Last Update: Nov. 8, 2008  Navigation:  Main Menu    Poe's Works    Poe's Misc.    Poe's Criticism
Text: Edgar Allan Poe, "Mary E. Hewitt," from Literary America, 1848, manuscript

[first page:]

Mary E.  Hewitt.

    I am not aware that Mrs. Hewitt has written any prose; but her poems have been many, and occasionally excellent. A collection of them was published, in an exquisitely tasteful form, by Ticknor & co., of Boston.  The leading piece, entitled "Songs of our Land," although the largest, was by no means the most meritorious.  In general, these compositions evince poetic fervor, classicism, and keen appreciation of both moral and physical beauty.  No one of them, perhaps, can be judiciously commended as a whole; but no one of them is without merit, and there are several which would do credit to any poet in the land. Still, even these latter are particularly rather than generally commendable. They lack unity, totality — ultimate effect, but abound in forcible passages.  For example:
Shall I portray thee in thy glorious seeming, 
Thou that the pharos of my darkness art ? 
Like the blue lotos on its own clear river 
Lie thy soft eyes, beloved, upon my soul. 
And there the slave, a slave no more, 
Hung reverent up the chain he wore. 
Here 'mid your wild and dark defile 
    O'erawed and wonder-whelmed I stand, 
And ask — "Is this the fearful vale 
    That opens on the shadowy land ?" 
Oh, friends !  we would be treasured still, 
    Though Time's cold hand should cast 
His misty veil, in after years, 
    Over the idol Past, 
Yet send to us some offering thought 
    O'er Memory's ocean wide, 
Pure as the Hindoo's votive lamp 
    On Ganga's sacred tide.  [page ??:]

    Mrs. Hewitt has warm partialities for the sea and all that concerns it.  Many of her best poems turn upon sea adventures or have reference to a maritime life.   Some portions of her "God bless the Mariner" are naïve and picturesque: e.g. —
God bless the happy mariner !
    A homely garb wears he,
And he goeth with a rolling gait,
    Like a ship before the sea.
He hath piped the loud "ay, ay, Sir !"
    O'er the voices of the main
Till his deep tones have the hoarseness
    Of the rising hurricane.

But oh, a spirit looketh
    From out his clear blue eye,
With a truthful childlike earnestness,
    Like an angel from the sky.

A venturous life the sailor leads
    Between the sky and sea,
But, when the hour of dread is past,
    A merrier who than he ?

    The tone of some quatrains entitled "Alone," differs materially from that usual with Mrs. Hewitt.  The idea is happy and well managed. We shall be pardoned for copying the whole poem: —
There lies a deep and sealed well
Within yon leafy forest hid,
Whose pent and lonely waters swell
Its confines chill and drear amid.

It hears the birds on every spray
Trill forth melodious notes of love;
It feels the warm sun's seldom ray
Glance on the stone its waves above;

And quick the gladdened waters rush
Tumultuous upward to the brink;
A seal is on their joyous gush,
And back, repressed, they coldly shrink.

Thus in their caverned space, apart,
Closed from the eye of day they dwell —
So, prisoned deep within my heart,
The tides of quick affection swell.

Each kindly glance, each kindly tone,
To joy its swift pulsations sway;
But none may lift the veiling stone
And give the franchised current way.

Smite THOU the rock, whose eye alone
The hidden spring within may see,
And bid the flood, resistless one,
Flow forth, rejoicing unto Thee.'

The merit of this piece, however, is greatly obscured first, by its frequent inversions and, secondly, by its rhythmical defects. The lines,

Its confines chill and dread amid,


Glance on the stone its waves above,

might easily have been written, with directness,

Amid its chill and dread

etc. and

Glance on the stone above its waves.

The putting the adjective after the noun is an inexcusable Gallicicms; but the putting the preposition after the noun is alien to all language and in opposition to all its principles. Such things, in general, only betray the versifier''s poverty of resource; and when an inversrsion occurs we usually say to ourselves -- 'Here the poet lacked the skill to make out his line without distorting the natural or colloquial order of the words'. Now and then, however, we must refer the error not to deficiency of skill, but to something far less defensible -- to an idea that such things belong to the essence of poetry -- that it needs them to distinguish it from prose -- and that we are poetical very much in the ration of our unprosaicalness at these points.

    Mrs. Hewitt's sonnets are upon the whole, her most praiseworthy compositions.   One entitled "Hercules and Omphale" is noticeable for the vigor of its rhythm.
Reclined, enervate, on the couch of ease,
    No more he pants for deeds of high emprize;
    For Pleasure holds in soft voluptuous ties
Enthralled, great Jove-descended Hercules.
The hand that bound the Erymanthean boar,
    Hesperia's dragon slew with bold intent,
    That from his quivering side in triumph rent
The skin the Cleonœan lion wore,
Holds forth the goblet — while the Lydian queen,
    Robed like a nymph, her brow enwreathed with vine,
    Lifts high the amphora brimmed with rosy wine,
And pours the draught the crownéd cup within.
And thus the soul, abased to sensual sway,
Its worth forsakes — its might foregoes for aye.

    The unusual force of the line italicized, will be observed.  This force arises first, from the directness, or colloquialism without vulgarity, of its expression: — (the relative pronoun "which" is very happily omitted between "skin" and "the") — and, secondly, to the musical repetition of the vowel in "Cleonœan," together with the alliterative terminations in "Cleonœan" and "lion." The effect, also, is much aided by the sonorous conclusion "wore."

    Another and better instance of fine versification occurs in "Forgotten Heroes."
And the peasant mother at her door, 
    To the babe that climbed her knee, 
Sang aloud the land's heroic songs — 
    Sang of Thermopylæ — 
Sang of Mycale — of Marathon —
    Of proud Platæa's day — 
Till the wakened hills from peak to peak 
    Echoed the glorious lay. 
Oh, god like name ! — oh, god like deed ! 
    Song-borne afar on every breeze, 
Ye are sounds to thrill like a battle shout, 
    Leonidas !  Miltiades !

    The general intention here is a line of four iambuses alternating with a line of three; but, less through rhythmical skill than a musical ear, the poetess has been led into some exceedingly happy variations of the theme.  For example; -- in place of the ordinary iambus as the first foot of the first, of the second, and of the third line, a bastard iambus [page ??:] has been employed.  These lines are thus scanned:
An4d  th4e  peas  |  a2nt  moth  |  e2r  at  |  he2r  door  | 
    To th4e  babe | tha2t  climbed  |  he2r  knee  | 
Sa4ng  al4oud | the2  land's  |  he2ro  |  i2c  songs  | 

    The fourth line,
Sang  o2f   |  The2rmo  |  py2læ,

is well varied by a trochee, instead of an iambus, in the first foot; and the variation expresses forcibly the enthusiasm excited by the topic of the supposed songs, "Thermophylæ".  The fifth line is scanned as the three first.  The sixth is the general intention, and consists simply of iambuses.   The seventh is like the three first and the fifth.  The eighth is like the fourth; and here again the opening trochee is admirably adapted to the movement of the topic.  The ninth is the general intention, and is formed of four iambuses.   The tenth is an alternating line and yet has four iambuses, instead of the usual three; as has also the final line — and alternating one, too. A fuller volume is in this manner given to the close of the subject; and this volume is fully in keeping with the rising enthusiasm.  The last line but one has two bastard iambuses, thus:
Ye4  ar4e  sounds  |  to2 thrill  |  lik4e  a4  bat  |  tl2e  shout |  .

    Upon the whole, it may be said that the most skilful versifer could not have written lines better suited to the purposes of the poet.  The errors of "Alone," however, and of Mrs. Hewitt's poems generally, show that we must regard the beauties pointed out above, merely in the light to which I have already alluded — that is to say, as occasional happiness to which the poetess is led by a musical ear.

    I should be doing this lady injustice were I not to mention that, at times, she rises into a higher and purer region of poetry than might be supposed, or inferred, from any of the passages which I have hitherto quoted.  The conclusion of her "Ocean Tide to the Rivulet" puts me in mind of the rich spirit of Horne's noble epic, "Orion."  [page ??:]
Sadly the flowers their faded petals close 
Where on thy banks they languidly repose, 
    Waiting in vain to hear thee onward press; 
And pale Narcissus by thy margin side 
Hath lingered for thy coming, drooped and died, 
    Pining for thee amid the loneliness. 

Hasten, beloved ! — here, 'neath the o'erhanging rock ! 
Hark !  from the deep, my anxious hope to mock, 
    They call me back unto my parent main. 
Brighter than Thetis thou — and, ah, more fleet ! 
I hear the rushing of thy fair white feet! 
    Joy! joy !  — my breast receives its own again ! 

     The personifications here are well managed.  The "Here! — 'neath the o'erhanging rock !" has the high merit of being truthfully, by which I mean naturally, expressed, and imparts exceeding vigor to the whole stanza.  The idea of the ebb-tide, conveyed in the second line italicized, is one of the happiest imaginable; and too much praise can scarcely be bestowed on the "rushing" of the "fair white feet."  The passage altogether is full of fancy, earnestness, and the truest poetic strength.   Mrs. Hewitt has given many such indications of a fire which, with more earnest endeavor, might be readily fanned into flame.

     In character, she is sincere, fervent, benevolent — sensitive to praise and to blame; in temperament melancholy; in manner subdued; converses earnestly yet quietly.  In person she is tall and slender, with black hair and large gray eyes; complexion dark; general expression of the countenance singularly interesting and agreeable.


Because the MS has never fully been printed, and is currently inaccessible in a private collection, it has been necessary to make the present reconstruction. The first page is reproduced in facsimile in the exhibition catalog "Quoth the Raven," April 1959, item 107 (facing page 165). The section beginning  "The merit of this piece, however, is greatly obscured . . ." and ending 'unprosaicalness at these points [[. . . .]]" is quoted in the sale catalogue for th library of John A Spoor, New York, May 3, 4, and 5, 1939, item 682, where it is noted as a manuscript of "8 pp., 4to, about 2,100 words," including both the Hewitt and Bush items. Although the specific poem quoted is not noted, this section is repeated from Poe's review of Mrs. Hewitt's The Songs of Our Land, and is supplied here from that source. The same catalogue reproduces one page, beginning "[Iam]bus has been employed. These lines are . . ." and ending "of the rich spirit of Horne's nobel epic, 'Orion.'" The sale catalogue of H. B. Martin divides the two articles as "6 1/2 page" for Mary Hewitt, and "1 1/2 pages" for George Bush. The Martin catalogue perpetuates the misidentification of this manuscript as an early draft for "The Literati of New York City," even ascribing the changes between this written form and the printed form of 1846 as indicating "the reasons for postponing publication until October."

S:0 - LTAM, 1848 - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Misc - Mary E. Hewitt