Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. T. O. Mabbott), “To Marie Louise,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. I: Poems (1969), pp. 405-409 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 405, continued:]


Poe composed these verses at the request of Mrs. Shew, as the eighteenth line reveals. He rarely used blank verse, and had written none since “The Coliseum” of 1833 and the unfinished play Politian of 1835, save a few lines inspired by Elizabeth Barrett in 1845. He used the form in 1847 and 1848 for the present piece, for “To M. L. S——,” and for the poem “To Helen [Whitman],” but for nothing thereafter. He seems to have concluded that unrhymed verse was not a medium for which he was gifted, and although he handled it with something more than competence, most of his admirers will not regret his general avoidance of it.

When Poe prepared the piece for publication he omitted some of the lines, obviously as too personal, but the version he sent to Mrs. Shew is the more interesting.

The exact date of composition of the piece is somewhat uncertain. In a letter of March 28, 1875, to John H. Ingram, described in the Ingram List as number 210, Mrs. Houghton wrote somewhat confusedly about this poem and a poem she referred [page 406:] to as “To Mrs. M. L. S.” She said that they were valentines to her, in succeeding years. The poem that follows is surely the later of the two, but as it was published by February 15, 1848, it must have been written considerably before Valentine’s Day of that year. I do not think it possible to be quite sure whether the personal version or the published one was composed first. But a date in the period between December 1847 and January 1848 may be confidently assigned as that of the poem’s composition.


(A) Manuscript given to Mrs. Shew (the original is now lost, but the text is preserved in a tracing — no. 42 — in the Ingram Collection at the University of Virginia); (B) Columbian Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine for March 1848 (9:138); (C) Works (1850), II, 19.

The manuscript text (A) and the first publication (B) are given in full. In the latter, changes from the manuscript are found in the title and in lines 8, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17-21 (which are entirely omitted), 24 and 26. Griswold’s text (C) followed that of the magazine (B) but shortened the title to “To — —,” and introduced a misprint, “unpurpled,” in line 26.



Not long ago, the writer of these lines,

In the mad pride of intellectuality,

Maintained the “Power of Words” — denied that ever

A thought arose within the human brain


Beyond the utterance of the human tongue:

And now, as if in mockery of that boast,


Two words — two foreign, soft dissyllables —

Two gentle sounds made only to be murmured


By angels dreaming in the moon-lit “dew


That hangs like chains of pearl on Hermon hill”

Have stirred from out the abysses of his heart

Unthought-like thoughts — scarcely the shades of thought —

Bewildering fantasies — far richer visions

Than even the seraph harper, Israfel,



Who “had the sweetest voice of all God’s creatures,”

Would hope to utter, Ah, Marie Louise!

In deep humility I own that now [page 407:]

All pride — all thought of power — all hope of fame —

All wish for Heaven — is merged forevermore


Beneath the palpitating tide of passion

Heaped o’er my soul by thee. Its spells are broken —

The pen falls powerless from my shivering hand —

With that dear name as text I cannot write —

I cannot speak — I cannot even think —


Alas! I cannot feel; for ’tis not feeling —


This standing motionless upon the golden


Threshold of the wide-open gate of Dreams,

Gazing, entranced, adown the gorgeous vista,

And thrilling as I see upon the right —


Upon the left — and all the way along,


Amid the clouds of glory, far away

To where the prospect terminates — thee only.


[page 408, continued:]

NOTES [[chiefly for version A]]

1-3  Poe published a story called “The Power of Words” in 1845, but his reference here is clearly to a passage in “Marginalia,” number 149, published in Graham’s for March 1846: “I am aware of these ‘fancies’ only when I am upon the very brink of sleep, with the consciousness that I am so ... It is as if the five senses were supplanted by five myriad others alien to mortality. Now, so entire is my faith in the power of words, that, at times, I have believed it possible to embody even the evanescence of fancies such as I have attempted to describe.”

7-8  The foreign dissyllables are the lady’s personal names, “Marie Louise,” but these are French, and not “Italian tones,” as in the version Poe published. Frances Winwar (p. 321) observes that the Italian phrase for “I love you” is two dissyllables, “Io t’amo.”

9-10  This inaccurate quotation from Peele’s David and Bethsabe, lines 46-47, was used earlier in Politian, IV, 33-34.

12  With reading of versions B and C, compare, in the early “Stanzas,” “Of a thought / The unembodied essence,” and several passages in Eureka: “That class of terms ... representing thoughts of thought ... These ideas — conceptions such as these — unthoughtlike thoughts — soul-reveries rather than conclusions or even considerations of the intellect ... That merest of words, ‘Infinity’ ... is by no means the expression of an idea — but an effort at one.”

15  This quotation, used by Poe in “Israfel,” is discussed in the notes to that poem, above.

16  In printed versions, B and C, compare the first line of Shakespeare’s epilogue to The Tempest: “Now my charms are all o’erthrown.”

26-28  Fred Lewis Pattee (Side-Lights on American Literature, New York, 1922, p. 334) cited these lines as indication that “Ulalume” referred to Mrs. Shew. But compare the passage in “Ligeia”: “With how vast a triumph ... did I feel ... in studies but little sought ... that delicious vista by slow degrees expanding before me, down whose long, gorgeous, and all untrodden [page 409:] path, I might at length pass onward to the goal of a wisdom too divinely precious not to be forbidden.”

27  For the gates of dreams see Vergil, Aeneid, VI, 893ff.

31  The reading “clouds of glory” is from Wordsworth’s ode “Intimations of Immortality.” There is plenty of evidence that Poe admired much of Wordsworth’s poetry. Wilbur (Poe, p. 148) compares to this line (in B and C) “The Domain of Arnheim,” where Ellison’s bride’s “loveliness and love enveloped his existence in the purple atmosphere of paradise.”



A strong parallel should be noted between line 22 of version A (and line 17 of version B) and two comments in Poe’s letters to Mrs. Whitman. In his letter of October 1, 1848, Poe says “My soul, this night, shall come to you in dreams and speak to you those fervid thanks which my pen is all powerless to utter.”. In his fragmentary letter of November 3, 1848 (?), he says “Oh how powerless is the pen to express such feelings as now consume me!”


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