Poe's Poetry

Notes to the Poems of Later Life


"The Raven" was first published on the 29th January, 1845, in the New York 'Evening Mirror' - a paper its author was then assistant editor of. It was prefaced by the following words, understood to have been written by N. P. Willis:

"We are permitted to copy (in advance of publication) from the second number of the 'American Review', the following remarkable poem by Edgar Poe. In our opinion, it is the most effective single example of 'fugitive poetry' ever published in this country, and unsurpassed in English poetry for subtle conception, masterly ingenuity of versification, and consistent sustaining of imaginative lift and 'pokerishness.' It is one of those 'dainties bred in a book' which we feed on. It will stick to the memory of everybody who reads it."

In the February number of the 'American Review' the poem was published as by "Quarles," and it was introduced by the following note, evidently suggested if not written by Poe himself.

["The following lines from a correspondent - besides the deep, quaint strain of the sentiment, and the curious introduction of some ludicrous touches amidst the serious and impressive, as was doubtless intended by the author - appears to us one of the most felicitous specimens of unique rhyming which has for some time met our eye. The resources of English rhythm for varieties of melody, measure, and sound, producing corresponding diversities of effect, have been thoroughly studied, much more perceived, by very few poets in the language. While the classic tongues, especially the Greek, possess, by power of accent, several advantages for versification over our own, chiefly through greater abundance of spondaic feet, we have other and very great advantages of sound by the modern usage of rhyme. Alliteration is nearly the only effect of that kind which the ancients had in common with us. It will be seen that much of the melody of 'The Raven' arises from alliteration and the studious use of similar sounds in unusual places. In regard to its measure, it may be noted that if all the verses were like the second, they might properly be placed merely in short lines, producing a not uncommon form: but the presence in all the others of one line - mostly the second in the verse" (stanza?) - "which flows continuously, with only an aspirate pause in the middle, like that before the short line in the Sapphio Adonic, while the fifth has at the middle pause no similarity of sound with any part beside, gives the versification an entirely different effect. We could wish the capacities of our noble language in prosody were better understood."

ED. 'Am. Rev.']


The bibliographical history of "The Bells" is curious. The subject, and some lines of the original version, having been suggested by the poet's friend, Mrs. Shew, Poe, when he wrote out the first draft of the poem, headed it, "The Bells. By Mrs. M. A. Shew." This draft, now the editor's property, consists of only seventeen lines, and reads thus:


The bells! - ah the bells!

The little silver bells!

How fairy-like a melody there floats

From their throats -

From their merry little throats -

From the silver, tinkling throats

Of the bells, bells, bells -

Of the bells!


The bells! - ah, the bells!

The heavy iron bells!

How horrible a monody there floats

From their throats -

From their deep-toned throats -

From their melancholy throats

How I shudder at the notes

Of the bells, bells, bells -

Of the bells!

In the autumn of 1848 Poe added another line to this poem, and sent it to the editor of the 'Union Magazine'. It was not published. So, in the following February, the poet forwarded to the same periodical a much enlarged and altered transcript. Three months having elapsed without publication, another revision of the poem, similar to the current version, was sent, and in the following October was published in the 'Union Magazine'.


This poem was first published in Colton's 'American Review' for December 1847, as "To - - Ulalume: a Ballad." Being reprinted immediately in the 'Home Journal', it was copied into various publications with the name of the editor, N. P. Willis, appended, and was ascribed to him. When first published, it contained the following additional stanza which Poe subsequently, at the suggestion of Mrs. Whitman wisely suppressed:

Said we then - the two, then - "Ah, can it

Have been that the woodlandish ghouls -

The pitiful, the merciful ghouls -

To bar up our path and to ban it

From the secret that lies in these wolds -

Had drawn up the spectre of a planet

From the limbo of lunary souls -

This sinfully scintillant planet

From the Hell of the planetary souls?"


"To Helen" (Mrs. S. Helen Whitman) was not published Until November 1848, although written several months earlier. It first appeared in the 'Union Magazine' and with the omission, contrary to the knowledge or desire of Poe, of the line, "Oh, God! oh, Heaven - how my heart beats in coupling those two words".


"Annabel Lee" was written early in 1849, and is evidently an expression of the poet's undying love for his deceased bride although at least one of his lady admirers deemed it a response to her admiration. Poe sent a copy of the ballad to the 'Union Magazine', in which publication it appeared in January 1850, three months after the author's death. Whilst suffering from "hope deferred" as to its fate, Poe presented a copy of "Annabel Lee" to the editor of the 'Southern Literary Messenger', who published it in the November number of his periodical, a month after Poe's death. In the meantime the poet's own copy, left among his papers, passed into the hands of the person engaged to edit his works, and he quoted the poem in an obituary of Poe in the New York 'Tribune', before any one else had an opportunity of publishing it.


"A Valentine," one of three poems addressed to Mrs. Osgood, appears to have been written early in 1846.


"An Enigma," addressed to Mrs. Sarah Anna Lewig ("Stella"), was sent to that lady in a letter, in November 1847, and the following March appeared in Sartain's 'Union Magazine'.


The sonnet, "To My Mother" (Maria Clemm), was sent for publication to the short-lived 'Flag of our Union', early in 1849, but does not appear to have been issued until after its author's death, when it appeared in the 'Leaflets of Memory' for 1850.


"For Annie" was first published in the 'Flag of our Union', in the spring of 1849. Poe, annoyed at some misprints in this issue, shortly afterwards caused a corrected copy to be inserted in the 'Home Journal'.

10. TO F - -

"To F - - " (Frances Sargeant Osgood) appeared in the 'Broadway Journal' for April 1845. These lines are but slightly varied from those inscribed "To Mary," in the 'Southern Literary Messenger' for July 1835, and subsequently republished, with the two stanzas transposed, in 'Graham's Magazine' for March 1842, as "To One Departed."


"To F - s S. O - d," a portion of the poet's triune tribute to Mrs. Osgood, was published in the 'Broadway Journal' for September 1845. The earliest version of these lines appeared in the 'Southern Literary Messenger' for September 1835, as "Lines written in an Album," and was addressed to Eliza White, the proprietor's daughter. Slightly revised, the poem reappeared in Burton's 'Gentleman's Magazine' for August, 1839, as "To - - ."


Although "Eldorado" was published during Poe's lifetime, in 1849, in the 'Flag of our Union', it does not appear to have ever received the author's finishing touches.


"Eulalie - a Song" first appears in Colton's 'American Review' for July, 1845.


"A Dream within a Dream" does not appear to have been published as a separate poem during its author's lifetime. A portion of it was contained, in 1829, in the piece beginning, "Should my early life seem," and in 1831 some few lines of it were used as a conclusion to "Tamerlane." In 1849 the poet sent a friend all but the first nine lines of the piece as a separate poem, headed "For Annie."


"To M - - L - - S - - ," addressed to Mrs. Marie Louise Shew, was written in February 1847, and published shortly afterwards. In the first posthumous collection of Poe's poems these lines were, for some reason, included in the "Poems written in Youth," and amongst those poems they have hitherto been included.


"To - - ," a second piece addressed to Mrs. Shew, and written in 1848, was also first published, but in a somewhat faulty form, in the above named posthumous collection.


Under the title of "The Doomed City" the initial version of "The City in the Sea" appeared in the 1831 volume of Poems by Poe: it reappeared as "The City of Sin," in the 'Southern Literary Messenger' for August 1835, whilst the present draft of it first appeared in Colton's 'American Review' for April, 1845.


As "Irene," the earliest known version of "The Sleeper," appeared in the 1831 volume. It reappeared in the 'Literary Messenger' for May 1836, and, in its present form, in the 'Broadway Journal' for May 1845.


"The Bridal Ballad" is first discoverable in the 'Southern Literary Messenger' for January 1837, and, in its present compressed and revised form, was reprinted in the 'Broadway Journal' for August, 1845.