Originally a poem called "To Elizabeth," dedicated to Poe's cousin Elizabeth Herring and written in an album of hers. It was then published in a revised version in the September 1835 issue of the Southern Literary Messenger as "Lines Written in an Album" and apparently addressed to Eliza White. The poem in this version began, "Eliza! let they generous heart / From its present pathway part not." White was the then 18-year-old daughter of Thomas Willis White, Poe's employer while he worked at the Messenger. Poe may have considered pursuing a relationship with her before his marriage to his cousin Virginia. One story suggests that Virginia's mother Maria expedited Poe's marriage to Virginia in order to prevent Poe's involvement with Eliza White. T. W. White's apprentice in old age would later say that Poe and Eliza were nothing more than friends.
The poem was renamed to the ambiguous "To —" in the August 1839 issue of Burton's Gentlemen's Magazine. With minor revisions, it was finally renamed in honor of Frances Sargent Osgood and published in the 1845 collection The Raven and Other Poems.
The speaker asks the addressee, "Thou wouldst be loved?" and suggest she stay on her current path to achieve that goal.