Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Mrs. Lewis’ Poems,” Western Quarterly Review, April 1849, pp. 404-408


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[page 404:]

ART XVIII. MRS. LEWIS’ POEMS.

The Child of the Sea and other Poems. By S. ANNA LEWIS. George P. Putnam, New York.

Mrs. Lewis acquired, almost immediately upon her literary debut, a reputation of which any American poetess might be proud, and has since steadily and very rapidly advanced in the public estimation, both in securing the voice of the many, and in winning the hearts of the few whose appreciation a poet could alone desire, the author of “Florence,” of “Zenel,” of “The Bride of Guayaquil,” of “The Forsaken” and of “The Child of the Sea,” has been pre-eminently successful. Mr. Willis, Mr. Bryant and many others who hold the highest rank in our Literary Republic, have not only felt but cordially expressed their sense of her genius. If laudari a laudatis be grateful to the soul of a poet, then Mrs. Lewis has had abundant reason to be happy and proud.

Our authoress is one of the youngest of American poetesses, and gave indication, at a very early age, of the powers she has since so strikingly and fully manifested. The first poetical effort, however, which brought her name very especially before the eye of the public, was “The Ruins of Palenque” which appeared originally in “The New World.” This poem, which was extensively copied, is based on a passage in Stephens’ “Travels in Central America.” In 1844 the Appletons published, at New York, her “Records of the Heart,” a large edition of which was soon exhausted. In 1846 appeared, in “The Democratic Review,” her “Broken Heart,” a poem in three cantos; since which she has given to the world a number of minor compositions, chiefly poetical, through the medium of various periodical works among which the principal are the Democratic and American Reviews. Her last, longest, and beyond all question her most meritorious production, however, is that which Mr. Putnam has just issued and which forms the heading of the present hurried critique. [page 405:]

With the exception, perhaps, of “The Broken Heart,” (which forms a portion of the volume now before us) the best of Mrs. Lewis’ earlier poems are included, for the most part, in “The Records of the Heart.” “Florence” is the opening composition in that collection; and is strongly characteristic embodying nearly all the author’s peculiarities of subject, manner, and turn of thought. It is a tale of fervid romance, instinct with the poetic sentiment and spirit, although neither so accurately finished nor so elaborate as some of her late productions. “Laone,” “Melpomene,” “Zenel,” “The Bride of Guayaqil” and “The Last Hour of Sappho,” are the most important of the remaining poems in the volume. They all breathe, however, the same spirit and are distinguished by the glow, the enthusiasm, the dreamy romance and apparent (or perhaps real) abandon of expression. To quote individual passages from poems so long as are all those just mentioned, would be to render the author a disservice but we will make our readers amende by the citation of two of her shorter pieces each exquisite in a different way.

TO E.

Thou’rt gone from this cold world of ours,

A resident above

An angel midst unfading flowers

And songs of changeless love;

And com’st no more at eventide

To lay thy hand in mine,

With smiles to cheer our fire-side,

And bid me not repine;

And yet, lost one, thou art to me

More than the living all can be

A light that shines from Heaven afar,

My morning and my evening star.

I ne’er shall hear again on Earth

Thy footstep’s blithesome bound,

Nor meet thee by the parent hearth

When there we kneel around:

No! Nevermore shall see below

Beloved, thy form so fair,

Thy lily cheek and snowy brow

Thy wealth of golden hair;

And yet, lost one, thou are to me

More than the living all can be

A light that shines from Heaven afar,

My morning and my evening star. [page 406:]

Around me near me every where

I hear thy angel voice

Sweet accents from a viewless sphere,

Bidding my heart rejoice.

At morn or eve in vale or grove

Where’er my footsteps tend

Down from thy starry realms above

Thy meek eyes on me bend.

And thus, lost one, thou art to me

More than the living all can be

A light that shines from Heaven afar,

My morning and my evening star.

There must be something more than ordinarily impressive, both in the sentiment and expression, as well as in the cadence, of a refrain, to enable us to admire it, or even to tolerate it, unaltered in its phraseology, through the whole of even a brief poem. We must therefore consider the lines “And thus, lost one,” &c., &c., as essentially poetical; and they are. Throughout the whole composition there is a sustained and quiet dignity which is very impressive. But in terse, natural, passionate expression they are not to be compared with

THE FORSAKEN.

It hath been said for all who die

There is a tear

Some pining, bleeding heart to sigh

O’er every bier:

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 [page 407:]

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 of 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 wo:

From all I love in youth’s sweet prime

I soon must go

Draw round me my cold robes of white

In some dark spot,

To sleep through Death’s long, dreamless night

Lone and forgot.

We can never speak of think of these lines without enthusiasm. They are supremely beautiful in their natural pathos. The passages italicised fill us with a shuddering delight in which we recognize the earnest power of the poet. This poem could not have been written without first profoundly despairingly felt.

The “Child of the Sea” is a tale of romantic adventure of love, sorrow and crime. It most fully exemplifies the peculiar tone of the author’s mind its romance first its enthusiasm its abandon. It is more skilfully executed, however, better versified and more artistically constructed as a tale, than “Florence” or any other similar narrative by this author. The story is [page 408:] deeply interesting full of adventure, passion and imagination. It would not be doing Mrs. Lewis justice to give any digest of the story; and we must content ourselves with a merely general expression of admiration, and the citation of some passages at random.

CRIME.

Oh Crime! thou mayst escape the Laws of Earth;

Mayst trample on the hearts of Love and Worth;

Imbrue thy hideous hands in human blood,

Remorseless as within the limpid flood,

The priceless mines of Ophir mayst unfold,

And clothe thy ghastly form in glowing gold

The brightest gems from coral caves upcast;

But Heaven’s avenging hand will seek thee out at last!

DEATH.

Death touched his heart, and every pulse grew still,

Immovable, and stark, and coldly chill,

As ice that clings around the Boreal Pole;

The last warm spark that played around his soul

Was quenched. Vitality forever flown,

And like a frigid monument of stone,

Prostrate he fell, a senseless, lifeless clod,

Upwept on Earth an outcast from his God

A foe to Virtue to mankind a curse

A slave to Crime the Victim of Remorse.

LOVE AND MADNESS.

Ye Powers! that rule the destinies of men!

By some swift blow, obliterate my pain!

My brain is maddened with revengeful Ire,

My heart encompassed by the scorpion’s fire.

Angel of Beauty! Virtue defied

On Earth! yet not to earthly things allied!

Thou art too beautiful for mortal touch

For this vile orb, Heaven ne’er created such

Thou art the fair Redeemer of my heart:

All sinful thoughts thy presence bade depart

Heaven cannot fathom all my Love for thee

’Tis pure ‘tis boundless as Eternity!


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Notes:

None.

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[S:0 - WQR, 1849] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Cricitism - Mrs. Lewis' Poems (Text-01)