below — its brilliancy and its beauty.

“As to Wordsworth, I have no faith in him. That he had, in youth, the feelings of a poet, I believe — for there are glimpses of extreme delicacy in his writings — (and delicacy is the poet's own kingdom — his El Dorado) — but they have the appearance of a better day recollected; and glimpses, at best, are little evidence of present poetic fire — we know that a few straggling flowers spring up daily in the crevices of the Avalanche.

“He was to blame for wearing away his youth in contemplation with the end of poetizing in his manhood. With the increase of his judgment the light which should make it apparent has faded away. His judgment, consequently, is too correct. This may not be understood, but the old Goths of Germany would have understood it, who used to debate matters of importance to their State twice, once when drunk, and once when sober — sober, that they might not be deficient in formality — drunk, lest they should be destitute of vigor.”

He concluded “this long rigmarole,” as he called it, with the following statement of his poetic faith: “A poem, in my opinion, is opposed to a work of science, by having, for its immediate object, pleasure, not truth; to romance, by having for its object an indefinite instead of a definite pleasure, being a poem only so far as this object is attained: romance presenting perceptible images with definite, poetry with indefinite sensations, to which end music is an essential, since the comprehension of sweet sound is our most indefinite conception. Music, when combined with a pleasurable idea, is. poetry; music without the idea is simply music; the idea without the music is prose from its very definiteness.”

I have quoted enough from Poe's early poems to show that he did not reprint them verbatim, as he pretended; in fact, that he did not reprint them at all. I might quote others which he has entirely omitted from his collected works — and may do so in a future paper — but I have quoted enough to satisfy his warmest admirers that no statement of his can be depended on. It is a pity; for when we discover that a writer fibs — but as the spirit of Mrs. Opie appears to guide my pen, I will write no more.

Frank Jocelyn.





[S:0 - TANY, 1873] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Poe's Early Poems (F. Jocelyn, 1873)