Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. Killis Campbell), “Poe's Indebtedness to Other Poets,” The Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, Ginn and Company, 1917, pp. xliv-liii


[page xliv:]


For the materials out of which he composed his verses, Poe naturally drew mainly on his own experience and observation. In the work of no other American poet, save possibly Whitman, is the element of autobiography so large. The bulk of his earlier verses are reflections — though veiled, as a rule — of the griefs and ambitions and disappointments of his youth. And a good proportion of his later verses are either addressed to friends or relatives, or have in some way to do with them.(1) Still others — as Israfel and the Sonnet — To Science and Al Aaraaf and Romance — embody his views as to the poet’s aim and province; and Eldorado reflects, in a measure, his general attitude to life.

But his muse drew sustenance also from books. His earlier verses are largely imitations — some of them palpable and slavish imitations — of one or another of the English Romantic poets. And, like certain of his masters, as Milton and Byron, he displayed throughout his career an extraordinary facility at copying and assimilating what struck his fancy in the work of others. It was to Byron that he owed most, — his debts to him being, in some instances, very obvious, and in a few instances, it would seem, of questionable propriety. He owed much also to Milton and to Moore, especially in his earlier poems; and he was influenced both in his youth and in later years by Coleridge. There were obligations, too, to Shelley, and Keats, and Mrs. Browning, and to a number of others.

To Byron he was indebted, first of all, for the model of his Tamerlane — which he found in Manfred and The Giaour. He evidently owed to Byron also the suggestion of his Coliseum, and probably also the suggestion of the lines To [[to]] Romance and To the River —— . It was from Byron, confessedly, that he took the idea underlying the poem now entitled Stanzas; and he found in Byron’s Darkness the main details used in The City in the Sea. In [page xlv:] his Spirits of the Dead he relied on Byron both for the general situation and for some of the language of his poem. Byron’s couplet (Manfred, I, i, 11. 204-205),

There are shades which will not vanish,

There are thoughts thou canst not banish,

reappears in Spirits of the Dead (11. 19-20) as

Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish,

Now are visions ne’er to vanish.

And his lines (Manfred, I, i, 11. 198-201),

[When] the silent leaves are still

In the shadow of the hill,

Shall my soul be upon thine,

With a power and with a sign,

also reappear, but more successfully disguised, as

The breeze — the breath of God — is still —

And the mist upon the hill,

Shadowy — shadowy — yet unbroken,

Is a symbol and a token.

Other, though less striking, parallels between the two poems are pointed out in the Notes.(1) And there are reminiscences of Byron in a half-dozen other poems.(2) How far Poe was indebted to the English poet for the strain of melancholy, the note of disappointed ambition and of wounded pride, that pervades his youthful work, it is impossible to say, but it is reasonable to assume that Byron’s influence made itself felt here to some extent.

Poe’s debts to Milton and to Moore appear mainly in the long poem Al Aaraaf. The first third of the second part of this poem — in particular, the description of the temple of Nesace — is a not unskillfully executed piece of mosaic made up largely [page xlvi:] of materials drawn from Paradise Lost. The temple of Nesace is evidently copied after Milton’s Pandemonium; and the dome of this temple, “let down” “by linked light from Heaven,” with its “window of one circular diamond” through which light is transmitted from the presence of God into this temple, appears to be compounded of Milton’s mystic stairway leading down from the throne of God and the golden chain by which he represents this world as “linked” to the empyrean. The first line of the second part of Al Aaraaf,

High on a mountain of enamell’d head,

suggests the opening line of the second book of Paradise Lost:

High on a throne of royal state, etc.

I have pointed out in the notes on Al Aaraaf still other resemblances to Milton’s epic,(1) and Poe himself acknowledges in his footnotes several slight obligations to Milton’s minor poems.(2)

The influence of Moore appears most plainly in the catalogue of flowers near the beginning of the first part of Al Aaraaf, and is to be seen, also, in the story of Angelo and Ianthe in the concluding section of that poem. The description of the bed of flowers amidst which the queen of Al Aaraaf kneels while offering up her prayer to the Deity is based, in large part, on passages culled from Lalla Rookh, together with Moore’s notes on them, the phrasing in some places being brought over almost verbatim? Moore’s note on the “Nelumbo bud,” — to give but a single example — “The Indians feign that Cupid was first seen floating down the Ganges on the Nymphaea Nelumbo” (“The Light of the Haram,” 11. 587-592), — Poe reproduces in Al Aaraaf in the following couplet (Part I, 11. 78-79):

And the Nelumbo bud that floats for ever

With Indian Cupid down the holy river, [page xlvii:]

and adds in a footnote: “It is a fiction of the Indians, that Cupid was first seen floating in one of these down the river Ganges.” The story of Angelo and Ianthe is, I believe, an imitation of the first angel’s story in The Loves of the Angels, though the parallelism between the two is mainly in situation and in mood, with only here and there a resemblance in phrase. Another example of borrowing from Moore is furnished by the early lyric Evening Star, which loosely paraphrases the first half of Moore’s song While Gazing on the Moon’s Light. And both Tamerlane and Fairy-Land may possibly owe something to the Irish poet.(1)

Poe’s indebtedness to Coleridge, whom Professor Woodberry once declared to be “the guiding Genius of Poe’s entire intellectual life,”(2) is mainly, so far as the poems are concerned, quite intangible, though not the less real. It is seen in the unconscious reproduction of his style and atmosphere rather than in the appropriation of his ideas or in the copying of his diction. As such it is discoverable in The City in the Sea especially, and also in Bridal Ballad, Israfel, Fairy-Land, and The Sleeper, and perhaps also in The Raven and Annabel Lee. In an even less palpable way Coleridge influenced Poe through supplying him with certain favorite poetical theories, first set forth by Poe in his Letter to B —— , published as a preface to 1831, and later and more fully in The Poetic Principle(3) — theories which Poe applied in his own verses with notable consistency. Some of the critics(4) of Poe’s [page xlviii:] time held that the repetend as used in The Raven was a reflection of the influence of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. And there are a few resemblances in phrase which point to a still more substantial indebtedness to Coleridge. The most striking of these is found in the much-discussed line in the briefer lyric To Helen (1831):

Like those Nice’an barks of yore,

which bears a manifest resemblance to a line of Coleridge’s in his Youth and Age (1828):

Like those trim skiffs, unknown of yore.

Other verbal parallelisms are commented on in the notes on Israfel and Fairy-Land.(1)

To Shelley, Poe’s indebtedness is distinctly less than his indebtedness to Coleridge; though, as in the case of Coleridge, the indebtedness is mainly impalpable, — a thing of color and mood and atmosphere. The poems most in the Shelleyan manner are To One in Paradise and The City in the Sea (which suggest Shelley’s Lines Written among the Euganean Hills) and Dream-Land and the Sonnet — To Silence (which resemble parts of Prometheus Unbound). The closest parallel with Shelley that I have observed is that existing between a passage in Dream-Land (11. 21-25, 27):

By the lakes that thus outspread

Their lone waters, lone and dead, —

Their sad waters, sad and chilly

With the snows of the lolling lily, —

By the mountains — near the river

.... .... . .

By the grey woods, — by the swamp, — [page xlix:]

and four lines from the second act of Prometheus Unbound (sc. i, 11. 203-206):

By the forests, lakes, and fountains

Thro’ the many-folded mountains;

To the rents, and gulphs, and chasms,

Where the Earth reposed from spasms.(1)

To Wordsworth, with whom he professed to have scant sympathy, Poe seems to have owed but little. There is an evident resemblance between two lines in The Valley of Unrest:

That palpitate like the chill seas

Around the misty Hebrides,

and Wordsworth’s magic lines in The Solitary Reaper:

Breaking the silence of the seas

Among the farthest Hebrides;

a line in an early version of Romance,

Gone are the glory and the gloom,

suggests a couplet from the Ode on Intimations of Immortality:

Whither is fled the visionary gleam?

Where is it now, the glory and the dream ? —

and Wordsworth’s “ clouds of glory “ appears in a rejected version of the lines To (“Not long ago,” etc.). But each of these resemblances may be accidental. A more suspicious [page xlx:] parallel with Wordsworth occurs in the lines To Sarah (among the poems attributed to Poe), the opening stanza of which:

When melancholy and alone,

I sit on some moss-covered stone

Beside a murm’ring stream;

I think I hear thy voice’s sound

In every tuneful thing around,

Oh! what a pleasant dream,

seems to have been written under the influence of the initial stanza of Wordsworth’s Expostulation and Reply:

Why, William, on that old grey stone,

Thus for the length of half a day,

Why, William, sit you thus alone,

And dream your time away?

It is clear that Keats furnished the immediate suggestion of the Sonnet — To Science, the second half of which parallels fairly closely the opening lines of Lamia; and he may have suggested to Poe the identification of silence with the music of the spheres in Al Aaraaf (Part I, 11. 124-125):

A sound of silence on the startled ear

Which dreamy poets name “the music of the sphere,” —

which obviously resembles Keats’s

Silence was music from the holy spheres.(1)

And he surely owed to Mrs. Browning the suggestion of several lines in The Raven. The thirteenth line of The Raven

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain —

was plainly inspired by Mrs. Browning’s

With a murmurous stir uncertain, in the air the purple curtain;(2) [page li:]

and two other lines:

But the Raven still beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,(1)


Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted,(2)

were evidently influenced by Mrs. Browning’s

Ever, evermore the while in a slow silence she kept smiling(3)


O’er the desolate sand-desert of my heart and life undone.(4)

Still other resemblances to Mrs. Browning’s poem are pointed out in the notes on lines 33-34, 79-80, and 104-105 of The Raven; and it is not unlikely that certain of the metrical peculiarities of The Raven were prompted by Mrs. Browning’s example.(5)

Tennyson appears to have exerted little influence on Poe, though several abortive accusations of plagiarism from his early poems have been brought, at one time or another, against the American poet.(6) Hood in his sonnet Silence probably set Poe about writing his own sonnet on the same subject, — though this sonnet, as already noted, resembles also a passage in Prometheus Unbound. Waller’s line,

My joy, my grief, my hope, my fear,(7)

is perhaps the ultimate source of a line in Israfel:

Thy grief, thy joy, thy hate, thy love,

and Professor Trent has called attention to a parallel between some lines in Lovelace’s To Althea, from Prison and the fourth stanza of The Haunted Palace.(8) In Al Aaraaf the poet borrows a simile [page lii:] from Marlowe, and a rhyme (confessedly) from Scott.(1) From Shakespeare, Poe seems to have borrowed nothing, though there are allusions here and there to well-known passages in his plays.(2) Quotations from Webster, and Peele, and Sir Thomas Wyatt are incorporated into the Politian,(3) and a line from Farquhar is imbedded in an early text of The Valley of Unrest.

To the French and other Continental writers, Poe apparently owed very little. The basic idea and one striking line of Israfel he probably borrowed from Béranger; the two epithets applied to the island of Zante (first in Al Aaraaf and again in the Sonnet — To Zante) he apparently took from Chateaubriand;(4) some of the material used in The Coliseum he perhaps found in Quevedo;6 and he may, in common with Coleridge and Wordsworth and Scott, have owed something to Burger.(6) From the Odyssey he borrowed three fine lines — perhaps translated by himself — for insertion in his Politian.(7)

And he was but little influenced by the American poets, — though here and there he might have taken a hint from one or another of them. He probably owed something, though but little, to the Georgia poet, Thomas Holley Chivers.(8) A line in The City in the Sea resembles one of N. P. Willis’s early lines.(9) For one of his stanzas in Ulalume he probably took certain hints from [page liii:] Thomas Buchanan Read’s Christine.(1) A line in the later To Helen may have been suggested by one of Mrs. Sarah J. Hale’s lines in her Three Hours, and another line in the same poem was possibly suggested by one of Henry B. Hirst’s sonnets.(2) A line in The Haunted Palace is perhaps an echo of the refrain of G. P. Morris’s Near the Lake.(3) And the title of The Conqueror Worm was apparently suggested, as Mr. Ingram has noted, by one of Spencer Wallace Cone’s poems.(4)

That Poe’s imitations of Moore and Byron reflect no credit on him goes without saying. In one or two instances, indeed — as in the paraphrasing of Moore in the first part of Al Aaraaf and the copying of Byron in Spirits of the Dead — Poe would seem to have exceeded the bounds of propriety; certainly he copied in these poems with an audacity such as he would not have permitted in another without vigorous protest.(5) But it is on the work of his middle and later periods that Poe’s claims to originality must rest; and in these no indebtedness appears that is not amply repaid by him. There are few points on which Poe’s critics are more completely agreed than on his extraordinary originality as poet.(6)


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

1 See further on this point the comments of Professor C. W. Kent, Poe’s Poems, pp. xxviii f

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

1 See the notes on Spirits of the Dead, 11. 1-2, 11 f.

2 See the notes on Dreams, 11. 17-18; Al Aaraaf, Part II, 11. 68 f., 72-74, 80-83, 134; the earlier To Helen, 11. 11-13; The Sleeper, 11. 45-47; and the general note on A Dream within a Dream.

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

1 See the notes on Al Aaraaf, Part II, 11. 1-39, 11 f., 16, 20, 22 f., 31 f., 60 f., 67, 221-224.

2 Cf. the notes on Al Aaraaf, Part I, 1. 105; Part II, 11, 16, 181.

3 See Stedman and Woodberry, X, p. 223.

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

1 See the notes on Tamerlane, 11. 75-76, and Fairy-Land, 1. 33.

2 Woodberry, Edgar Allan Poe, American Men of Letters Series, p. 93; the phrase “ early” is substituted for “ entire” in his revised Life, I, p. 177. See also an article “The New Poe” in the Atlantic Monthly, LXXVII, pp. 551 f., where it is asserted that “the effect of Coleridge’s influence on Poe has never been properly estimated,” and that he “ transmitted a special and unique influence to him alone.”

3 See in this connection the introduction to F. C. Prescott’s Selections from the Critical Writings of Edgar Allan Poe, pp. xxxii f.

4 Their contention has the support of Stedman; see the StedmanWoodberry edition of Poe’s works, X, p. xxvi; but Professor C. Alphonso Smith (Repetition and Parallelism in English Verse, pp. 51 f.) suggests a direct indebtedness to the English ballad.

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

1 See the article of Professor James Routh in Modern Language Notes, XXIX, pp. 72-73, and the communication of Mr. H. T. Baker in the same journal, XXV, pp. 94-95.

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

1 Certain lines in Tamerlane seem to affect the Shelleyan manner, as

The bodiless spirits of the storms,


As perfume of strange summer flowers;

and the following couplet in an early text of Al Aaraaf:

On the sweetest air doth float

The most sad and solemn note,

is possibly a reminiscence of Shelley’s line in the ode To a Skylark,

Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought .

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

1 Endymion, II, 1. 675.

2 Lady Geraldine’s Courtship, 1. 381.

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

1 The Raven, l. 67.

2 Ibid., l. 87.

3 Lady Geraldine’s Courtship, l. 389.

4 Ibid., l. 380.

5 See the note on The Raven, ll. 1 f.

6 See the Athenæum, March 20, 1875, p. 395; the Spectator, January 1, 1853; the London Foreign Quarterly Review, January, 1844; and the note prefixed to the “Poems Written in Youth” as republished in 1845.

7 On a Girdle, l. 7.

8 See the note on The Haunted Palace, l. 32.

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

1 See the note on Al Aaraaf, Part II, 11. 140-141.

2 See the notes on Politian, II, 1. 23; III, 1. 23; Al Aaraaf, Part II, 1. 60; For Annie, 11. 63 f.; and The Bells, 1. 50.

3 II, 11.18-20; 11,11.34-35; III, 11. 70f.

4 Cf. the Stedman-Woodberry edition of Poe’s works, X, pp. 176-177. And see also pp. 185-186 of the same volume for the suggestion that The Bells owed something to Chateaubriand.

5 See the note on lines 26-32 of The Coliseum.

6 See the notes on Lenore. The claim of an indebtedness to Lucian in Dream-Land, made by F. L. Fairfield in Scribner’s Monthly, X, p. 695, is plainly untenable; and so with the suggestion of Hutton (Poe’s Poems, p. xlv) that he was indebted to Mangan (cf. C. A. Smith’s Repetition and Parallelism in English Verse, p. 55).

7 Politian, II, 11. 8-10.

8 See for this much-discussed question, the introductory note on The Raven.

9 Cf. the note on The City in the Sea, 1. 9.

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

1 See the note on Ulalume, 11. 56-60.

2 Cf. the notes on To Helen, 11. 34-35 and 65-66.

3 See the note on The Haunted Palace, l. 12.

4 See the London Bibliophile, May, 1909, p. 135.

5 Cf. his series of papers attacking Longfellow in the so-called “Longfellow War” (Harrison, XII, pp. 41 f.), which constitutes one of the most discreditable episodes in Poe’s entire career.

6 See further, on this point, pp. lvii-lviii, below. For Poe’s influence on other poets and on his vogue, especially in foreign countries, see Edmund Gosse, Questions at Issue, p. 90; L. P. Betz, “Edgar Poe in der franzosischen Litteratur,” Studien zur vergleichenden Litleraturgeschichte der neueren Zeit, 1902, pp. 16-82; C. H. Page, “Poe in France,” the New York Nation, January 14, 1909 (LXXXVIII, pp. 32-34); Alcée Fortier, The Book of the Poe Centenary, ed. C. W. Kent and John S. Patton, pp. 4172; Arthur Ransome, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Study, pp. 219-237; Georg Edward, The Book of the Poe Centenary, pp. 73-99; Abraham Yarmolinsky, “The Russian View of American Literature,” the New York Bookman, September, 1916 (XLIV, pp. 44-46); and John De Lancey Ferguson, American Literature in Spain, pp. 55-86.







[S:0 - KCP, 1917] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Poe's Indebtedness to Other Poets (K. Campbell, 1917)