Text: Anonymous, “New Poem Credited to Poe,” New York Sun (NY, NY), vol. LXIX, no. 148, January 26, 1902, p. 17, cols. 1-2.


[page 17, column 1:]





Written on the Fly Leaf of a Copy of Dante's “Inferno” and Signed “E. A. P.” — Its Discovery — Circumstances Indicating That It Is Genuine.

GREENSVILLE, S. C., Jan. 25. — Below is given what is believed to be a poem by Edgar Allan Poe never before printed. At present proof of its authenticity cannot be given, but the circumstances surrounding its discovery indicate that it is genuine.

Par of Poe's disappointed and disappointing career was passed in dismal seclusion in an old and ramshackle frame hovel at the extreme eastern end of Sullivan's Island, one of the gateposts at the entrance of Charleston harbor. It was a weird habitation.

The white and barren sandhills rolled on every side like huge and ghostly waves about to swallow up the venturesome intruder. Here and there between the dunes may be caught a glimpse of the sea and the foam of the surf dashing with incessant roar upon the broad, hard beach.

This, with the moaning and the whistling of the winds and the occasional gruesome and startling cries of the sea birds, was all that could be heard and seen about the dreary spot. It was in this neighborhood, too, that tradition told of the every-yawning maw of the quicksands and the restless spirits of dead pirates and other uneasy slumbers wandering, ever alert to catch the bold or the unwary visitor, to their miserable domain.

Here it was that Poe, morbid and alone, is supposed to have written his famous story of “The Gold Bug.” And, in all probability, others of his blood-curdling but withal wonderfully executed tales were evolved in this spot.

Anyway, here he dwelt, and here did he write, and here his masterpiece of prose was doubtless composed. As has been said, he probably effected other work in this strange and lorn retreat; and at least one poem — that given below — was certainly wrought out amid these surroundings.

This poem was apparently unnamed by him, but perhaps appropriately may be called “Kelah” — the motif, so to speak, of the piece. The history of it is this — so far as is known, or can be discovered, after careful inquiry.

An old maiden lady, Miss Mary Wilkes North, a member of an aristocratic South Carolina family, was in the habit of spending part of each summer on Sullivan's Island. During one of her sojourns there she bought from an ignorant Covite — a native of the place — an old battered copy of Dante's “Inferno,” which, the Covite assured her, he had found between the weatherboarding and the edge of the flooring — the house was unceiled — of the shack, Poe's quondam residence.

This find, with Poe's name on the inside of the front cover, would of itself have been of considerable sentimental value; but in comparison to what the book was found to contain, the mere discovery of a battered old tome that had belonged to Poe was as nothing.

Upon the two sides of the first fly leaf of this volume, in cramped and erratic handwriting, with several erasures and corrections, the ink all but faded away from the yellow, moisture-totten sheet, were found the verses composing the poem above refered [[referred]] to, and below them the simple initials, “E. A. P.”

Miss North, however, is a sentimental old lady, and lovingly selfish wherever matters of sentiment are concerned, and, perhaps not unnaturally, she considers this volume and its contents as one of her treasures, only to be shared in by her nearest kinsfolk and intimates, and as much too sacred to be exhibited or exploited before a vulgar curiosity.

How the poem fell into the writer's possession is simply told. He is a near relative and godson of Miss North. A few weeks ago, in her desire to see her old friends, her books, distributed as she wished before she passed away — for three score and ten is a distances mile-stone in her life — she sent a lot of them to the writer.

Among them he found this treasure. It turned out, however, that the old lady had not intended to include it — at least just yet — in the legacy of books, and she asked a return of her precious belonging. There was time, though, for a hasty copy of the fly leaf poem, and this was made forthwith.

The composition is thoroughly characteristic of the flighty and phantasmagoric genius of the gifted author. The weirdly descriptive and fantastic aspects are distinctly typical, and when we consider the habits, disappointments and trials of the poet's life it is easy to grasp the bent of his inspiration as evinced by these lines.

It was the intention of this writer to obtain a photographic illustration of the book and the fly leaf containing the poem, but Miss North resolutely refuses to allow it out of her sight again, and she has indignantly declined a handsome cash offer for it. Here is the poem.


In my hermitage I lingered

Lone, and tremulously fingered —

Tapping nervously my table to the dull Neptunian roar —

Fingered o’er a leaflet yellow

Void of sign and void of fellow,

Tossed up by surf-broke billow,

Flotsam on the foam-flecked shore.

I could hear the breakers lifting,

And the sand dunes shifting, shifting,

With the night wind's fitful moaning ‘gainst the walls and at my door;

Far off, weird and terrifying,

I could hear a bittern crying,

Storm-battered, perchance, and dying

Desolate upon the shore.

While the fagots gleaned from spindrift,

Tossed by tide and dried by windrift,

Flickering, threw fantastic figures from the hearth across the floor,

There I sat and loosed my fancies

‘Midst the firelit shadow-dances,

Meditating on the chances

That had cast my leaf ashore.

Then I turned and fixed my vision

On the leaf, curled in derision

At my vanity in thinking I could penetrate its lore;

And my soul fell sick with fearing,

For, always, and ever nearing,

Loomed my life's lost aims appearing

Strewn like wreckage on my shore.

Suddenly a voice came wailing:

“See the creases” — screeching, railing —

“See the creases,” strident hisses, seemed to pierce through walls and floor!

“Ah,” I mused, “some wraith unholy,

Mocking me my melancholy,

Chiding me for some past folly,

Wings the night-wind from the shore.”

“Soul decayed,” I fiercely muttered,

“With thy gruesome wheezing uttered,

Would'st thou haunt and taunt me as on this mysterious leaf I pore?”

But a deep, sepulchral moaning,

And a grim and ghastly groaning,

With the shrill-pitched winds intoning,

Came my answer from the shore.

While that spirit voice I pondered

“See the creases” — racked and wondered,

Flashed a corybantic fancy like a gleam my eyes before;

For, once more my leaflet scanning,

I could see, the whole sheet spanning,

“Kelah,” creased by careful planning,

Creased and tossed upon the shore. [column 2:]

“Kelah!” ’Twas the incantation

For a tottering soul's translation,

Shibboleth for spirit's entry into worlds but dreamed before.

“Speak!” the shrieking winds were urging;

“Speak!” the wild sea's echoes surging;

“Speak” — one word a world's woes purging

Thus my message from the shore.

“Kelah! Kelahi!” cried my spirit;

“Kelah! to Nirvana bear it!

Bear my cry, oh, sea winds sweeping,

Echo it forevermore!

Mark my soul and body severed

Where the quicksands heaved and quivered,

Where the breakers curled and shivered

On the shelved and sloping shore !”

Instantly my soul leaped, winging,

Winging on the free winds, singing,

Singing with a ringing laughter, lost to life lived long before;

Lost to earth's unceasing sorrow,

Fools, would ye escape the morrow?

Would ye flee Life's fallow furrow?

Seek your message on the shore!

E. A. P.

* Note that the letters composing this word are all formed with straight lines, which could be readily creased into a piece of paper or parchment.



Note: This poem, of course, is clearly not by Poe. The whole story about Poe having lived in a shack on Sullivan's Island is a fiction. The most likely source of the story is the author of the article. 4 years later, the poem and the same basic story was repeated in the Baltimore Sun. Poe wrote “The Gold Bug” in 1842, while he was living in Phiadelphia. No one named Mary Wilkes North has ever been identified.


[S:0 - BS, 1906] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Rejected - Kelah (Anonymous)