Text: Rufus W. Griswold (and Edgar Allan Poe?), Sarah Anna Lewis, The Female Poets of America, 1849, pp. 263-266


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[page 263, full page:]

SARAH ANNA LEWIS.

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[column 1:]

Miss ROBINSON, now Mrs. LEWIS, is a native of Baltimore. She inherits from her father, who was a Cuban, of English and Spanish parentage, and a man of liberal fortune and cultivated understanding, the melancholy temperament which is illustrated in the greater part of her writings. After being carefully educated in part at the celebrated school of Mrs. Willard, in Troy she  was married to Mr. L. D. Lewis, an attorney and counsellor, who soon after removed to Brooklyn, where they have since resided.

The earliest writings of Mrs. Lewis appeared in the Family Magazine, edited by the well-known Solomon Southwick, of Albany. She came more prominently before the public in Records of the Heart, published in New York in 1844. The principal poems in this volume Florence, Zenel, Melpomene, and Laone are of considerable length, and of a more ambitious design than most of the compositions of our female poets. That they evince fancy and an ear sensitive to harmony, will be understood from the following lines of Florence

The waves are smooth, the wind is calm;

Onward the golden stream is gliding,

Amid the myrtle and the palm,

And ilices its margin hiding;

Now sweeps it o’er the jutting shoals

In murmurs like despairing souls;

Now deeply, softly, flows along

Like ancient minstrels’ warbled song;

Then slowly, darkly, thoughtfully,

Loses itself in the mighty sea.

The sky is clear, the stars are bright,

The moon reposes on her light;

On many a budding, fairy blossom,

Are glittering Evening’s dewy tears,

As gleam the gems on Beauty’s bosom

When she in festal garb appears.

Among the minor poems in this collection is the following, which is quoted here for its merits and for the praises it has received from the acute critic Mr. Edgar A. Poe, who describes it as “inexpressibly beautiful:”

THE FORSAKEN.

It hath been said, for all who die

There is a tear;

Some pining, bleeding heart to sigh

O’er every bier: [column 2:]

But in that hour of pain and dread

Who will draw near

Around my humble couch, and shed

One farewell tear?

Who watch life’s last, departing ray

In deep despair,

And soothe my spirit on its way

With holy prayer?

What mourner round my bier will come

In weeds of wo,”

And follow me to my long home

Solemn and slow?

When lying on my clayey bed,

In icy sleep,

Who there by pure affection led

Will come and weep

By the pale moon implant the rose

Upon my breast,

And bid it cheer my dark repose,

My lowly rest?

Could I but know when I am sleeping

Low in the ground,

One faithful heart would there be keeping

Watch all night round,

As if some gem lay shrined beneath

That sod’s cold gloom,

‘Twould mitigate the pangs at’ death,

And light the tomb.

Yes, in that hour if I could feel

From halls of glee

And Beauty’s presence one would steal

In secrecy,

And come and sit and weep by me

In night’s deep noon

Oh! I would ask of Memory

No other boon.

But ah! a lonelier fate is mine

A deeper we:

From all I love in youth’s sweet time

I soon must go

Draw round me my cold robes of white,

In a dark spot

To sleep through Death’s long, dreamless night,

Lone and forgot.

There is a very fine poem by Motherwell, by which this may have been suggested, though if Mrs. Lewis had read it, it was of course forgotten by her when she composed The Forsaken. The following verses are from the piece by Motherwell:

“When I beneath the cold red earth am sleeping,

Life’s fever o’er,

Will there for me be any bright eye weeping,

That I’m no more! [page 264:]

Will there be any heart still memory keeping

Of heretofore!

When the bright sun upon that spot is shining

With purest ray, [twining,

; And the small flowers their buds and blossoms

Burst through that clay,

Will there be one still on that spot repining

Lost hopes all day 1

“When no star twinkles with its eye of glory

On that low mound,

And wintry storms have with their ruins hoary

Its loneness crowned,

Will there be then one versed in Misery’s story

Pacing it round!”

In the four years which succeeded the publication of The Records of the Heart, Mrs. Lewis was an occasional contributor to the Democratic Review, the American Review, and The Spirit of the Nineteenth Century. In the autumn of 1848 she published a second volume, entitled The Child of the Sea, and Other Poems. The Child of the Sea is her best production. It is an interesting story, in a finely modulated rhythm, and with many tasteful and happy expressions. It evinces passion, fancy, and a degree of imagination. The design is partly unfolded in the opening lines:

Where blooms the myrtle, and the olive flings

Its aromatic breath upon the air;

Where the sad bird of night for ever sings

Meet anthems for the children of despair,

Who silently, with wild, dishevelled hair,

Stray through those valleys of perpetual bloom;

Where hideous War and Murder front their lair

Stalk forth in awful and terrific gloom.

Rapine and Vice disport on Glory’s gilded tomb:

My fancy pensive pictures youthful Love,

Ill-starred, yet trustful, truthful, and sublime,

As ever angels chronicled above;

The sorrowings of Beauty in her prime;

Virtue’s reward; the punishment of Grime;

The dark, inscrutable decrees of Fate,

Despair, untold before in prose or rhyme;

The wrong, the agony, the sleepless hate,

That mad the soul and make the bosom desolate.

Sunset upon the bay of Gibraltar is thus happily described

Fresh blows the breeze on Tarick’s burnished bay,

The silent sea-mews bend them through the spray;

The beauty-freighted barges bound afar

To the soft music of the gay guitar. . . . . .

The sentry peal salutes the setting sun,

The haven’s hum and busy din are done,

And weary sailors roam along the strand,

Or stretch their brawny limbs upon the sand;

Feast, revel, game, engage in sage dispute,

Unthread the story, sound the tuneful lute;

Or bumming some rude air that stirs the heart,

Clue up the sails, or spread them to depart. [column 2:]

The hero of the poem is introduced:

On his high brow and glossy locks of jet,

The cap that decks the noble Greek is set;

Folded his arms across his sable vest,

As if to keep the heart within his breast.

Lone are the thoughts that crowd upon his mind,

And vainly strive in speech a vent to find;

They writhe, they chafe, against restraint rebel,

Then powerless shrink within their silent cell.

His bosom pines for what it never knew

Some soft, fair being to its beating true

A loveliness round which the soul may cling. . . . . .

As fades from earth the last soft smile of Day,

He turns his melancholy steps away,

With eyes bent down, across the Vega strides,

Nor notes the fawn that tamely by him glides,

The violets lifting up their azure eyes,

Like timid virgins when Love’s steps surprise;

His heavy heart forebodes some danger near,

And throbs alternately with joy and fear.

Night:

Sleep chains the earth: the bright stars glide on high,

Filling with one effulgent smile the sky;

And all is hushed so still, so silent there,

That one might hear an angel wing the air.

Delirium:

At last, I felt me borne as in a dream,

And wafted down some softly-gliding stream,

And heard the creaking cordage over head,

The sailor’s merry song and nimble tread;

Then backward sank to mental night again

Delirium’s world of fantasy and pain,

Where bung the fiery moon, and stars of blood

And phantom-ships rolled on the rolling flood.

Knowledge:

My mind by Grief was ripened ere its time,

And knowledge came spontaneous as a chime,

That flows into the soul unbid, unsought;

On earth, and air, and heaven, I fed my thought;

On Ocean’s teachings-!Etna’s lava-tears-

Ruins and wrecks, and nameless sepulchres.

The Holy Land:

O God! it is a melancholy sight

To see that land whence sprung all sacred light;

Delight of men, and most beloved of God;

Where, happy first, our primal parents trod;

Where Hagar mourned, and Judah’s minstrel sung, .

With the dark pall of desolation hung!

No band of warriors crowd the royal gate,

No suppliant millions in the temples wait,

No prophet-minstrel swells the tide of song,

No mighty seer enchains the breathless throng;

But from the Jordan to the AEgean tide,

From Ganges to Euphrates’ fertile side,

From Mecca’s plains to lofty Lebanon,

The ashes of departed worlds are strewn.

On Carmel’s heights, on Pisgah’s tops I stood,

And paced Epirus’ savage solitude;

Before the sepulchre of Jesus knelt,

And by the Galilean waters dwelt;

Wandered among Assyria’s ruins vast,

Feeding my mute thoughts on the silent past

Pride, splendor, glory, desolation, crime,

And the deep mystery of the birth of Time, [page 265:]

Sleep:

The oblivious world of Sleep

That rayless realm where Fancy never beams

That nothingness beyond the land of dreams,

Indifference:

There are times when the sick soul

Lies calm amid the storms that round it roll,

Indifferent to Fate, or to what haven

By the terrific tempest it is driven.

Greece:

Shrine of the Gods! mine own eternal Greece

When shall thy weeds be dolled, thy mourning cease,

The gyves that bind thy beauty rent in twain,

And thou be living, breathing Greece again?

Grave of the mighty hero, poet, sage

Whose deeds are guiding stars to every age!

Land unsurpassed in glory and despair,

Still in thy desolation then art fair.

Low in sepulchral dust lies Pallas’ shrine

Low in sepulchral dust thy fanes divine,

And all thy visible self yet, o’er thy clay,

Soul, beauty, linger, hallowing decay.

of all the ills that war entailed on thee,

Not all the blood that stained Thermopylae,

Not all the desolation traitors wrought,

Not all the wo and want invaders brought,

Not all the tour; that slavery could wring

From out thy heart of patient suffering,

Not all that drapes thy loveliness in night,

Can quench thy spirit’s never-dying light;

But hovering o’er the dust of gods enshrined,

It beams a beacon to the march of mind

An oasis to sage and bard forlorn

A guiding light to centuries unborn.

For thee I mourn; thy blood is in my veins

To thee by consanguinity’s strong chains

I’m, bound, and fain would die to make thee free;

But oh, there is no liberty for thee

Not all the wisdom of thy greatest one

Not all the bravery of Thetis’ son

Not all the weight of mighty Phoebus’ ire-

Not all the magic of the Athenian’s lyre,

Can ever bid thy tears or mourning cease,

Or rend one gyve that binds thee, lovely Greece!

Zamen and Mynera:

And they were wed: Love chased their tears away,

As mists are driven before the smile, of Day,

Gave softer radiance to both earth and sky,

And made each lovelier in the other’s eye.

No discord roar to mar their happiness

Each morning brought to them untasted bliss;

No pangs, no sorrows chine with varying years;

No cold distrust, no faithlessness, no tears:

But hand in hand, as Eve told Adam trod

Eden, they walked beneath the smile of God.

At morn they wandered through the dewy bowers,

Tended the birds, or trained the garden flowers;

Or, weary of these health-inspiring arts,

With music and sweet song refreshed their hearts;

Then all day seated in the colonnade,

Or where the myrtle made a genial shade,

They bored above the tomes of other days

Cervantes’ wit, and Ossian’s sounding lays; [column 2:]

And Dante’s dreams, and Petrarch’s deathless love;

All that mad Tasso into numbers wove;

Shakspere’s deep harp, and Milton’s loftier song

From all creations of the minstrel throng,

Statues and busts by Grecian chisels wrought,

They drew the nutriment of Love and Thought.

Then, moved by Genius, Zamen swept his lyre,

And, like a meteor, flashed its latent fire

Upon the world, and thrilled its inmost ‘heart:

All that his soul had gleaned from beauty, art,

Love, ruin, melancholy, anguish, wrong,

Revenge, he wove into harmonious song,

And to his country and to lasting fame

Bequeathed a cherished and a spotless name.

Isabelle, or the Broken Heart, is a passionate story, with many passages of spirited description and narration. In tile following passage the heroine a wandering minstrel girl who has deserted a noble home to follow a false lover goes to the confessional:

Wan the mournful maiden now

Across the balmy valley flies,

The cold, damp dew upon her brow,

The hot tears trickling from her eyes

The last that Fate can ever wring

From her young bosom’s troubled spring.

Swiftly beneath the myrtle she

Glides onward o’er the moonlit lea;

By many a mausoleum speeds,

And tomb amidst the tuneful reeds,

Yet falters not she feels no dread

When in the presence of the dead

Alas! what awe have sepulchres

For hearts that have been dead for years

Dead unto all external things

Dead unto Hope’s sweet offerings,

While with its lofty pinions furled,

The spirit floats in neither world!

She gains at length the holy pane,

Where death and solemn silence reign;

Hurries along the shadowy aisles,

Up to the altar where blest tapers

Burn dimly, and the Virgin smiles,

Midst rising clouds of incense vapors;

There kneels by the confession chair,

Where waits the friar with fervent prayer,

To soothe the children of despair.

Her hands are clasped, her eyes upraised,

Meek, beautiful, though coldly glazed,

And her pale cheeks are paling faster;

From under her simple hat of straw,

Over her neck her tresses flow,

Like threads of jet o’er alabaster-

From which the constant dews of night

Have stolen half their glossy light.

It is difficult to give a just impression of any narrative poem by a selection of specimens. But the character and force of the abilities of Mrs. Lewis will perhaps be better understood from these fragments than from a critical description. [page 266:]

LAMENT OF LA VEGA IN CAPTIVITY.

O patria amada! a ti suspira y Ilora

Esta en su carcel alma peregrina,

Lievada errando de uno, en otro instante.

I AM a captive on a hostile shore,

Caged, like the falcon from his native skies,

And doomed by agonizing grief to pour

In futile lamentations, tears, and sighs,

And feed the gaze of fools whom I despise.

Daily they taunt my heart with bitter sneers

They prate of liberty, deeds great and wise,

And fill the air with patriotic cheers, [ears.

While human shackles clank around their listless

Hark! hear ye not, mid those triumphal cries,

The clanking of the Ethiopian’s chains?

His smothered curses from the ricefields rise?

The loud, indignant beating of his veins,

Stirred by the lava hell that in him reigns?

Hear’st him not writhe against the dark decree

That gyves the soul for it brute-rank maintains?

The impetuous rushings of his heart, when he

Watches the eagle soar into the heavens all free?

My soul, appalled, shrinks from hypocrisy,

And whatsoever bears deceptions name

Under thy banner heaven-born Liberty!

The fiends of war, inflated with acclaim,

Revel in crime and virtue put to shame:

They slaughter babes and wives without a cause,

And, holding up their reeking blades, exclaim,

“A victory!” demolish homes, rights, laws,

And o’er the wreck send up to heaven their proud hurrahs.

I am a captive while my country Meeds

For Retribution loudly cries to Heaven,

And for the presence of her warriors pleads,

Till from her far the ruthless foe is driven

O God, O God! hast thou my country given

To direful fate? Must I lie cooped up here,

While she by desecrating hands is riven?

The sobs of Age, and Beauty’s shrieks of fear,

Like funeral knells afar are tolling in my ear!

And thou, ethereal one! my spirit’s bride,

My star, my sun, my universe-tile beam

That lit my youthful feet mid ways untried

Within me woke each high ambitious scheme,

And here dolt hover o’er me in my dream,

Pressing thy lips to mine until I feel

Our quick hearts ebbing into one soft stream

Of holy love ah, who will guard shy weal,

And from thy breast avert the dark marauder’s steel?

Oh, my distracted country! child of pain

And anarchy! thee shall I see no more

Till thou art struggling in the tyrant’s chain,

Oppressed by insult and by sorrow sore,

And steeping in thy children’s sacred gore?

Must thy dim star of glory set for aye?

Must thou become the poet’s Mecca? lore

For antiquaries? temple of decay?

Wilt thou survive no more, my beautiful Monterey’!

Spirit of Cortés Montezuma rise!

Let not the foe your cherished land enslave!

Let her not fall a bloody sacrifice!

And thou, eternal Cid! who from the grave [column 2:]

Didst wake to lead to victory the brave!*

Heroes who fell in Roncesvalles vale,

And ye who fought by Darro’s golden wave,

From the Red Vega drove the Moslem pale,’

Hear, in the spirit-land, my country’s doleful wail!

—♦—

UNA.

——

THERE is but little on this earth

To fill the soul of lofty birth;

At best it much must feel the dearth

Of genial showers.

It binds Nepenthe to its lips,

Arid at life’s sparking goblet sips,

While in the waters fennel dips

Its bitter flowers.

But Una, round thy heart’s blest shrine,

No bitter fennel-blossoms twine:

By odor-breathing flowers divine

It is embalmed.

Sere lies my heart, and sere its world,

Since thou Overt from its altars hurled;

My spirit’s pinions have been furled,

Dike sails becalmed.

Love on my heart thy form did stamp,

Thy beauty, like a vestal lamp,

Within my soul’s cell, dark and damp,

For ever burns.

And unto thee, as to its goal,

Gazes athirst the stranded soul;

As points the magnet to the pole,

My sick heart turns.

—♦—

THE DEAD.

THE dead, the dead ah, where are they?

What distant planet do they tread?

What stars illume their blissful way?

What suns their light around them shed!

Do they look through the mystic veil

That hides them from our mortal eyes,

And catch the mourner’s plaintive wail

That o’er their sepulchres doth rise?

Do they the bitter pinions know

Of friends that hold their memory dear

The many sighs the tears that flow

Because they dwell no longer here?

Oh, if they do, ‘tis meed enough

For all the tears that we must shed:

The chains of wo we can not doff

Till we are numbered with the dead!

* Cid Campeador, after death, was dressed in his war apparel, placed on his richly caparisoned steed, and led forth from the walls of Valencia toward the Moorish camp; at the sight of whom, and the great number of his followers, the Moors, in all sixty thousand, fled toward the sea. Southeys Chronicles of the Cid.

† The Darro is a small stream running through the city of Grenada, and containing in its bed particles of gold.

‡ The plain surrounding Grenada, and the scene of action between the Moors and the Christians. [[All three footnotes appear at the bottom of column 2 on page 266.]]


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Notes:

The assignment of the authorship of this article is problematic. It was first attributed to Poe by Heartman and Canny (H&C, 1940, p. 226 and 1943, p. 127), based on statements made by Thomas Ollive Mabbott. The Poe Log (p. 777) says, Heartman and Canny . . . wrongly attributed Griswolds sketch of Sarah Anna Lewis to Poe, noting the sarcastic reference to Poes praise of The Forsaken and casting the shadow of plagiarism on the poem by quoting a similar poem by William Motherwell. (According to a note by Mabbott in his papers at the University of Iowa, Griswold edited an American edition of Motherwells poems sometime in the 1840s.) The Poe Log also relies on Poes comment in his June 28, 1849 letter to Griswold, where he refers to Griswolds no doubt hurried notice and offers in its place a somewhat longer one prepared by myself (subject, of course, to your emendations). As stated in this letter, Poe left his revised text for the article for Griswold to pick up from the Lewises. Griswold appears to have picked up the package by September 4, 1849, as confirmed in a brief letter from Maria Clemm to Griswold. In his note to the June 28, 1849 letter, John W. Ostrom states, It has been suggested that Poe wrote the sketch of Mrs. Lewis in Griswolds 1849 edition of Female Poets of America, but the above letter and the facts of publication of that edition disprove such a contention (p. 451). The article is also attributed to Griswold by Joy Bayless, who also comments about the paragraph concerning Motherwell by which, both the authoress and the acute critic Mr. Edgar A. Poe were thus subtly condemned she for plagiarism and he for ignorance (Rufus Wilmot Griswold: Poe’s Literary Executor, 1943, p. 150).

According to Bayless, The Female Poets of America was available by December 18, 1848. In their official record book, Carey and Hart give the date of completion as Dec. 13, 1848, as noted by Bayless, p. 281n60. BAL notes that the second edition, with miscellaneous corrections, was also dated 1849 and that subsequent printings, all bearing the designation of Second Edition appeared in 1852, 1853, 1854 (two printings), and 1856. (The Note to the Second Edition states: In the present edition, the preface is augmented, and a few typographical errors are corrected. The suddenness with which it is called for prevented any other alterations.) A new edition, revised by Richard Henry Stoddard, was printed in 1874.

Adding greatly to the mystery are fragments of a manuscript, clearly prepared in part by Poe, of the long selections from Mrs. Lewiss poetry, where the descriptive words before each quotation are in Poes own hand, along with several additional pages written by Mrs. Lewis herself. Poe wrote a number of reviews of Mrs. Lewis, and several fragments from these items survive. The similarity of the material has caused some to incorrectly assume that they are from a single manuscript. A reasonable conjecture is that Poe, at the instigation of Mrs. Lewis, assisted her in preparing a set of verses for Griswold to consider for his upcoming volume on the Female Poets of America. Just as Poe wrote a brief autobiographical memorandum of himself, which Griswold adapted for The Poets and Poetry of America (1841 and later editions), some sort of biographical statement, either by Poe or Mrs. Lewis, may have accompanied the poems. Griswold based his article on these items, but essentially wrote the text as it appeared, hence Poes appropriate designation of the notice as Griswolds. Since the book was stereo-plated, and it was therefore impractical to make more than minor corrections, Griswold did not use Poes subsequent package of material on Mrs. Lewis until he printed the Literati volume of Poes works in 1850.

Poe does indeed describe The Forsaken as inexpressibly beautiful in his review of The Child of the Sea and other Poems, from Southern Literary Messenger, September 1848. Griswold may have used this review as part of his research for his article.]

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[S:0 - GM, 1847] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - Literary (Text-02)