Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. T. O. Mabbott), “Stanzas,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. I: Poems (1969), pp. 76-78 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 76, continued:]


This poem is one of the most difficult Poe ever wrote; the explanation by Wilbur (Poe, p. 122) may be synopsized. In youth the author communed with nature, especially the sun and stars, but did not understand the “power” (1-8). He questions if it be madness (9-10) — but believes it is visionary (11-16). Intuitively he finds profound meaning in common things (17-24), Beauty, foreshadowing Heaven, draws him by the grace of God away from a fall threatened by his pride (25-32).

The motto inexactly quoted from Byron, The Island, II, xvi, 13-16 (published June 26, 1823), is a good commentary on the poem, in conjunction with two remarks of Poe. On July 2, 1844, he wrote James Russell Lowell: “There are epochs when ... nothing yields me pleasure but solitary communion with the ‘mountains and the woods’ — the ‘altars’ of Byron. I have ... rambled and dreamed ...” To his friend Thomas M. Alfriend he said, probably in the summer of 1849: “Nature rests me, I always find a calm with nature that I seek in vain everywhere else, and no matter how great my perturbation, she never fails to bring me peace.” The remark is recorded by Alfriend’s son, Edward, in the Literary Era, August 1901.


The only original form is that of Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827), pp. 30-32, untitled, which presents three incorrect readings. In line 7, I have [page 77:] changed “knew — not” to “knew not —”; in line 10 “fervor” may be for “fever” (as the rhyme shows it is in “Visit of the Dead” line 18), but, since here the intention may be “fervor,” I forbear emendation; line 24 closes with what looks like a period, but might be a broken comma; since sense demands the latter, I print a comma. The title “Stanzas” was given the poem by Stedman and Woodberry, in Works, X, 122.


How often we forget all time, when lone

Admiring Nature’s universal throne;

Her woods — her wilds — her mountains — the intense

Reply of HERS to OUR intelligence!



In youth have I known one with whom the Earth

In secret communing held — as he with it,

In day light, and in beauty from his birth:

Whose fervid, flick’ring torch of life was lit


From the sun and stars, whence he had drawn forth

A passionate light — such for his spirit was fit —

And yet that spirit knew not — in the hour

Of its own fervor — what had o’er it power.


Perhaps it may be that my mind is wrought


To a ferver by the moon beam that hangs o’er,

But I will half believe that wild light fraught

With more of sov’reignty than ancient lore


Hath ever told — or is it of a thought

The unembodied essence, and no more


That with a quick’ning spell doth o’er us pass

As dew of the night-time, o’er the summer grass?



Doth o’er us pass, when, as th’ expanding eye

To the loved object — so the tear to the lid [page 78:]

Will start, which lately slept in apathy?


And yet it need not be — (that object) hid

From us in life — but common — which doth lie

Each hour before us — but then only bid


With a strange sound, as of a harp-string broken


T’awake us — ’Tis a symbol and a token,



Of what in other worlds shall be — and giv’n

In beauty by our God, to those alone


Who otherwise would fall from life and Heav’n

Drawn by their heart’s passion, and that tone,

That high tone of the spirit which hath striv’n


Tho’ not with Faith — with godliness — whose throne

With desp’rate energy ’t hath beaten down;

Wearing its own deep feeling as a crown.


[page 78, continued:]


1-2  Compare the opening of Bryant’s “Thanatopsis,” quoted in the note on “Tamerlane” of 1827, lines 311ff.

13-14  Compare “To Marie Louise,” line 12: “Unthoughtlike thoughts that are the souls of thought.”

17-25  Campbell (Poems, pp. 164-165) compares this with Childe Harold, IV, xxiii:

And slight withal may be the things which bring

Back on the heart the weight which it would fling

Aside forever: it may be a sound —

A tone of music — summer’s eve — or spring —

A flower — the wind — the ocean ...

23  See note on “The Coliseum,” line 36, for an explanation of the statue which greeted the dawn with the weird sound of a breaking harpstring. The sound was emitted also by the stone on which Apollo placed his lyre at the building of the walls of Megara; E. C. Pinkney refers to this in “A Picture Song,” lines 21-22, “Apollo placed his harp, of old, a while upon a stone, / Which has resounded since, when struck, a breaking harp-string’s tone.” The story is in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, VIII, 14f.

24  “A symbol and a token” is also in “Spirits of the Dead,” line 26.

27-28  Compare “Al Aaraaf” (1829), II, 263-264: “Heaven to them no hope imparts / Who hear not for the beating of their hearts.”





[S:1 - TOM1P, 1969] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions-The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (T. O. Mabbott) (Stanzas)