Text: Burton R. Pollin, “The ‘Sonnet to Zante’; Sources and Associations,” Discoveries in Poe, 1970, pp. 91-106 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 91:]



AMONG THE CURIOUS medley of references in Poe's Al Aaraaf of 1829 is one to the name of the island of Zante:

And thy most lovely purple perfume, Zante!

Isola d’oro! — Fior di Levante! —(1)

More mystifying is Poe's use of the name as the germ of his entire “Sonnet to Zante” in the Southern Literary Messenger of January, 1837. In this the last couplet is almost identical with that in Al Aaraaf, save for the first phrase, which emphasizes the flowery nature of the island and the alleged source of its name:

Fair isle, that from the fairest of all flowers

Thy gentlest of all gentle names dost take!

How many memories of what radiant hours

At sight of thee and thine at once awake!

How many scenes of what departed bliss!

How many thoughts of what entombed hopes!

How many visions of a maiden that is

No more — no more upon thy verdant slopes!

No more! alas, that magical sad sound

Transforming all! Thy charms shall please no more —

Thy memory no more! Accursed ground

Henceforth I hold thy flower-enamelled shore,

O hyacinthine isle! O purple Zante!

“Isola d’oro! Fior di Levante!”(2)

The use of quotation marks is also noteworthy. We may infer Poe's partiality to the poem from his causing it to be printed [page 91:] four more times(3) and his copying it out twice, once for Richard H. Stoddard(4) and once in an incomplete article, called “A Reviewer Reviewed” and left in manuscript.(5) Not only does the prominence of the Italian name of the island in Poe's poem seem strange; there is also a teasing quality in the pattern of his phrases, such as “entombed hopes” and “no more,” and in the images, such as “a maiden” upon “verdant slopes.”(6) Rarely, however, has the poem been singled out for special mention and never for special study.(7) I suggest that an inquiry into its three major literary sources and into two minor influences (Isaac Disraeli and John Hewitt) may help to place the Zante sonnet in the total development of Poe's poetry and thought and may explain a little the strange effect of the poem upon its readers. Of the three sources — Byron, Chateaubriand, and Keats — only the second has been considered at all by critics.

First, consider the associations that the Ionian island of Zante would have for an educated young man in the 1820's. Lempriere lists several allusions by classical writers to the island of Zacynthos, to give it the name by which it was known to Homer, Vergil, Ovid, and Pliny.(8) The first two call it “woody,” and Ovid calls it “high”; both of these adjectives may explain Poe's “verdant slopes.” His familiarity with these three authors would have given him only a subliminal awareness of the island, the Italian name of which dates from its domination by medieval Italian overlords and, from 1482, by Venice. It formed part of the Heptanesus or “Seven Islands,” with Corfu, Cephalonia, Santa Maura, Ithaca, Cythera (Cerigo), and Paxos. Most of these names arouse echoes of Greek mythology and history. The current history, for Poe, included their being taken from France, 1809-1815, to be held by England through the Treaty of Paris. In 1829 Poe's interest in the Heptanesus appears in his lines in Al Aaraaf on “lilies such as rear the head / On the fair Capo Deucato” (p. 15). Poe's footnote calls this island “Santa Maura — olim Deucadia.” As Leucadia, a name derived from the white appearance of its rocks, it is well known for Sappho's famous leap, indicated in [page 93:] another of Poe's footnotes. His reference to “Deucadia” is a pardonable misconception, derived from Capo Ducato, the modern Italian name for the 2,000-foot cliff at the southern tip.(9)

The transformation of another name in Al Aaraaf illustrates Poe's awareness of classical literature and its Greek background at the time. “Zanthe” occurs in Part II as one of the angelic figures inhabiting the mystical, starry region of the poem:

She paus’d and panted, Zanthe! all beneath! —

The fairy light that kiss’d her golden hair

And long’d to rest, yet could but sparkle there!(10)

It seems evident from the context that Poe is using a name suggested by the Homeric word for “yellow,” xanthos,(11) with a change of x to z, a phonic influence carried over from the earlier Zante.(12) Another reason for inferring Poe's preoccupation with the Greek background here is his inclusion of a trio of associated names, all Nereids, as George H. Green has pointed out,(13) and probably derived from Vergil's fourth Georgic, which mentions several including Ligea (Al Aaraaf, p. 30), Nesaea (Al Aaraaf, pp. 14, 18, and 27 — “Nesace”), and Xantho.(14)

Whatever the connection in Poe's mind between Zante and other names, it cannot be doubted that in both Al Aaraaf and the “Sonnet to Zante” Greece played an important role and was “Holy Land” as he calls it in “To Helen” of 1831.(15) In Al Aaraaf are references to “hills Achaian,”(16) “Capo Deucato,” “Parian marble,” “Lemnos,” and the “Parthenon” (pp. 14, 15, 25, 35, 36). In the sonnet the Greek island itself forms the theme. For a most significant clue to Poe's concern we must remember Lord Byron's death in 1824 at Missolonghi, located directly opposite the island of Zante — a death which seemed to be a sacrifice to the cause of Greek freedom. This had been so appealing to Poe that he tried to create the legend of his enlisting in the Greek revolutionary effort, via the autobiographical fragment that he left to Griswold: “Mr. A refused to pay some of the debts of honor, and I ran away from home [page 94:] without a dollar on a quixotic expedition to join the Greeks, then struggling for liberty. Failed in reaching Greece, but made my way to St. Petersburgh, in Russia.”(17) The fantastic tale clearly shows the direction of Poe's mind in 1827 when he left the University of Virginia.(18) As Stoddard aptly wrote concerning Poe's fantasy: “Byron had done so, and had died at Missolonghi two or three years before and public honours had been decreed to his memory. Campbell was shouting, ‘Again to the battle, Achaians,’ and Halleck was raising a monument to Marco Bozzaris in his martial verse.”(19) Zante was a name inextricably linked with Byron's in the minds of his fervid admirers, including Poe, at the University.(20) On the walls and ceilings of his room, number 13, West Range, Poe had copied out, in charcoal, many engravings from an illustrated volume of Byron's works.(21) It is reasonable to assume, as does Hervey Allen, that many of the notes and lines of Al Aaraaf were conceived at this time when Poe had available both a library and leisure time.(22)

It is relevant to indicate briefly the extent to which Zante entered into the Byronic legend. Zante, one of the earliest of the Ionian Islands to be brought under British control, was the seat of a British Resident. Byron discussed this control in a long note, entitled “Thoughts on the Present State of Greece,” which was appended to Part I of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Rather prophetically he wrote: “The islanders look to the English for succour, as they have very lately possessed themselves of the Ionian republic, Corfu excepted. But whoever appears with arms in their hands will be welcome.”(23) More specifically, he was to know the island of Zacynthos or Zante with its good harbor, fertile soil, and strategic position. Most of the 277 square miles were highly cultivated, and the crops included a dwarf vine whose “currants” (from Corinth) are excellent for wine or when preserved; hence Poe's adjective “purple,” unless he means to apply it only to the hyacinth flower, which is indeed profuse on the island. Poe's reference to “verdant slopes” is also borne out by the ridge of low hills on the eastern [page 95:] part of the island which are covered by a rich growth of subtropical plants and trees and justify the “nemorosa” or “wooded” of Homer and Vergil.

Poe's awareness of the nature and appearance of the island may have arisen also from allusions in the accounts of Byron's life and death. In 1823 Byron had left for Greece, intending to establish his first headquarters on Zante before direct participation in the obscure, confused situation on the mainland of the Morea. He sought information of Marco Bozzaris, fighting north of Missolonghi, with his Suliotes. In August, Byron located himself on Cephalonia because the Resident there was reputed to be friendlier to the Greek cause than was Sir Frederick Stoven, Resident at Zante. On December 29, 1823, he finally sailed directly to the south, arriving the next day at the main city of Zante to transact financial matters before proceeding to his last home, at Missolonghi.(24) His little villa there was close to a rock commanding a view of Zante and the surrounding Ionian Sea.(25) In a slight rally during his mortal illness, April 11-43, 1824, Byron planned to leave Missolonghi with his household for Zante, but was prevented by a sudden sirocco.(26) After his death on April 19, most of Greece mourned for its great benefactor. On April 25 his body, in a sealed coffin, was transported to Zante, where it arrived to a mournful salute of guns and remained for almost the whole of May. On the 25th Byron's body was put aboard the Florida for the trip to England. Perhaps even in Poe's Italian phrase fior di Levante, derived of course from other sources, lies a trace of this carrier's name. Details of Byron's life and death were available to Poe in the current accounts of the 1820's and also in Moore's editions (1832, 1835) of Byron's works.(27) The students at the University of Virginia most probably circulated copies of these memoirs.

Poe did not merely revere Byron as a guide in literature and in reckless behavior; he sometimes felt himself to be almost an avatar of Byron. His comparison of his swimming prowess with Byron's is an indication of this.(28) More to the point, with [page 96:] regard to the Zante sonnet, is his general comparison of his youthful frustrated passion for Sarah Elmira Royster, in Richmond before he left for college, with Byron's unrequited love for Mary Chaworth, immortalized in “The Dream.”(29) Killis Campbell is firm about the application of the Zante sonnet to Poe's broken romance, especially since it was first published in 1837, perhaps in token of his leaving the city of Richmond.(30) In addition, Campbell claims a like relevance for “To One in Paradise” and “I saw thee on thy bridal day ... ” to the marriage of the seventeen-year-old Sarah Elmira to the wealthy Mr. Shelton, Poe's letters to her having been intercepted by her father.(31) Poe's full knowledge of Byron's youthful passion is shown in his piece on “Byron and Miss Chaworth,” in which he says that in her very name there seemed to exist an “enchantment.”(32) She was “the incarnation of the ideal that haunted the fancy of the poet” and “the Egeria of his dreams — the Venus Aphrodite that sprang, in full and supernal loveliness, from the bright foam upon the storm-tormented ocean of his thoughts.” We are here reminded of the lines in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage: “Egeria! sweet creation of some heart / Which found no mortal resting place so fair / As thine ideal breast.” Most telling, perhaps, is a fact that I have not seen mentioned — that in “Ligeia” Poe names the second bride, Lady Rowena Trevanion of Tremaine, after Byron's charming and intelligent grandmother, Sophia Trevanion.(33)

I have alluded to Poe's fantasy of having gone off like Byron to fight for Greek independence. A link here is provided directly with Halleck, since we know that Poe had asked the eminent author of “Marco Bozzaris” to contribute to the Southern Literary Messenger in June, 1836. In March, 1837, he had attended a booksellers’ dinner with Halleck in New York.(34) The continuing relationship with Halleck needs no underscoring; I shall mention only Poe's review of Halleck's “Alnwick Castle, with Other Poems,” in the Messenger of April, 1836, a year before the Zante sonnet.(35) While his praise there of “Marco Bozzaris” is tempered, he commends its “lyrical” [page 97:] beauty and its “force” and gives extensive quotations. Byron had paid tribute to the Suliotes exiled from Albania in Childe Harold and lamented the death of Bozzaris battling against the Turks in the mountains of Acamania above Missolonghi, on August 21, 1823.(36) Pietro Gamba gives the affecting account of the burial of part of Byron's remains, vouchsafed to the Greeks, in the church of St. Nicholas at Missolonghi, next to the remains of Marco Bozzaris.(37) Not only through his poem on Bozzaris did Halleck arouse Byronic associations, as Poe's review indicates.(38) In 1832 Halleck had published a 700-page edition of the Works of Lord Byron, in Verse and Prose, including His Letters and Journals, with a Sketch of His Life.

Early and thoroughly Poe absorbed the style, themes, moods, and attitudes of Byron's poetry into his own work. In the 1827 version of Tamerlane, Tamerlane speaks of himself as “Alexis” and of his love as “Ada,”(39) a name in Byron's family which came to supersede Augusta as the first name of Byron's daughter.(40) In Woodberry's opinion, Tamerlane is “as clever and uninteresting an imitation of Byron as was ever printed.”(41) Byron's influence upon the early poetry as well as attitudes of Poe has received frequent comment; Quinn links Tamerlane with The Giaour, Childe Harold, and Manfred, the last of which he finds conspicuous in Al Aaraaf as well.(42) Byron's poem “To Ianthe” (Lady Charlotte Harley), which prefaces Childe Harold, is an obvious source of “Ianthe” in Al Aaraaf.(43) Still the best summary of the ever-prevalent traces of Byron in Poe's poems is Campbell's 1909 article in The Nation.(44) Poe's disavowal of “Byron as a model” in the letter of May 29, 1829, to John Allan is better proof of his awareness of that influence than of its obliteration.(45) Since the “Sonnet to Zante” was written in the 1830's, Poe's comment to Isaac Lea, in a letter of May, 1829, seems quite significant: Al Aaraaf, Poe says, “commences with a sonnet (illegitimate) as la mode de Byron in his prisoner of Chillon.”(46) In reality Byron's sonnet is in the strict Italian form,(47) while both Poe's sonnet to “Science,” prefacing Al Aaraaf, and his Zante sonnet are in the English [page 98:] form. Incidentally, the Greek ambience of the earlier sonnet is also strong in the sestet, with its allusions to Diana, Hamadryad, and Naiad.

With reference to the Zante sonnet, I suggest that the role of Zante in the funeral rites of Byron first brought the island to Poe's attention as “accursed ground” although beautiful in itself, being “hyacinthine,” “purple,” “flower-enamelled,” and golden. Perhaps continued reflection on the fancied parallel between Byron's Mary Chaworth and Poe's Sarah Elmira Royster, now Shelton, suggested the merger in one sonnet of the two themes: disappointment in love and death. This double subject, I believe, accounts for the somewhat divergent streams of emotion that flow through the sonnet: the beauty of the island, with its “entombed hopes,” and the beauty or charm of the maiden that is “no more” — at least as an unwed maiden. One might almost say, in T. S. Eliot's phrase, that Poe's deep passion has no satisfactory objective correlative in the stereotyped situation of the departed girl. It is clear that Poe wishes to avoid saying that she is “entombed.” Indeed, this is very like the poem of 1834, “To One in Paradise,” with its “green isle in the sea” allusion at the beginning, “wreathed with fairy fruits and flowers,” and with its repetition of “no more” in the second stanza. The canceled stanza which Campbell prints in his edition of the poems makes more obvious the departure of the loved one for “an unholy pillow” rather than a tomb.(48) The link with Byron is made quite definite by the fact that Poe first printed “To One in Paradise” as part of “The Visionary,” later called “The Assignation,” which is thought to be much in the Byronic manner.(49) Most conclusive is Poe's printing the poem in 1839 under the Byronic title, “To Ianthe in Heaven.”(50)

A very specific source of the last line of “Zante,” reprinted from Al Aaraaf but with quotation marks, is Chateaubriand's Itineraire de Paris a Jerusalem, et de Jerusalem a Paris (1811). This connection has been pointed out by Woodberry in his biography of Poe.(51) The French writer, one should note, is not named by Poe in any of the notes to Al Aaraaf, although [page 99:] he is taxed for several other allusions, such as the 1687 date at which the unimpaired Parthenon could still be seen.(52) I have not found any reference in Poe studies to the fact that the final line — “Isola d’orol Fior di Levanter — was not original with Chateaubriand either, as seen in his italics for both phrases: “Je souscris a ses noms d’Isola d’oro, de Fior di Levante.”(53) Emile Malakis suggests that Chateaubriand derived the first phrase from Voyage d’Italie, de Dalmatie, de Grece, et du Levant by Jacob Spon and George Wheler.(54) In the first edition of 1679, published at Amsterdam, I find, “Zante a ete autrefois appellee par Boterus l’Isle d’or.”(55) The two authors then explain the sobriquet in terms of the wealth that the cultivation of the Corinth grapes brings to the island. They do not, however, give the second phrase, used by Chateaubriand and Poe. Its common application to Zante may be seen in an 1850 work by Aubrey De Vere, Picturesque Sketches of Greece and Turkey, which says that Zante “deserves its Italian title, Tior di Levante.’ “ I might add that upon leaving Zante and gliding past Missolonghi, De Vere “thought — who would not? — of Byron.”(56)

John W. Robertson is mistaken, I believe, in thinking that the sonnet was written to embody a particular couplet that Poe was proud of having composed years before.(57) Although the Italian phrases of the last line fit well into the thought pattern of the poem and may indeed have evoked it, the line is metrically unsuitable for both Al Aaraaf and the Zante sonnet; it is only by distorting fior into two syllables that five beats can be “read into” the pentameter line.(58) I strongly suspect that Poe regularized the whole by shifting the accent of isola as well, so that it must have been intended to sound thus: Isola d’oro! Fior di Levante! The great rarity of trochaic openings in the iambic pentameter lines of Al Aaraaf and the insertion of “O” for the first syllable of the concluding couplet of the sonnet confirm Poe's mispronunciation of the Italian. Without the “O” the thirteenth line is improved and chimes more musically with the last, when correctly pronounced.

Poe's more scrupulous punctuation of the last line, in quotation [page 100:] marks, does not indicate that he is citing his own earlier use of these words; it may be that the source in Chateaubri-and's Itineraire had been pointed out or that he feared that it might be. Had he not excised from the first version of Tamerlane Byron's line “A sound of revelry by night” for a more original conclusion?(59) For Poe, with his obsessive interest in plagiarism, this was no trivial factor.

Unfortunately, Poe also borrowed from Chateaubriand the false derivation of the name of the island — from the hyacinth plant (baKtv003) rather than from Zacynthos (Zcixtv003), an error easier in the French form, jacinte, than hyacinthe.(60) I should note that Chateaubriand's mention of “nemorosa Zacynthos” may have helped to foster Poe's “verdant slopes.” He also speaks of the tradition that Zante was a refuge for political exiles, being reputedly the resting place for the “cendres de Ciceron.” This may be relevant to Poe's “entombed hopes,” and yet does not deny the impact of the more recent illustrious exile, whose bier was shown for a month on Zante.

The splendid penultimate line of Poe's sonnet bears within itself a curious origin, from Horace via Isaac Disraeli, which illustrates not only the variety of Poe's creative inspiration but also the remarkable ability of genius to profit from criticism, although sometimes most grudgingly. At the beginning of the chapter, I pointed out that the line from Al Aaraaf — “And thy most lovely purple perfume, Zante!” — had become “O hyacinthine isle! O purple Zante!” The revision greatly improves the meaning and avoids the oppressive alliteration of “purple perfume” and the monotonous gallop of iambs. The sense of the line, of course, confirms the ideas of the preceding “Accursed ground / Henceforth I hold thy flower’enamelled shore.” In reading Al Aaraaf one has to infer that Zante is an island full of purple flowers with a lovely perfume. Since hyacinth as color is purple and as flower is odoriferous, Poe's footnote in the 1829 volume (p. 17), which reads: “The Hyacinth,” seems to be adequate. Moreover, Part I of Al Aaraaf contains many references to the scent of flowers. Yet there is something [page 101:] a little odd about “purple perfume” as well as the phrase directed to Nesace, “to whose care is given / To bear the Goddess’ song, in odours, up to Heaven” (p. 17).

The explanation for the oddity might lie simply in synesthe-sia, used extensively by Poe even in this early poem. I believe, however, that it lies in a source which Poe later acknowledged using in the “Pinakidia” or “tablets” of the Messenger of August, 1836 — a title and section which Poe explains as the siftings from “a confused mass of marginal notes, and entries in a commonplace-book” (Harrison, 14.40). Earl L. Griggs traced many of the 171 paragraphs to five sources; over two dozen are attributable to Isaac Disraeli's Curiosities of Literature.(61) Obviously Poe had begun early to collect notebook or “tablet” items for his many footnotes in Al Aaraaf and for the many recondite references in his early tales.(62) Disraeli's work also provided Poe with prefatory mottoes.(63) I believe that “purple perfume” was picked up by Poe when he was leafing through the Curiosities.(64) Poe paid particular attention to the long article “Poetical Imitations and Similarities,” which includes the relevant text:

It is extremely difficult to conceive what the ancients precisely meant by the word purpureus. They seem to have designed by it any thing bright and beautiful. A classical friend has furnished me with numerous significations of this word which are very contradictory. Albinovanus, in his elegy on Livia, mentions Nivem purpureum. Catullus, Quercus ramos purpuroes. Horace, Purpureo bibet ore nectar, and somewhere mentions Olores purpureos. Virgil has Pur-puream vomit ille animam; and Homer calls the sea purple, and gives it in some other book the same epithet, when in a storm.(65)

I submit that Horace's phrase “Olores purpuroes,” standing thus alone, would be taken by most reasonably well-educated persons to mean “purple perfumes” or, according to the paragraph, “beautiful perfumes or fragrances.” Indeed, I have given the two-word phrase to three university teachers of [page 102:] Latin and elicited this sort of response in each case. Memories of olfactory or of oloroso, the Spanish word for “fragrant,” inevitably direct one's mind to this association. From this Latin phrase in Disraeli's paragraph, I think, came Poe's phrase, for even the word “lovely” is subsumed in his context.

The fact is, however, that olores is the plural form of the Latin poetic word for “swan,” the word cygnus being reserved for the commonplace, everyday, prosaic species, one might say. Olor as the Latin for “odor” is found only in ante- and post-classical periods, with the Latin word odor derived from it for regular classical use.(66) Disraeli's phrase, with modifications, is from Horace's first ode in the fourth book, in which he is addressing Venus; it is an ode which has become much more famous today than it was in Poe's time, because of Ernest Dowson's use of the opening: “Non sum qualis eram bonae / sub regno Cinarae.” The third stanza in Horace reads:

Tempestivius in domum

Paulli, purpureis ales oloribus,

Commisabere Maximi.(67)

This is rendered by Horace Gregory as

More timely hie thee to the house

(With thy bright swans) of Paulus Maximus.(68)

More literally “purpureis ales oloribus” means “winged” or “furnished with wings by means of gleaming swans.”(69) In another instance, Horace cites olores or swans as being the motive power of Venus, who visits Paphos “iunctis oloribus,” that is, “with her yoked swans.”(70) I seriously doubt that Poe could have remembered this poetic term for swan, despite his many references to the names and works of Horace, with occasional conventional citations.(71) But his absorptive mind would pluck the phrase from the pages of Disraeli and store it, perhaps with the aid of a “tablet” notation, for just such a use as the one in Al Aaraaf.

Poe's misconception was to have an amusing consequence, [page 103:] which perhaps even motivated him to revamp the line in his 1837 sonnet. One of the two known reviews of Al Aaraaf in 1829 was thoroughly adverse. John Hill Hewitt, poetaster and editor of the Baltimore Minerva and Emerald, was the reviewer;(72) although it was anonymous, Poe quickly found out who had damned his book with such comments as this: “On page seventeen, we learn the color of a smell in the following line: ‘And thy most lovely purple perfume, Zante!’ “(73) This was the beginning of his strong dislike of Hewitt, increased when Hewitt became the editor of the Saturday Visiter of Baltimore late in 1832(74) and took from him the prize for best poem in the Visitor's contest of June, 1833. Hewitt's entry was submitted under the pseudonym of “Henry Wilton,” but the inferiority of “Song of the Winds” to “The Coliseum” and Hewitt's editorial post inflamed Poe into provoking a fist fight on the sidewalk by accusing Hewitt of influencing the judges.(75) As a result of the review, Poe had previously thrust Hewitt into his satirical “Loss of Breath,” first printed as “A Decided Loss,” the theme of which facilitates an allusion to perfume. The narrator is searching for his lost breath: “At one time, indeed, I thought myself sure of my prize; having, in rummaging a dressing-case, accidentally demolished a bottle of (I had a remarkable sweet breath) Hewitt's ‘Seraphic, and highly-scented double extract of Heaven, or Oil of Archangels,’ which, as an agreeable perfume, I here take the liberty of recom-mending.”(76) Poe merely dropped the parenthesis and the word “double” in the printings of the September, 1835 Messenger and the Tales of 1840.(77) Perhaps he changed the name of “Hewitt” to “Grandjean,” a wigmaker,(78) in the Broadway Journal reprint of 1845 because of a small favor which Hewitt accorded Poe in Washington, March, 1843.(79) Previously, however, Poe revealed the depth and nature of his grudge against Hewitt in a letter of June 4, 1842, to Joseph Evans Snodgrass, new proprietor of the Saturday Visiter from which Hewitt had long departed.(80) Poe sent his good wishes and an offer of “The Mystery of Marie Roget” for publication. It was refused, perhaps [page 104:] because of his tactless remark about Snodgrass's new enterprise — “a journal which has never yet been able to recover from the mauvais odeur imparted to it by Hewitt.”(81) Certainly one must admire or at least wonder at the persistence of resentment in Poe against a third-rate personality.

Ironically, in Hewitt's poem “The Song of the Wind,” that took the poetry prize of the Visiter, there are echoes of Al Aaraaf which perhaps imperceptibly tipped the scales in its favor with the judges. Compare the opening and closing of Hewitt's poem with the passages from Al Aaraaf which were initially cited as illustrative of Poe's emphasis upon odors; Hewitt wrote: “Whence come ye with your odor-laden wings, / Oh, unseen wanderer of the summer night?” and “But shrink not; I’ve gathered the sweets of the flowers, / And, laden with perfume, I come to thee now.”(82) Hewitt must also have been reading “Israfel” in Poe's Poems of 1831, with its lyre and line, “None sing so wildly well,” to judge from the succeeding lines of the first stanza:

Why, sportive, kiss my lyre's trembling strings,

Fashioning wild music, which the light

Of listening orbs doth seem in joy to drink?

Surely this is as fantastically synesthesiac as “purple perfumes” and as another line by Poe, “Flap shadowy sounds from visionary wings,” about which Hewitt had observed: “We learn that sound has form and body.”(83) Hewitt seems to be aping a technique that he once decried, although his new role makes him no better a poet. But Poe appears to have profited from Hewitt's criticism, for the revised line, inserted into the “Sonnet to Zante,” is incomparably better than the first form of it in Al Aaraaf.

A third major source for the Zante sonnet, I suggest, can be found in the works of Keats. There is, first, the fact that Zante lies in the classical Greek “realms of gold,” being part of the kingdom of Ulysses himself; it was one of the “western islands ... / Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.” On nearby Saint [page 105:] Maura or Leucas — or “Capo Deucato,” as Poe calls it in Al Aaraaf — was a shrine to Apollo; thus he was often called “Leucadius.” The Eldorado theme, the quest for an unattainable land of beauty and of gold, was to haunt Poe throughout his life of penury, incessant work, sordid evasions, and unrewarded self-development. Well did he know the “Ode to a Nightingale” and feel the point of “No hungry generations tread thee down.” In his 1836 article on Drake and Halleck he referred to this poem as “of the purest ideality” (Harrison, 8.299n.). There is a reminder of Keats in Poe's stress upon “no more,” which is vocalically and rhythmically like the “forlorn” of the “Ode.” There is also a correspondence both in situation and in language closer than mere coincidence would grant: In Keats we find “charm’d magic casements” and a “plaintive anthem” that “fades ... up the hill-side”; in Poe we find “visions of a maiden that is / No more ... upon thy verdant slopes,” the phrase itself being a “magical sad sound / Transforming all! Thy charms shall please no more.” A little less significant is the second stanza of the “Ode” with its vinous elements: the “beaker full of the warm South, the blushful Hippocrene,” and “the purple-stained mouth.” To Poe, Zante was characterized by purple because of its hyacinth blossoms, but its well-known grape produce could implicitly lend it this color. In another of Keats's most famous poems, “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” I find a strong suggestion of the rhetoric of Poe's sonnet, which moves by a series of questions from lines 3 through 8. In similar fashion, Keats first apostrophizes the “bride of quietness,” and then asks rhetorically about the pictured deities and mortals, with an abrupt close on “wild ecstasy.” More moderately, but with a definite sense of climax, Poe speaks of memories of “radiant hours / At sight of thee and thine” and of “scenes” of “departed bliss,” ending with “thy charms shall please no more.”

It is not difficult to validate Poe's reverence for Keats in other ways than through the review of Halleck cited above.(84) Hervey Allen and Francis Winwar believe that Keats could be [page 106:] found on the shelves of his college study, a plausible inference.(85) Later Poe expressed himself unequivocally on the merits of Keats, alluding to the “bolder, more natural and more ideal compositions of ... Keats, ... the sole British poet who has never erred in his themes. Beauty is always his aim.”(86) In his letter to Lowell of July 2, 1844, he speaks of Keats as one of “the sole poets.”(87) Obviously, the effect of Keats upon Poe's practice and theory of poetry was profound. In Poe's use of the sonnet form itself and in the atmosphere, ideas, images, and language, I propose Keats as one of the strands in the complex fabric of the “Sonnet to Zante.” By weaving this in with the threads from the Italian and classical past of the island, from Chateaubriand's treatment, and from the colorful life of Lord Byron, Poe created an original masterpiece, evocative, nostalgic, and melancholy.





[S:0 - DIP70, 1970] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Discoveries in Poe (Pollin)