Helen, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicean barks of yore,
That gently, o’er a perfumed sea,
The weary, wayworn wanderer bore
To his own native shore.
On desperate seas long wont to roam,
Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
Thy Naiad airs have brought me home
To the glory that was Greece,
To the grandeur that was Rome.
Lo! in yon brilliant window niche,
How statue-like I see thee stand,
The agate lamp within thy hand!
Ah, Psyche, from the regions which
Are Holy Land!
—Edgar Allan Poe
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About Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) published his first collection of poems, Tamarlane, and Other Poems, in 1827, when he was 18 years old. A tendency to run up debts (including for gambling) kept him in constant state of reinvention – college student, poet, short story writer, soldier/officer school, literary journal editor and critic.
The Poe who arises from Symons’ hand (his biographer in The Telltale Heart: The Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe) is a man who first and foremost was determined to put Southern letters on the map, aiming to wrest control from the literary establishment in New York and New England (Poe aimed some rather pointed arrows at writers like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow). For his own writing, he wanted to be considered a poet. The poems were the important works; the stories were almost after-thoughts, almost dashed off primarily to raise funds. And he always needed money.
His personal life seemed to have stayed a general mess, but he had an enormous impact on both American and world literature. Consider the stories and poems that have been filmed, published, re-published, anthologized, celebrated and widely admired for more than 150 years: “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “Fall of the House of Usher,” The Raven, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” Annabel Lee, “The Bells,” “Ulalame,” “To Helen.”
We associate Edgar Allan Poe with 19th century gothic. His stories are full of mystery, passion, horror, violence, death, and the supernatural. And yet his poems, especially “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee,” made him famous in pre-Civil War America and established his literary reputation.
Questions and mystery surrounded Poe’s own life and death, and continue even today – we may never know who left three roses and a bottle of cognac on his grave in Baltimore for decades until 2011 (alas, the “Poe Toaster” disappeared or died, to be seen nevermore).
You can read more about Poe’s biography in the articles Poets and Poems: Meeting Edgar Allan Poe and Forgotten Classics, The Telltale Heart by Julian Symons by Glynn Young, from which this biography was compiled.
I hope you enjoyed To Helen by Edgar Allan Poe!