| THE RAVEN.|
|Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,|
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore —
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visiter," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door —
Only this and nothing more."
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; — vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow — sorrow for the lost Lenore —
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore —
Nameless here for evermore.
And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me — filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
"'Tis some visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door —
Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door; —
This it is and nothing more."
Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you" — here I opened wide the door; ——
Darkness there and nothing more.
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore?"
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Lenore!" —
Merely this and nothing more.
Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
"Surely," said I, "surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore —
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
'Tis the wind and nothing more!"
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door —
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door —
Perched, and sat, and nothing more. [column 5:]
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore —
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."
Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning — little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door —
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as "Nevermore."
But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he uttered — not a feather then he fluttered —
Till I scarcely more than muttered "Other friends have flown before —
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before."
Then the bird said "Nevermore."
Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
"Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore —
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of 'Never — nevermore'."
But the Raven still beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore —
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking "Nevermore."
This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!
Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee — by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite — respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!"
Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."
"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil! — prophet still, if bird or devil! —
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted —
On this home by Horror haunted — tell me truly, I implore —
Is there — is there balm in Gilead? — tell me — tell me, I implore!"
Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."
"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil! — prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us — by that God we both adore —
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore —
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore."
Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."
"Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!" I shrieked, upstarting —
"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! — quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted — nevermore!
Helen Of A Thousand Dreams
By Elisabeth Herschbach
Providence earns a place on the literary map for being the hometown of early 20th century horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. But for a brief spell almost half a century before Lovecraft’s birth, Providence was also the haunt of another master of the macabre: the great poet and short story writer Edgar Allan Poe, whose dark tales served as an inspiration for Lovecraft.
Poe came to Providence to court Sarah Helen Whitman, a poet and critic well-known in the literary circles of her day. The two exchanged poems and impassioned letters; Poe proposed to Whitman three days after their first meeting. “That our souls are one, every line of which you have written asserts,” Poe rhapsodized in an October 1848 letter. But the romance was short-lived. In December 1848, three months after their first meeting, the engagement was broken. Less than a year later, on October 7, 1849, Poe died in Baltimore at the age of 40.
A First Encounter on Benefit Street
Though Poe and Whitman did not meet until 1848, Poe claimed to have caught his first glimpse of the Providence poetess three years earlier, an occasion he later commemorated in a poem sent to Whitman at the beginning of their courtship. “I saw thee once– once only– years ago,” Poe wrote of that night in July 1845 when, in town for a speaking engagement, he embarked on a midnight stroll and chanced upon the woman who would become his fiancée.
By her own account, Whitman was standing either on the sidewalk or in the doorway of her house on the corner of Benefit and Church Streets, but in his poem Poe evoked a more romantic setting, picturing her in a moonlit garden:
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
Already an admirer of her published verses, Poe recognized Whitman and identified the house as hers from the descriptions of a mutual friend. Convinced that Whitman was happily married, Poe avoided meeting her, even provoking a quarrel the next day by refusing to accompany a friend to Whitman’s house. “I dared not speak of you– much less see you,” Poe explained in an 1848 letter. “For years your name never passed my lips, while my soul drank in, with a delirious thirst, all that was uttered in my presence respecting you.”
At the time of Poe’s midnight sighting, Whitman was not a married woman, but a widow of over ten years. In 1828, she had married lawyer and writer John Winslow Whitman and moved with him to Boston, where she published her first poems — under the signature “Helen,” the name by which Poe would later call her. Upon her husband’s death in 1833, Whitman returned to Providence to live with her mother and sister, where she continued her literary output, cultivated an interest in spiritualism and transcendentalism, and participated in various progressive causes of the day, including the universal suffrage movement. She also became an avid fan of Poe, who by 1845 had reached worldwide literary fame with the publication of his poem “The Raven.”
Three years later, Whitman’s enthusiasm for Poe’s work would be the catalyst for their love affair — a brief but intense romance that would begin with an exchange of verses.
Helen of a Thousand Dreams
On February 14, 1848, Anne Lynch, a wealthy New York socialite active in literary circles, held a Valentine’s soiree at her residence and invited Whitman to contribute a poem to be read at the gathering. Whitman’s offered an admiring tribute to Poe, addressing him as the “grim and ancient Raven” from his famous poem. Her last stanza ends on an intimate note:
Wilt thou to my heart and ear
Be a Raven true as ever
Flapped his wings and croaked “Despair”?
Not a bird that roams the forest
Shall our lofty eyrie share.
Recently widowed (and presumably better informed about Whitman’s marital status), Poe reciprocated with verses of his own, first sending her a copy of one of his earliest poems, 1831’s “To Helen,” written for an idealized boyhood love, and then composing his second “To Helen” immortalizing his midnight glimpse of Whitman three years earlier.
In September 1848, Poe secured a formal letter of introduction from a mutual acquaintance and visited Whitman in her Providence home for the first time. “Your hand rested in mine, and my whole soul shook with a tremulous ecstasy,” Poe wrote of their first meeting. “I saw that you were Helen– my Helen– the Helen of a thousand dreams.”
During Poe’s first visit, he and Whitman spent three days together, passing much of their time at the Providence Athenaeum, an independent lending library founded in 1753 and housed since 1838 in an elegant Greek Revival building on Benefit Street. The Athenaeum still has in its collection a December 1847 edition of the “American Review” in which Poe, on one of his visits with Whitman, signed his initials next to his anonymously published poem “Ulalume.” Before leaving town, Poe proposed to Whitman at SwanPointCemetery on Providence’s East Side — the cemetery where, almost a century later, Lovecraft would be buried.
A Broken Promise and a Broken Engagement
Whitman initially declined Poe’s marriage proposal, citing her age and poor health. (She and Poe shared the same birthday — January 19 — but at 45 years old, she was six years his senior.) “Had I youth and beauty, I would live for you and die with you,” she wrote to him. “Now were I to allow myself to love you, I would only enjoy a bright, brief hour of rapture and die.” But Whitman also had another reason for hesitation; furnished with reports from acquaintances of his erratic behavior and abuse of alcohol, Whitman was under pressure from both family and friends to keep him at a distance.
In the ensuing weeks, Poe wrote ardent letters urging her to reconsider his proposal, made several trips to Providence to plead his love, and apparently attempted to commit suicide by taking a heavy dose of laudanum, an opium-based painkiller. But by November, Whitman had agreed to a marriage — on condition that Poe would abstain from alcohol.
Subsequent events unfolded quickly. By December 15, realizing that her daughter was intent on marrying Poe, Whitman’s mother signed legal documents to ensure that her prospective son-in-law would not have access to the funds of her modest estate. On December 21, the day after Poe delivered a highly successful lecture on “The Poetic Principle” before 1,800 people at the Providence Lyceum, Whitman agreed to an immediate marriage. And on December 23, Poe sent word to the minister of St. John’s Episcopal Church on North Main Street to publish their banns of matrimony. But before the day was out, Whitman received an anonymous note informing her that Poe had already broken his promise to stop drinking. The engagement was off.
Two years later, Whitman described her final hours with Poe in a letter to a friend. “I felt utterly helpless of being able to exercise any permanent influence over his life,” she wrote of her reaction to learning of Poe’s broken promise. “He earnestly endeavored to persuade me that I had been misinformed … and … to win from me an assurance that our parting should not be a final one,” she explained in her 1850 letter. But Whitman’s mother — on whom she was both financially and emotionally dependent — took matters into her own hands, “insisting upon the immediate termination of the interview.” Complaining bitterly of the “intolerable insults” of her family, Poe left Providence on a 6:00 p.m. train, never again to see his Helen of a thousand dreams.
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