Poe's Poetry

Poems of Later Life: To Helen

I saw thee once - once only - years ago:

I must not say 'how' many - but 'not' many.

It was a July midnight; and from out

A full-orbed moon, that, like thine own soul, soaring,

Sought a precipitate pathway up through heaven,

There fell a silvery-silken veil of light,

With quietude, and sultriness and slumber,

Upon the upturn'd faces of a thousand

Roses that grew in an enchanted garden,

Where no wind dared to stir, unless on tiptoe -

Fell on the upturn'd faces of these roses

That gave out, in return for the love-light,

Their odorous souls in an ecstatic death -

Fell on the upturn'd faces of these roses

That smiled and died in this parterre, enchanted

By thee, and by the poetry of thy presence.

Clad all in white, upon a violet bank

I saw thee half-reclining; while the moon

Fell on the upturn'd faces of the roses,

And on thine own, upturn'd - alas, in sorrow!

Was it not Fate, that, on this July midnight -

Was it not Fate (whose name is also Sorrow),

That bade me pause before that garden-gate,

To breathe the incense of those slumbering roses?

No footstep stirred: the hated world all slept,

Save only thee and me - (O Heaven! - O God!

How my heart beats in coupling those two words!) -

Save only thee and me. I paused - I looked -

And in an instant all things disappeared.

(Ah, bear in mind this garden was enchanted!)

The pearly lustre of the moon went out:

The mossy banks and the meandering paths,

The happy flowers and the repining trees,

Were seen no more: the very roses' odors

Died in the arms of the adoring airs.

All - all expired save thee - save less than thou:

Save only the divine light in thine eyes -

Save but the soul in thine uplifted eyes.

I saw but them - they were the world to me.

I saw but them - saw only them for hours -

Saw only them until the moon went down.

What wild heart-histories seemed to lie unwritten

Upon those crystalline, celestial spheres!

How dark a woe! yet how sublime a hope!

How silently serene a sea of pride!

How daring an ambition! yet how deep -

How fathomless a capacity for love!

But now, at length, dear Dian sank from sight,

Into a western couch of thunder-cloud;

And thou, a ghost, amid the entombing trees

Didst glide away. 'Only thine eyes remained.'

They 'would not' go - they never yet have gone.

Lighting my lonely pathway home that night,

'They' have not left me (as my hopes have) since.

They follow me - they lead me through the years.

They are my ministers - yet I their slave.

Their office is to illumine and enkindle -

My duty, 'to be saved' by their bright light,

And purified in their electric fire,

And sanctified in their elysian fire.

They fill my soul with Beauty (which is Hope),

And are far up in Heaven - the stars I kneel to

In the sad, silent watches of my night;

While even in the meridian glare of day

I see them still - two sweetly scintillant

Venuses, unextinguished by the sun!