Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. T. O. Mabbott), “The Happiest Day,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. I: Poems (1969), pp. 80-82 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 80, continued:]


The poem is not easy to interpret, and includes one crux. There is no doubt that it is personal, but there is less certainty that it concerns Elmira Royster. The “happiest day” may have been that on which the poet realized his genius and also divined that, in the long run, men of genius are often unhappy. It may be the day he left Richmond for the University of Virginia, with high hopes of success and of his lady’s love, but not without vague forebodings. Or it may have been the day of his return to Richmond, [page 81:] when his high hopes were dashed to earth by the discovery that Elmira was lost to him. It is also suggested that he had the mystic experience in mind.

However personal, the piece, like its author at the time, is Byronic. W. P. Trent was reminded of Byron’s famous lines on his thirty-sixth birthday (1824).

A few months after its first publication, the poem was printed, with a number of changes, in the Baltimore North American. There it is headed “Original” but signed “W. H. P.,” the mark of Poe’s brother — who may well have been the reviser, in view of the tame quality of the new lines. The piece received no title from either Poe. There is a facsimile of the Baltimore text in Allen and Mabbott, Poe’s Brother, page 43.


(A) Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827), pp. 33-34; (B) Baltimore North American, September 15, 1827.

[page 82, continued:]


2  hath / has (B)

3  highest hope / brightest glance (B)

4  hath / has (B)

6  they have / it has (B)

10  ev’n / e’en (B)

12  After this line, B gives a new stanza:

The smile of love — soft friendship’s charm —

Bright hope itself has fled at last,

’Twill ne’er again my bosom warm —

’Tis ever past.

16  have / has (B)

17-21  Omitted from B.

[page 82, continued:]


2  Compare Byron’s “Fare thee well,” line 59, “Sear’d in heart, and lone, and blighted,” also echoed in “Tamerlane” (1827), line 28, and Politian, VII, 28.

10-11  This is the crux; Campbell (Poems, p. 167) saw in the word “inherit” an allusion to a new heir for John Allan, a theory combated by the fact that his first wife was alive in 1827. If the poem concerns Elmira Royster, it is a reproach that a woman who was cruel to her first fiancé might prove so to her husband. Compare the severity of “To [Elmira]” (“The bowers whereat, in dreams, I see”). A more general idea may be that Pride, renounced by the poet, may find another genius, equally unwise, to injure.

21-24  Compare “Romance,” lines 11-27.

23  Campbell (Poems, p. 167) compared this to Manfred, I, i, 283: “An essence which hath strength to kill.”





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