Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. T. O. Mabbott), “Spiritual Song,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. I: Poems (1969), pp. 303-304 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 303:]


This “most striking fragment,” as its discoverer called it, was found by J. H. Whitty. It was written in Poe's hand, on the second page of an unsigned manuscript sent by William Maxwell to the owner of the Southern Literary Messenger when Poe was its editor. The missive is addressed to “Mr. Thomas W. White. / Publisher of the Southern Lit. Messenger. / Richmond.” It is handstamped “STEAM” and marked “Pd” by a postmaster, and docketed by the recipient, “Anonymous / composition for Messenger.” On the first page of the manuscript is a poem “Sacred Song” of sixteen lines beginning and ending:

Oh! strike the Harp, while yet there lies

In Music's breath the power to please; ...

Then strike the Harp in Zion's strains,

And she shall soar at once to heaven.

Occupying the upper half of the second page is another poem, “Madrigal. The Wreath” — eight lines — in which Poe showed no interest. Lower on this page is the tiny piece, a title and three lines in Poe's hand. It is reasonable to suppose Poe thought about rewriting the first piece and then decided to seek out the author instead; the postal markings gave a clue to its being sent “by steam” from Norfolk. In the Messenger of August 1836 (2:554), “Sacred Song” appeared, as “By W. Maxwell,” verbally like the manuscript quoted.

William Maxwell (1784-1857) was the author of Poems, issued at Philadelphia, of which there are editions, “Printed by William Fry, 1812,” and “Published by M. Thomas, 1816.” He resided at Norfolk in 1836, and made several contributions to the Southern Literary Messenger. In later years he was secretary of the Virginia Historical Society.

Whitty brought himself into disrepute by farfetched claims to “discoveries about Poe,” but he made some real finds, and this fragment I am sure was one of them. [page 304:]


(A) Manuscript (1836), once in the Koester Collection; (B) Complete Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. J. H. Whitty (1911), pp. 138-139, including facsimile.

The manuscript (A), of which the late William H. Koester sent me a photograph, is followed verbally, but I normalize the punctuation.





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