Text: Thomas Ollive Mabbott, “Bridal Ballad,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. I: Poems (1969), pp. 304-310 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 304, continued:]


This poem, although not usually considered one of Poe’s major efforts, has the merit of an extremely original subject. Romantic literature is full of ladies forced into marriage against their will by cruel relatives or circumstances beyond their control. But it is hard to name another story in which the compulsion came only from a misunderstanding of a chance remark made earnestly and honestly by the heroine. The story is simple enough. A lady whose lover was killed in battle happens to faint. She revives in the arms of a friend, and momentarily thinks him her lost lover. She says that she is “happy now,” and her rescuer, who is in love with her, believes that she wishes to marry him. The poem is the lady’s soliloquy immediately after the wedding.

Poe’s primary inspiration was almost surely a poem that had been printed in the Southern Literary Messenger of August 1835, in a brief article which deserves quotation in full.

For the Southern Literary Messenger

Mr. White: The subjoined copy of an old Scotch ballad, contains so much of the beauty and genuine spirit of by-gone poetry, that I have determined to risk a frown from the fair lady by whom the copy was furnished, in submitting it for publication. The ladies sometimes violate their promises — may I not for once assume their privilege, in presenting to the readers of the Messenger this “legend of the olden time,” although I promised not? [page 305:] Relying on the kind heart of the lady for forgiveness for this breach of promise, I have anticipated the pardon in sending you the lines, which I have never as yet seen in print.     SIDNEY.


They have giv’n her to another —

They have sever’d ev’ry vow;

They have giv’n her to another,

And my heart is lonely now;

They remember’d not our parting —

They remember’d not our tears,

They have sever’d in one fatal hour

The tenderness of years.

Oh! was it weal to leave me?

Thou couldst not so deceive me;

Lang and sairly shall I grieve thee,

Lost, lost Rosabel!

They have giv’n thee to another —

Thou art now his gentle bride;

Had I lov’d thee as a brother,

I might see thee at his side;

But I know with gold they won thee,

And thy trusting heart beguil’d;

Thy mother too, did shun me,

For she knew I lov’d her child.


They have giv’n her to another —

She will love him, so they say;

If her mem’ry do not chide her,

Oh! perhaps, perhaps she may;

But I know that she hath spoken

What she never can forget;

And tho’ my poor heart be broken,

It will love her, love her yet.


Nothing else signed “Sidney” appeared in the magazine. His identity has never been plausibly suggested, nor has that of the lady who gave him the copy of the “Scotch” verses.(1) The names [page 306:] are of little importance, for the magazine occasionally accepted anonymous or pseudonymous contributions from persons of whose names the proprietor admitted he was ignorant.

What is important is that Poe was moved by the poem to write an answer reversing the situation, and that he cast it in a form he considered that of a ballad. The first version is in regular stanzas of six lines, with rhyme scheme a b a a a b. This form is decidedly unusual in English poetry but resembles one — a a a b a b — that Burns used often, notably in “To a Mouse.” The regular “Scottish” form seems not to have been hitherto a subject of comment.

In the first revision Poe made the stanzas of irregular length and in the second revision abandoned the stanzaic form, although he later returned to irregular stanzas.

It is not impossible that Poe had other sources of inspiration besides the “old Scotch ballad.” In a review of William D. Gallagher’s Erato in the Messenger of July 1836, Poe copied three stanzas of “The little ballad ‘They told me not to love him,’ ” of which one seems pertinent.

But they forc’d me to discard him!

Yet I could not cease to love —

For our mutual vows recorded were

By angel hands above.

He left his boyhood’s home, and sought

Forgetfulness afar;

But memory stung him — and he fought,

And fell, in glorious war.

Those who seek for Poe’s personality in all his poems have suggested that “Bridal Ballad” concerns Elmira Shelton, and compare the early “Song” beginning “I saw thee on thy bridal day” — but this has little in common with “Bridal Ballad,” which seems to me a poem of pure literary art. More to the point is A. H. [page 307:] Quinn’s remark (p. 260), that it is the only example in Poe’s poetry of “a lyric in which the speaker is a woman.”


(A) Southern Literary Messenger, January 1837 (3:5); (B) Saturday Evening Post, July 31, 1841; (C) Saturday Museum, March 4, 1843; (D) Broadway Journal, August 2, 1845 (2:58); (E) The Raven and Other Poems (1845), p. 7; (F) J. Lorimer Graham copy of The Raven ... with changes (1849); (G) Works (1850), II, 52-53.

Texts A and F are given here in full. In a letter of September 18, 1841, to Lewis J. Cist, Poe mentions arranging for the publication of B because he wished “to procure a printed copy” — an interesting sidelight on his method of revision.

[page 309, continued:]

VARIANTS [[to version F]]

Title:  Ballad (B) / Song of the Newly-Wedded (C)

6  He has loved me long and well (B)

7  first he / he (B)

9  as / like (B, C, D)

20-21  It was spoken — it was spoken —

Quick they registered the vow (B)

24-25  [manuscript addition in F; not in B, C, D, E, G]

32  Lest / And (B)

[page 309, continued:]

NOTES [[to version F]]

18  D’Elormie is first mentioned in the text of 1841 and seems to be Poe’s spelling of De l’Orme, name of a French noble family. One of the almost [page 310:] innumerable novels of George Payne Rainsford James (1799-1860) is called De l’Orme (1830); it was reviewed in the Philadelphia Casket for October 1830, and it is named in the heading of Poe’s review of the English author’s Memoirs of Celebrated Women, in Burton’s Magazine, July 1839. There is also a man named De L’Orme, probably a wigmaker, mentioned in “The Man That Was Used Up” (1839).

32-33  Wilbur (Poe, p. 140) points out that this passage reflects an idea found in “The Sleeper,” that “the dead sleep happily so long as the living are faithful to their memory,” and compares also “For Annie,” lines 85-87: “I lie so composedly ... Knowing her love.”


[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 305, running to the bottom of page 306:]

1  It has been suggested implausibly that Poe was “Sidney” and that he wrote the anonymous “Ballad” himself. This idea seems to have come from Woodberry, who in his Life, II, 415, wrote that “the poem given in S. L. M. Aug. 1835 as an unpublished Scotch ballad is connected with [“Bridal Ballad”], probably the first draft of the theme, and if this conjecture be accepted ...;” et cetera. Killis Campbell, impressed no doubt by Woodberry’s “authority;” did accept this conjecture almost unreservedly, as his discussions in the Poems (1917), p. 301, and in his Mind of Poe [page 306:] (1933), p. 206, reveal. Campbell considers the introductory note by Sidney “paralleled” by Poe’s “attribution (by implication) of his ‘Letter to B——’ to another [writer] ... in the Messenger for July, 1836.” This is no real parallel. In 1836 Poe was an editor filling his columns, but wishing not to have too much appear to be from his own hand. In August 1835 the “mystification” would have involved hoaxing the proprietor of the magazine from whom he hoped for permanent employment, and giving away an article that as a contributor he might have sold for space rates. I think that is incredible.





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