Text: J. A. Tinnon, “Poe’s Ulalume,” Graham’s Magazine (Philadelphia, PA), February 1851, vol. XXXVIII, no. 2, pp. 120-122


[page 120, unnumbered:]





MY principal object in this article is to refer to the original ideas from which, it is conceived, this poem of the late Edgar A. Poe is elaborated. Such an investigation, probably, may not be uninteresting, to the critical at least, if it can be made to throw any light on the crucible of an intellect like that of Poe. The ratiocination which produced some of his splendid fabries would be a curious thesis for a metaphysician. To him, every impulse by which the intellect is moved, was a known quantity — a distinct character; and to bring about the intended impressions, he managed his imagery with mathematical accuracy — with the rigid consequence of a mathematical problem.

This poem, Ulalume, is in some respects a most remarkable production. This much may be inferred from the publication with which it has met — a publication extensive throughout this country, and occasional in Europe. This, too, is a good index of public opinion, although it may not be of autorial skill or absolute merit — to a very full or definite extent.

Hence, it may be conceived that there may be much more in any work of art than even this would indicate, and vice versa. This poem, as such a production, may well elicit the utmost admiration of the philologic and the poetical, and may be studied with profit. The artistic power displayed in the frame-work, in the management of the theatrical points, and in the combination of the rythm, is entirely distinguishable — clear and palpable, and any thing of the kind equal to it in effect can scarcely be imagined. The unity, too, is perfect at all points. In these particulars, and in philological finish, this poem is identified with, and referable alone to the genius of Poe. But aside from these accretions of genius, the absolute staple on which Ulalume is based, is very brief and tangible, and is not original — at least the ideas clearly suggestive of every part may be found in Byron’s “Manfred.” It is not designed by this to make a charge of plagiarism that would come within the harsher signification of that term. The suggestive points — probably only the suggestive — are in Manfred; and these are so skillfully managed, so elaborated, and in fact so changed from the use Byron made of them, as to abate but little our admiration of the poem or the genius which produced it.

We will now best proceed, probably, by giving the corresponding passages in both poems as they arise, italicizing the immediate points of reference.

First, as to Ulalume: The character introduced is a lover, filled with grief and melancholy for the dead — his lost Ulalume. On a night in October, impelled [column 2:] by these feelings, he wanders alone “by the dim lake of Auber,” or as Poe has it, “with Psyche my soul:”

It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,

In the misty mid region of Weir —

It was down by the dank turn 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.

with thought and memory so palsied with grief as to lose all sentience of time and place:

For we knew not the month was October,

And we marked not the night of the year,

We remembered not the dank tarn of Auber.

Nor the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

The idea in all this is exactly true of Manfred. He is introduced, overpowered with the same morbid feelings, and for a like cause — the dead — his, Astarte. And subsequently, driven by the same deep despair — remorse for Astarte — holding no communion but with the memory of her he loved; and the immortal spirits whom he evokes to reproach with his misery — he wanders alone among the misty crags of the Jungfrau mountain. But we may be more particular and refer even to the scenic descriptions here introduced:

Man. To be thus —

Gray-haired with anguish, like these blasted pines,

Wrecks of a single winter, barkless, branchless

The mists boil up around the glaciers; clouds

Rise curling fast beneath me, white and sulphury.

The reader will recollect that the scene here is among the central Alps, and how far the ideas suggest “My heart grew ashen and sober as the leaves that were crisped and sere,” “The misty mid region of Weir,” and “Sulphurous currents that roll down Mount Yannck [[Yannek]],” he can judge.

The next stanza of Ulalume reveals the first point, so to speak, in the poem:

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.

Herein consist the beauty and interest of the poem. The typification of the dead Ulalume by the star, Astarte, which his love imagines has come to point them, “To the Lethean peace of the skies,” — absorbed in its “beams of Hope and Beauty,” it leads them, all unawares, to her tomb — the tomb of the lost “Ulalume.” But let us see how all this is paralleled in Manfred. At the close of his evocation [page 121:] of the Spirits of the Elements in the 1st act, we have, stage directions.

(“A star is seen at the darker end of the gallery: it is stationary, and a voice is heard singing.”)

This is certainly the “star at the end of our path.”

But again, in the continuation of the same scene:

Man. I hear

Your voices, sweet and melancholy sounds,

As music on the waters; and I see

The steady aspect of a clear, large star;

But nothing more. Approach me as ye are.

Seventh Spirit. (Appearing in the shape of a beautiful female figure.) Behold!

Man. Oh, God! if it be thus, and thou

Art not a madness and a mockery,

I yet might be most happy. I will clasp thee,

And we again shall be —

And in the 2d Act, at the request of Manfred, Nemesis calls up Astarte:

(“The phantom of Astarte rises and stands in the midst.”)

It will be recollected that the Seventh Spirit, which here appears “in the shape of a female” was the Spirit of the star “at the end of the gallery” in the first instance — the star Astarte, of course — as the form which the Seventh Spirit here assumes is that of Astarte. This is precisely what Poe does, only the star, Astarte, turns out to be Ulalume — or something, if you choose — instead of Astarte. To the curious, this will probably define what Poe means, where he says he used to say to Heary B. Hirst, “Steal, dear Endymion, but be cautious and steal with an air.”

The second stanza of Ulalume from the one last quoted, is, omitting two lines:

But Psyche, uplifting her finger,

Said, “Lady, this star I mistrust —

Her pallor I strangely mistrust:”

In terror she spoke, letting 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.

In the 2d Act of Manfred, on the appearance of the Phantom of Astarte, before alluded to, Manfred exclaims:

Can this be death! there’s bloom upon her cheek!

But now I see it is no living hue,

But a strange hectic — like the unnatural red

Which Autumn plants upon the perished leaf.

It is the same! Oh God! That I should dread

To look upon the same — Astarte.

Considering the coincidence of the scene here in each poem, this is beyond a doubt, the “Pallor I strongly mistrust,” and the “In terror she spoke,” etc. I have also read a description in Buchanan Read’s “Christine,” which has left a similar impression on my mind to the idea in the latter part of this stanza, and in fact similar to “I roamed with my soul with Psyche my soul.” I have not the poem at hand, and may not quote it exactly:

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

Through 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. [column 2:]

very much like “I roamed with my soul,” and “Letting sink her wings till they trailed in the dust.”

Omitting a stanza here, before alluded to, Ulalume proceeds:

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;

’T is the vault of thy lost Ulalume!

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober

As the leaves that were crisped and scre,

As the leaves that were withering and sore,

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.

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

This misty mid region of Weir;

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

This ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

The impression made by the gloomy burial of Ulalume, here shadowed forth, is precisely similar to that made by the dim allusions to the mysterious death of Astarte. The impression only is similar. Manfred says: “I loved her, and destroyed her! ... Not with my hand, but heart — which broke her heart... I have shed blood, but not hers — and yet her blood was shed, I saw, and could not staunch it!”

And in the last Act, in reference to the same event, and the sudden remembrance of the same circumstances, we have:

Herman. I have heard thee darkly speak of an event

Which happened, hereabouts, by this same tower.

Manuel. That was a night indeed; I do remember

’T was twilight, as it may he now, and such

Another evening! Yon red cloud which rests

On Eigher’s pinnacle, so rested then

So like that it might be the same. ...

Count Manfred was, as now, within his tower —

How occupied we knew not, but with him

The sole companion of his wanderings

And watchings — her, whom of all earthly things

That lived the only thing he seemed to love ...

The, Lady Astarte, his —

By this dark and almost terrible shadow in reference to Astarte, Byron intended, and has impressed, the love of Manfred on the mind with more awe and power than a more distinct drawing could have done. The relation of this idea with “I brought a dread burden down here. On this night of all nights in the year,” is peculiar, and the American poet, in regard to the power here in requisition, does not suffer in comparison with the “lord of the English lyre!”

The next and last stanza of Ulalume supposes that the Ghouls, which are fancied to inhabit that place, had, “to bar up the way,” “from the secret that lies in these wolds,” called up, as a spell, of course, this planet or star, Astarte:

Had drawn up this spectre of a planet

From the limbo of lunary souls —

This sinfully scintillant planet

From the Hell of planetary souls.

In Manfred’s evocation of the Spirits of the Elements we have a similar idea: [page 122:]

Man. By a power

Deeper than all yet urged, a tyrant spell,

Which had its birth-place in a star condemned,

The burning wreck of a demolished world,

A wandering Hell in the eternal space;

I do compel ye to my will. Appear!

And to make the coincidence more apparent, the Seventh Spirit, which here appears as a star, and afterward, Astarte, before referred to, answers this adjuration as having descended, or come from:

A wandering mass of shapeless flame,

A pathless comet, and a curse,

The menace of the universe;

Still rolling on with innate force

Without a sphere, without a course,

A bright deformity on high,

The monster of the upper sky!

The difference may be observed here, that the [column 2:] Ghouls, instead of Manfred, are supposed to “call up” the planet or star Astarte; true, but they call it up from precisely the self-same point, which, after all, is not as definitely located as might be wished; and Poe, probably, like Headley, forgetting to ask the Universe, did n’t feel quite competent to perform it himself, and therefore he put it upon the Ghouls — the “pitiful Ghouls.”

The subject of Ulalume is the same which Poe treats in “The Raven” — the death of a beautiful woman lamented by her lover, and which in his opinion, as he elsewhere informs us, is “unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world.” Lord Byron has so managed this same subject as to make Manfred, in the judgment of Lord Jeffrey, the most powerful and poetical of all his productions.



J. A. Tinnon has not been identified. There was a John Abernathy Tinnon (1822-1915) of Tennessee, who was a judge. The coincidence of his dates and name are perhaps too slight as evidence to impose the association, although it does seem that he was mostly known as “J. A. Tinnon,” and he might well have had literary interests as a young man. In a sketch of his life in Sketches of Prominent Tennesseans, ed. William S. Speer (Nashville: Albert B. Tavel, 1888), it is stated that “He has given more of his time and study to science and literature than a lawyer is generally expected to do. Shakspeare and the Bible are his favorite books, yet in other fields he is a close student” (p. 456).


[S:1 - GM, 1851] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Poe's Ulalume (J. A. Tinnon, 1851)