Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. Killis Campbell), “Poe's Passion for Revising His Text,” The Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, Ginn and Company, 1917, pp. xxxv-xliii


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[page xxxv:]

IV. POE’S PASSION FOR REVISING HIS TEXT

Nothing was more characteristic of Poe than his fondness for revising his verses. “No poet,” says Stoddard, “who wrote so little ever re-wrote that little so often, and so successfully.”(2) And Professor Woodberry declares:(3) “There is no such example in literature of poetic elaboration as is contained in the successive issues of [Poe’s] poems.” Certainly no other American poet ever recast his work so freely or republished it so often after once it had found its way into print. Not even Wordsworth, for whom Dowden has claimed the distinction of furnishing the most instructive example among English poets of the value of revision, has supplied us with a more formidable array of rejected readings.(4)

Of the forty-eight poems collected by Poe or by his literary executor, no fewer than forty-two were republished or were [page xxxvi:] authorized to be republished at least once; and of these all but one (Sonnet — To Zante) were subjected to some sort of verbal revision upon republication. Six of the poems appeared in two different forms, thirteen in three different forms, nine in four different forms, eleven in five different forms, one (Lenore) in eight different forms, and one (The Raven) in fifteen different forms. Three of the six poems that were published only once, survive in manuscript versions that differ in some respect from the published versions. Twenty of the poems underwent a change of title, and five changed title twice.

Among the earlier poems one (A Dream within a Dream) emerged from its several recastings an entirely different poem, no single line, no part of a line, of the original being retained in the final draft.

Some of the poems were much enlarged on republication; and others were as radically condensed. The Bells as first offered for publication was a poem of only 18 lines. In its final form it numbered 113 lines. Tamerlane was published originally in 406 lines, was condensed in 1829 to 243 lines, enlarged in 1831 to 268 lines, and finally reduced in 1845 to 243 lines. Romance, which in 1829 numbered 21 lines, was expanded in 1831 to 66 lines, and in 1845 was condensed again to 21 lines. Fairy-Land had a similar history, appearing first (1829) in 46 lines, then (1831) in 64 lines, and later (1845) in the original 46 lines. The lines To —— (“I heed not that my earthly lot”) were first printed in five stanzas totaling 20 lines, but were reduced in 1845 to 8 lines.(1)

Striking also are sundry changes in stanza-form and in length of line. A conspicuous example is furnished by Lenore, which was first printed in a simple ballad stanza (a quatrain made up of tetrameter and trimeter), later in an ode-like stanza of uneven line-length and running to thirteen or more lines, and later still in a long-line stanza approximating that of The Raven. Both The Raven and Lenore were also published (with Poe’s approval) in a [page xxxvii:] short-line stanza in which each of the longer lines was broken in two at the caesura. An evening of stanza length occurs in Israfel and The City in the Sea. Two early poems, Spirits of the Dead and The Lake: To ——— , originally printed without stanza division, were broken up into stanzas in the edition of 1829, while Fairy-Land and To —— (“I heed not,” etc.), originally divided into stanzas, were printed in 1845 without stanza division.

And there are a multitude of changes in sequence. These affect, as a rule, only a single line or a single word; but in some instances — as in The Sleeper, Lenore, To F —— , and For Annie — passages of a half-dozen lines or more are interchanged or are transferred from one part of the poem to another. In two instances entire poems were inserted in a larger poem,(1) and in other instances passages appearing in one poem are repeated in a later poem.(2)

But the most frequent and, in the sum-total, naturally, the most important revisions are those made in the phrasing. These range all the way from a mere change of tense or of number to the substitution of an entirely new line. How multifarious such changes are becomes apparent on reference to the footnotes. They are less numerous with the later poems — with The Raven, for instance, there are verbal changes in only 21 out of a total of 108 lines — but with some of the earlier poems, quite as much of the text is canceled as is allowed to stand.(3)

The grounds for making these changes are in most cases fairly evident. The rigorous pruning to which some of the earlier poems were ultimately subjected was dictated, obviously, by the desire to curtail, so far as practicable, the element of the personal. This will explain the omission in 1845 of the opening and closing lines (1-6, 27-40) of A Dream within a Dream as printed in 1829; [page xxxviii:] and it will also explain the omission of the cancelled passages (11. 11-34, 46-66) of the 1831 version of Romance, and much of the condensation made in the latter texts of A Dream, The Sleeper, and Tamerlane. The omission of sundry other passages, — as of the fantastic lines in the original text of Fairy-Land beginning:

Sit down beside me, Isabel,

Here, dearest, where the moonbeam fell,

and ending:

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;

and of the closing lines of The Valley of Unrest (as published in the American Review in 1845):

They wave; they weep; and the tears as they well

From the depths of each pallid lily bell,

Give a trickle and a tinkle and a knell, —

is probably traceable to their extravagance of mood and of style. And the cancellation of the strangely melodramatic lines introducing the second stanza of the 1843 version of Lenore:

Yon heir whose cheeks of pallid hue

With tears are streaming wet,

Sees only, through

Their crocodile dew,

A vacant coronet, —

is doubtless to be explained on similar grounds.

Other passages were suppressed, apparently, in the interest of a greater straightforwardness of the thought (as with the rejected stanzas of Bridal Ballad and the lines originally repeated in Dream-Land); or because they injured the wholeness of impression, the “totality of effect” (as with the discarded stanza of Hymn); or because they involved an anticlimactic conclusion [page xxxix:] (as with the final stanza of To One in Paradise and the rejected couplet at the end of The City in the Sea). Most of the pruning made in Tamerlane was dictated evidently by a desire to relieve that poem of something of its prolixity. One interesting omission — that of the tenth stanza of Ulalume — is said to have been made at the suggestion of another.(1)

The extensive amplification seen in the final draft of The Bells was prompted by a desire to give volume and meaning to a poem which in its first crude state was singularly feeble and bald.(2) The changes in stanza-form and line-length appear to be traceable, mainly, either to some whim of the poet or to a desire to gain more of symmetry or to adjust more effectively the form to mood and idea. Most of the changes in order came about either in consequence of other changes or in an effort to find a smoother rhythm or a better sequence of ideas.

The manifold changes in phrasing were dictated by a variety of considerations. A good many came in response to an effort to find a more picturesque wording; as in the substitution of “startled” for “wondering” in line 61 of The Raven; of “quivering” for “dying” in line 34 of The Conqueror Worm; of “ surf-tormented” for “weather-beaten” in line 13 of A Dream within a Dream; of “ivy-clad arcades” for “perishing (or “tottering”) arcades” in line 26 of The Coliseum; of “grains of the golden sand” for “some particles of sand” in line 15 of A Dream within a Dream; of “yawn level with” for “are on a level with” in line 31 of The City in the Sea; and of “open fanes [page xl:] and gaping graves “ for “ open temples — open graves” in line 30 of the same poem. Other changes in diction were made in an effort to find a fresher and more comely phrasing; as in the substitution of “sought” for “tried” in line 9 of The Raven; “resemble nothing” for “are — not like anything” in line 8 of The City in the Sea; of “void” for “vacuum “ in line 47 of the same poem; of “eternal” for “Italian” in the last line of To One in Paradise — “By what eternal streams”; and “yon brilliant window-niche” for “that little window-niche” in line 11 of the earlier verses To Helen. And still others were made for the sake of the finer consonance, the gain in harmony and rhythm, that they secure. A good example is furnished by the famous lines from the early verses To Helen — as perfect as any that Poe wrote:

To the glory that was Greece

And the grandeur that was Rome, —

which read quite tamely in the text of 1831:

To the beauty of fair Greece

And the grandeur of old Rome;

another, by the change in line 25 of Israfel from the reading,

Where Love is a grown god,

Where Love ‘s a grown-up God;

and another in the transformation of the unusually halting line (37), in the same poem,

Thy grief — if any — they love,

to the perfectly modulated

Thy grief, thy joy, thy hate, thy love.(1) [page xli:]

Other changes were made in order to avoid a harsh succession of sibilants; as in the third line of Israfel,

None sing so wildly well,

which first read,

None sing so wild — so well;

and in the opening line of The Lake: To —— , which originally

In youth’s spring it was my lot,

but was changed in 1845 to read,

In spring of youth it was my lot.

The change in the thirty-ninth line of The Raven from “not an instant stopped or stayed he,” to “not a minute stopped or stayed he,” is probably to be explained in the same way. And still other changes were made in an effort to secure greater simplicity and inevitableness; as in the substitution of “radiant” for “snow-white “ in line 4 of The Haunted Palace,

Radiant palace — reared its head;

or of “living human” for the grandiloquent “sublunary” in line 51 of The Raven,

For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being;

or of the line,

Far down within the dim West,

in The City in the Sea (1. 3) for the vague and perfunctory

Far off in a region unblest.

In a few instances it would seem that Poe gave up an acceptable reading for an inferior one. This happens, obviously, with his substitution of the colorless phrase “by the side of the sea” for the finely resonant ending “ by the sounding sea” in the last line of Annabel Lee,

In her tomb by the sounding sea. [page xlii:]

It happens, likewise, in the change of “the” to “thy” in the opening line of the Examiner text of A Dream within a Dream, [[There seem to be differences at the top of this page]]

Take this kiss upon thy brow,

which begets a clash in concord with the line immediately following,

And, in parting from you now;

it happens, also, in the change in the fourth line of the same poem from

You are not wrong, who deem

to the less natural

You are not wrong to deem;

and it happens manifestly in the exasperating change of title from A Dream within a Dream to the meaningless To . Something is lost, also, it would seem, in the substitution of “dews” for” tears” in line 12 of the Examiner text of Dream-Land and of “O! it is” for ‘”Tis — oh, ’tis” in line 42 of the same poem. Other changes that appear to involve a loss are the substitution of “minute” for “instant” in line 39 of The Raven,

Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;

the transposition of the words “all” and “that” in the opening line of To One in Paradise,

Thou wast that all to me, love;

and the alteration of the perfectly natural reading in the sixth line of To One in Paradise,

And the flowers — they all were mine,

to the more direct but less forceful

And all the flowers were mine. [page xliii:]

Nor is anything gained by the alteration of the first two lines of the final stanza of Lenore according to the Lorimer Graham text:

Avaunt! — avaunt! from fiends below, the indignant ghost is riven —

From Hell unto a high estate far up within the Heaven —

to

Avaunt! — avaunt! to friends from fiends the indignant ghost is riven —

From Hell unto a high estate within the utmost Heaven, —

the collocation “to friends from fiends” being palpably forced. Most readers will feel, too, that the radical compression made in some of the earlier poems — notably in Romance — was scarcely justified.

The poet, had he lived longer, would doubtless have canceled some of these less satisfactory readings. It is interesting to observe that in a number of instances he did return to an earlier reading. This happened, as already noted, in the case of the tenth stanza of Ulalume, which formed a part of the poem in its first two versions, was omitted in the text published in the Providence Journal (at the request, so it is said, of Mrs. Whitman), and was readopted in the closing months of the poet’s life. In Fairy-Land, lines 29-46 of the 1829 version were dropped in 1831, but were readmitted into the poem in 1845. Similarly, the second half of the lines To F——s S. O——d, though discarded in the Broadway Journal text, were readopted in the collective edition of 1845. The reading “owing to that lyre” in Israfel (1. 19) gave way in the text of Graham’s Magazine (1841) to the less satisfactory reading “due unto that lyre,” to be superseded in all later versions by the original reading. In the twenty-second line of Lenore, the reading “moan and groan,” substituted in the Whig text for “ grief and groan,” involved a return to the reading of the Broadway Journal. And the transposition, noted above, of “ all that” in the opening line of To One in Paradise involves a return to a reading adopted fifteen years before in Godey’s Lady’s Book. But such changes are comparatively few. It is clear that the poet grew steadily in his grasp on his art, and that, as time passed, he came to attach more and more importance to artistic finish and perfection.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page xxxv:]

1 As a rule, only the variants for the printed versions have been given; but for a number of the poems, especially those revised in the Lorimer Graham copy of 1845, the poet’s autographic revisions have also been taken account of.

2 The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, I, p. viii.

3 II, p. 411; see also Stedman and Woodberry, The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, X, p. v.

4 See Dowden’s edition of Wordsworth’s Poems, Athenaeum Press Series (Boston, 1898), p. lxxxv.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page xxxvi:]

1 Condensation was more frequently resorted to than amplification, though in the text of 1831 amplification was the rule.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page xxxvii:]

1 Both A Dream within a Dream and The Lake: To —— formed a part of Tamerlane in 1831. Several of the poems were incorporated at some time in one or another of the tales.

2 See the notes on Al Aaraaf, Part I, 1. 77, and Fairy-Land, 11.1-4.

3 See, for instance, The Sleeper, and the opening section of Al Aaraaf.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page xxxix:]

1 But the stanza was later readopted; see the notes on Ulalume.

2 A noteworthy example of enlargement on a small scale which begets a like result — larger volume and fuller meaning — is seen in the expansion of the fifth line in Israfel, according to the text of 1831,

And the giddy stars are mute,

into the three lines that we now have:

And the giddy stars (so legends tell),

Ceasing their hymns, attend the spell

Of his voice, all mute.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page xl:]

1 A gain in rhythm also results from a number of the changes made in Tamerlane and other poems in the volume of 1827. Poe allowed, however, some extremely lame and unsatisfactory lines to remain in certain of his later poems, — as the forty-first line of Ulalume,

She revels in a region of sighs,

and — worst of all — the closing line of the blank-verse poem To Helen:

Venuses, unextinguished by the sun!

 


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Notes:

None.

 

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[S:0 - KCP, 1917] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Poe's Passion for Revising His Text (K. Campbell, 1917)