Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “A Valentine” (Text-03), Evening Mirror, February 21, 1846, p. 2, col. 2


[page 2, column 2:]

The Americans are proverbially a care-worn people, who employ their lives in gaining the means of living, which when they have fairly accomplished, the fifth act of the drama closes and the curtain falls. We have fewer festivals than any other nation; with the exception of the 4th of July we have no national holyday, and the observance of this has been almost wholly abandoned to little boys who fire crackers in the streets, and larger boys who fire cannon and train in the militia., instead of being, as it should be, a day of elegant brevity. We have Feasts and Thanksgivings, but except in dear, good New England, and among her scattered children, they are of little note. Our city, however, has the advantage of most others in her observance of New Year's and Valentine's Day. The former, delightful for its social intercourse, and the latter for the facility it affords people to speak as at a masquerade, with their responsibility, for the time being, laid aside, to use with impunity the light artillery of cupid and to scatter compliments as they do sugar plums at a carnival. We would multiply our holydays; and if life is, as they tell us, a funeral procession, we would not trample down the flowers in our path, but gather and weave them into rosy garlands.

Valentines’ day seems to us a beautiful occasion for saying what is pleasant, witty, or tender, to those we like, esteem, or love, and we hold to its strict observance. We have been permitted to make the following selections from some of these missives, which were read at a private party on the evening of that day. We have selected those addressed to persons well known, as being of more general interest.

[[. . . .]]


For her these lines are penned, whose luminous eyes,

Bright and expressive as the stars of Leda,

Shall find her own sweet name that, nestling, lies

Upon this page, enwrapped from every reader.

Search narrowly these words, which hold a treasure

Divine — a talisman — an amulet

That must be worn at heart. Search well the measure —

The words — the letters themselves. Do not forget

The smallest point, or you may lose your labor.

And yet there is in this no Gordian knot,

Which one might not undo without a sabre.

If one could merely comprehend the plot

Upon the open page, on which are peering

Such sweet eyes now, there lies, I say perdu,

A musical name, oft uttered in the hearing

Of poets, by poets — for the name is a poet's, too,

In common sequence set, the letters lying,

Compose a sound delighting all to hear.

Ah, this you’d have no trouble in descrying,

Were you not something, of a dunce, my dear:

And now I leave these riddles to their seer.

[[. . . .]]



This valentine was written for Frances Sargent Osgood. Mrs. Osgood's full name is spelled with one letter on each line, the first letter of the first line (“F”), the second letter of the second line (“r”), the third letter of the third line (“a”), etc. In the this version, Poe accidentally misspelled her middle name as “Sergeant,” an error that was not corrected in time for its publication in 1846. Without regard for the cleverness of its construction, one might wonder at the sincerity of a valentine that refers to its intended, even in jest, as “something of a dunce” (second from last line).

In the following copy of the text, punctuation and spaces have been removed and the relevant letters marked in red to make the matter of the solution clear:



Shallfindherownsweetnamethat nestlinglies



















The poem is printed as one of a series of valentines from various people. Those other valentines have been omitted here. The final valentine, however, may be of interest. It is addressed not by name but obviously to Poe, and is composed of but two lines:


I asked the raven on his bust, above the chamber door,

If that your fame could ever die — he answered “Nevermore.”


[S:1 - EM, 1846 (microfilm, NYPL)] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Poems - A Valentine (Text-03)