Text: James A. Harrison, “Poe and John Neal,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. VII: Poems (1902), p. 251-264


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[page 251:]

POE AND JOHN NEAL.

(1)POE AND JOHN NEAL. POES EARLIEST LETTER. THE 1829 POEMS IN MS. THE MAGICIAN. THE SKELETON HAND.

“THE Yankee; and Boston Literary Gazette: New Series ... No. 1: July, 1829,” is the title of a rare periodical monthly edited by John Neal with a motto from Bentham: “Utility. — The greatest happiness of the greatest number,” and devoted, in the twenties, to literature, art, science, and the drama. In some way Poe’s attention was drawn to this publication after the issue of his Boston “Tamerlane” volume of 1827, and while he was engaged in preparing for the press the “Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems” of 1829.

He was barely twenty at the time, and scanning the horizon all around for a sympathetic friend, his gaze fell by chance, it seems, on John Neal and his periodical at a time when the partial rupture with the Allans rendered Poe peculiarly susceptible to sympathy. The result was that Poe began a correspondence with Neal [page 252:] which resulted in several contributions of poems to the magazine. The two poems we reproduce here — “The Skeleton Hand” and “The Magician” — appear, the former in the August number of “The Yankee” signed “P,” the latter in the December number, signed the same way. Both are in our opinion boyish products of Poe’s muse, “The Magician,” a finely imaginative one; and as to the latter, the writer has the high authority of Prof. Richardson, who agrees with him that it is undoubtedly Poe’s. As to “The Skeleton Hand,” Prof. Richardson and Dr. Kent dissent; Dr. Kent, also, thinks “The Magician” is not Poe’s.

I.

THE SKELETON-HAND.

[From The Yankee, Aug., 1829.]

LO! one is on the mountain side,

While the clouds are passing by —

With their black wings flapping heavily,

Like eagles in the sky;

Or lying up in the forest trees,

And waiting there for the mountain-breeze.

And now he passes through the clouds —

And up to the mountain-top,

Nor yet to look for the joyous sun

Does the hasty traveller stop. [page 253:]

But he leapeth down in the broken path

With a step as light and free —

As ever in his days of mirth,

In the dance and revelry.

Why endeth he his hasty speed?

Why stoppeth on his way?

In truth it is a fearful thing,

For human tongue to say.

He fears that toward him pointeth there,

A fleshless human hand;

Where the mountain rains have swept away,

Its covering of sand;

That hand his very soul doth stir,

For it proveth him a murderer.

Ay long ago on the mountain side,

The fearful deed was done;

And the murderer thought him safe, that none

Could see, save the broad bright sun,

As he rolled in the heavens the dead above,

And flooded the earth with his rays of love.

Now lifted he his clouded eye,

To the mountain crests behind;

And o’er them came the broad black clouds,

Upheaving with the wind;

And on them their thick darkness spread —

A crown upon the mountain’s head. [page 254:]

And then shone out the flaming sun,

From the waters of the sea;

And God’s own bow came in the clouds,

And looked out gloriously;

But its colours were of wo and wrath,

That threw their light o’er the murderer’s path.

And now God’s chariots — the clouds,

Came rolling down with might;

Their wheels like many horsemen were,

In battle or in flight.

And yet no power to move hath he,

His soul is in an agony.

Over the murderer and dead,

They rolled their mighty host;

Old ocean’s waves come not so thick,

By northern tempests tost.

Forth from their mighty bosom came,

A flash of heaven’s wrath,

And away the heavy clouds — and sun,

Rolled from the murder-path.

And the sun shone out where the murderer lay,

Before the dead in the narrow way —

With his hand all seared, and his breast torn bare —

God’s vengeance had been working there.

(Signed)   P——.

II.

THE MAGICIAN.(1)

[December, 1829.]

THOU dark, sea-stirring storm,

Whence comest thou in thy might —

Nay — wait, thou dim and weary form —

Storm spirit, I call thee — ’t is mine of right —

Arrest thee in thy troubled flight.

STORM SPIRIT.

Thou askest me whence I came —

I came o’er the sleeping sea,

It roused at my torrent of storm and flame,

And it howled aloud in its agony,

And swelled to the sky — that sleeping sea.

Thou askest me what I met

A ship from the Indian shore,

A tall proud ship with her sails all set —

Far down in the sea that ship I bore,

My storms wild rushing wings before.

And her men will forever lie,

Below the unquiet sea;

And tears will dim full many an eye,

Of those who shall widows and orphans be,

And their days be years — for their misery. [page 256:]

A boat with a starving crew —

For hunger they howled and swore;

While the blood from a fellow’s veins they drew

I came upon them with rush and roar —

Far under the waves that boat I bore.

Two ships in a fearful fight —

When a hundred guns did flash

I came upon them — no time for flight —

But under the sea their timbers crash

And over their guns the wild waves dash

A wretch on a single plank —

And I tossed him on the shore —

A night and a day of the sea he drank,

But the wearied wretch to the land I bore —

And now he walketh the earth once more —

MAGICIAN.

Storm spirit — go on thy path —

The spirit has spread his wings —

And comes on the sea with a rush of wrath,

As a war horse when he springs —

And over the earth his winds he flings —

And over the earth — nor stop nor stay —

The winds of the storm king go out on their way.

(Signed)   P——. [page 257:]

FAIRY LAND.

IN September, 1829, Neal in his notices “To Correspondents” aims the following dart at Poe — which incidentally mentions the poem now known as “Fairy-Land” by the “Baltimore poet”:

“If E. A. P. of Baltimore — whose lines about ‘Heaven’ though he professes to regard them as altogether superior to anything in the whole range of American poetry, save two or three trifles referred to, are, though nonsense, rather exquisite nonsense — would but do himself justice [he] might [sic] make a beautiful and perhaps a magnificent poem. There is 9 good deal here to justify such a hope:

Dim vales and shadowy floods,

And cloudy looking woods,

Whose forms we can’t discover

For the tears that — drip all over.

The moonlight falls

Over hamlets, over halls.

Wherever they may be,

O’er the strange woods, o’er the sea —

O’er spirits on the wing,

O’er every drowsy thing —

And buries them up quite

In a labyrinth of light:

And then how deep! Oh, deep!

Is the passion of their sleep!

“He should have signed it, Bah! ... We have no room for others.” [page 258:]

In the November number, 1829, p. 280, Neal has the following notice:

“TO CORRESPONDENTS.

“Many papers intended for this number have been put aside for the next, from necessity, owing to the death of a man, who, occupying the place he did, and being what he was, could not be overlooked even for a month. Among others are Night — The Magician — Unpublished Poetry (being specimens of a book about to appear at Baltimore), Death of James William Miller, our late highly gifted and most amiable associate, and a long piece of poetry which may or may not appear.

“Several other communications will hereafter be attended to, though a particular notice may not be given.”

The following month (December, 1829) a very interesting paper, which we quote entire, fills several pages of “The Yankee,” giving us not only the earliest known dated letter of Poe’s, but long and interesting quotations from “ Al Aaraaf,” “Tamerlane,” and a minor poem. The verbal deviations, and the differences in punctuation, abbreviation, and italics from the text of the present edition, are numerous:

“UNPUBLISHED POETRY.

[From The Yankee, December, 1829.]

“The following passages are from the manuscript-works of a young author, about to be published in Baltimore. He is entirely a stranger to us, but with [page 259:] all their faults, if the remainder of Al Aaraaf and Tamerlane are as good as the body of the extracts here given — to say nothing of the more extraordinary parts, he will deserve to stand high — very high — in the estimation of the shining brotherhood. Whether he will do so however, must depend, not so much upon his worth now in mere poetry, as upon his worth hereafter in something yet loftier and more generous — we allude to the stronger properties of the mind, to the magnanimous determination that enables a youth to endure the present, whatever the present may be, in the hope, or rather in the belief, the fixed, unwavering belief, that in the future he will find his reward. ’I am young,’ he says in a letter to one who has laid it on our table for a good purpose, ’I am young — not yet twenty — am a poet — if deep worship of all beauty can make me one — and wish to be so in the more common meaning of the word. I would give the world to embody one half the ideas afloat in my imagination. (By the way, do you remember — or did you ever read the exclamation of Shelley about Shakspeare ? — “What a number of ideas must have been afloat before such an author could arise! ”) I appeal to you as a man that loves the same beauty which I adore — the beauty of the natural blue sky and the sunshiny earth — there can be no tie more strong than that of brother for brother — it is not so much that they love one another, as that they both love the same parent — their affections are always running in the same direction — the same channel — and cannot help mingling.

‘I am and have been from my childhood, an idler. It cannot therefore be said that [page 260:]

“I left a calling for this idle trade,

A duty broke — a father disobeyed” —

for I have no father — nor mother.

‘I am about to publish a volume of “Poems,” the greater part written before I was fifteen. Speaking about “Heaven,”(1) the editor of the “Yankee “ says, “He might write a beautiful, if not a magnificent poem” — (the very first words of encouragement I ever remember to have heard). I am very certain that as yet I have not written either — but that I can, I will take oath — if they will give me time.

‘The poems to be published are “Al Aaraaf” — “Tamerlane” — one about four and the other about three hundred lines, with smaller pieces. “Al Aaraaf” has some good poetry, and much extravagance which I have not had time to throw away.(2)

‘ “Al Aaraaf” is a tale of another world — the star discovered by Tycho Brahe, which appeared and disappeared so suddenly — or rather, it is no tale at all. I will insert an extract, about the palace of its presiding Deity, in which you will see that I have supposed many of the lost sculptures of our world to have flown (in spirit) to the star “ Al Aaraaf” — a delicate place, more suited to their divinity.

Uprear’d upon such height arose a pile

Of gorgeous columns on th’ unburthened air —

(3)Flashing, from Parian marble, that twin-smile

Far down upon the wave that sparkled there, [page 261:]

And nursled the young mountain in its lair:

Of molten stars their pavement — such as fall

Thro’ the ebon air — besilvering the pall

Of their own dissolution while they die —

Adorning, then, the dwellings of the sky;

A dome by linked light(1) from Heaven let down,

Sat gently on these columns as a crown;

A window of one circular diamond there

Looked out above into the purple air,

And rays from God shot down that meteor chain

And hallow’d all the beauty twice again,

Save when, between th’ Empyrean, and that ring,

Some eager spirit flapp’d a dusky wing:

But, on the pillars, seraph eyes have seen

The dimness of this world: that grayish green

That nature loves the best for beauty’s grave,

Lurked in each cornice — round each architrave —

And every sculptur’d cherub thereabout

That from his marble dwelling ventured(2) out,

Seemed earthly in the shadow of his niche —

Archaian [?] statues in a world so rich?

Friezes from Tadmor and Persepolis —

From Balbec and the chilly, clear abyss

Of beautiful Gomorrah! — oh! the wave

Is now upon thee — but too late to save!

Far down within the crystal of the lake

Thy swollen pillars tremble — and so quake

The hearts of many wanderers who look in

Thy luridness of beauty — and of sin. [page 262:]

‘Another —

— Silence is the voice of God —

Ours is a world of words: quiet we call

“Silence” — which is the merest word of all.

Here Nature speaks — and ev’n ideal things

Flap shadowy sounds from visionary wings;

But ah! not so, when in the realms on high,

The eternal voice of God is moving by,

And the red winds are withering in the sky!

‘From Tamerlane —

The fever’d diadem on my brow

I claimed and won usurpingly:

Hath not the same fierce heirdom given

Rome to the Caesar — this to me?

The heritage of a kingly mind

And a proud spirit, which hath striven

Triumphantly with human-kind.

  · · · · · · · ·  

On mountain soil I first drew life,

The mists of the Taglay have shed

Nightly their dews upon my head;

And, I believe, the winged strife

And tumult of the headlong air

Hath nestled in my very hair.

  · · · · · · · ·  

So late from Heaven, that dew, it fell,

Mid dreams of one unholy night,

Upon me with the touch of Hell —

While the red flashing of the light

From clouds that hung, like banners, o’er,

Seem’d then to my half-closing eye [page 263:]

The pageantry of monarchy;

And the deep trumpet-thunder’s roar

Came hurriedly upon me telling

Of human battle (near me swelling).

  · · · · · · · ·  

The rain came down upon my head

Unshelter’d, and the heavy wind

Was giantlike — so thou, my mind!

It was but man, I thought, who shed

Laurels upon me — and the rush —

The torrent of the chilly air

Gurgled within my ear the crush

Of empires — with the captive’s prayer;

The hum of suitors, and the tone

Of flattery round a sovereign-throne.

  · · · · · · · ·  

Young Love’s first lesson is the heart:

For mid that sunshine and those smiles,

When, from our little cares apart,

And laughing at her girlish wiles,

I’d throw me on her throbbing breast,

And pour my spirit out in tears,

There was no need to speak the rest —

No need to quiet any fears

Of her — who ask’d no reason why,

But turned on me her quiet eye.

‘Tamerlane dying —

Father! I firmly do believe —

I know — for Death, who comes for me

From regions of the blest afar,

(Where there is nothing to deceive)

Hath left his iron gate ajar; [page 264:]

And rays of truth you cannot see

Are flashing through Eternity —

I do believe that Eblis hath

A snare in every human path;

Else how when in the holy grove

I wandered of the idol, Love,

Who daily scents his snowy wings

With incense of burnt offerings

From the most undefiled things —

Whose pleasant bowers are yet so riven

Above with trelliced rays from Heaven

No mote may shun — no tiniest fly

The lightning of his eagle eye.

How was it that Ambition crept

Unseen, amid the revels there,

Till, growing bold, he laugh’d and leapt

In the tangles of Love’s brilliant hair?

’Passage from the minor poems.

If my peace hath flown away

In a night — or in a day —

In a vision — or in none —

Is it therefore the less gone?

I am standing mid the roar

Of a weatherbeaten shore,

And I hold within my hand

Some particles of sand —

How few ! and how they creep

Through my fingers to the deep!

My early hopes ? — No — they

Went gloriously away,

Like lightning from the sky

At once — and so will I.’

“Having allowed our youthful writer to be heard in his own behalf, — what more can we do for the lovers of genuine poetry? Nothing. They who are judges will not need more; and they who are not — why waste words upon them? We shall not.”


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 251:]

1.  The editor has been permitted to make this study of Poe’s early literary relations with John Neal and “The Yankee” through the courtesy of the authorities of the Hallowell (Maine) Social Library, which owns the rare volume of “The Yankee” quoted. He would also thank Prof. C. F. Richardson, of Dartmouth College, for his kindness in locating and securing the use of the volume for him. — J. A. H.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 255:]

1.  The punctuation throughout is the author’s — by desire. — [John Neal’s note.]

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 260:]

1.  A poem by the author of “Al Aaraaf,” mentioned in No. III: 168.

2.  This will remind the reader of the following anecdote. Your sermon was too long, sir — why didn’t you make it shorter? I hadn’t time. — [Neal’s note.]

3.  Alluding to a prior part.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 261:]

1.  The idea of linked light is beautiful; but the moment you read it aloud, the beauty is gone. To say link-ed light would be queer enough, notwithstanding Moore’s “wreath-ed shell;” but to say link’d-light would spoil the rhythm. [Note in The Yankee.]

2.  The word in the original was peered: we have changed it for the reason stated above. — [Neal.]


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - JAHCW, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Poe and John Neal)