Text: Thomas Ollive Mabbott, “Holy Eyes,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. I: Poems (1969), pp. 404-405 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 404:]


It is not certain that a poem with this title was ever actually written down by Poe. But he obviously planned such a poem, and the title fits two passages (lines 37-47 and 51-65) of the poem of 1848 addressed to Mrs. Whitman.

The former Mrs. Shew, on April 9, 1875, wrote to Ingram an account of an elaborate story Poe had told her when his nurse noticed that he had a scar on his shoulder. This, he said, was the result of a wound received years before in a quarrel over a girl in a foreign port. There, he said, he lay ill for thirteen weeks. A kindly charwoman summoned a Scottish lady of good family, who came daily to see him, in company with her brother. Poe said he had promised never to reveal her name. Mrs. Houghton wrote:

He described her as a plain looking, large featured, maiden lady, with no beauty but her eyes, which were heavenly blue with long dark lashes. That the magnetism and intense trust, deep, honest heart of sympathy, and trusting faith in God’s ever present help to those who believed in and asked for mercy, was so expressed in this Lady’s eyes, that he wrote a poem for her in parting called “Holy Eyes.”

Poe may not have been delirious when he told this story, for he loved to quiz his friends, and found Mrs. Shew delightfully gullible. No serious student now believes that Poe wrote the poem about a lady’s eyes for a Scottish lady in a foreign port, although [page 405:] Ingram in his Life (1880), I, 65-68, told the tale as if he believed it. However, Mrs. Shew herself was rather plain, with beautiful eyes, and she had the same character as the lady of Poe’s story. The matter-of-fact Mrs. Shew seems never to have thought of herself as possibly the model of Poe’s heroine.(1)

A tradition that Poe composed a poem called “Holy Eyes” or “The Eyes” survives independently in the Houghton family and reached me directly through the Reverend Leonard Twynham, This and the presence in “To Helen [Whitman]” of lines (37-47 and 51-65) fitting the “Holy Eyes” title have led me to discuss “Holy Eyes” seriously.


[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 405:]

1  in the letter of April 9, 1875, to Ingram (Ingram List, no. 215), the then Mrs. Houghton recounted to the biographer that Poe also had told her that he had written a poem called “Humanity,” which was afterward credited to George Sand, and a sensational novel, “Life of an Artist at Home and Abroad,” later credited to Eugéne Sue! This is obviously pure nonsense, or perhaps banter. See Woodberry, Life (1909), I, 170, for a complete refutation of the story of the novel.





[S:0 - TOM1P, 1969] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions-The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (T. O. Mabbott) (Holy Eyes)