“To Him Whose ‘Heart-Strings Were A Lute'”

It was only ten months since Helen had broken off the engagement with Poe in Providence before she discovered he had died unexpectedly in Baltimore. After the tumultuous break-up, Poe had written Helen a letter, to which she did not respond. It’s safe to assume there was a lack of closure for them both, but especially now for Helen that Poe had left this earth for good. She spent the rest of her life memorializing Poe and relishing in her connection to him. She corresponded with his friends and relatives, answered the many inquiries of early biographers wishing for information, and she even tried to contact Poe himself with the help of mediums and spiritualists. She defended Poe’s reputation, publishing her own book titled “Edgar A. Poe and His Critics” that refuted the lies and slander spread by Rufus Griswold. Helen used her platform to secure an accurate legacy for the man she loved.

One of the many poems Helen wrote about Poe gives us a poignant view of her response to his death. First published under the title “To Him ‘Whose Heart-Strings Were A Lute'” but then later changed to “Resurgemus,” Helen describes an almost sense of relief that Poe has finally found peace in death, and a comfort in knowing that his soul will live on forevermore.

Resurgemus
by Sarah Helen Whitman

I mourn thee not: no words can tell
The solemn calm that tranced my breast
When I first knew the soul had past
From earth to its eternal rest;

For doubt and darkness, o’er thy head,
Forever waved their Condor wings;
And in their murky shadows bred
Forms of unutterable things;

And all around thy silent hearth,
The glory that once blushed and bloomed
Was but a dim-remembered dream
Of “the old time entombed.”

Those melancholy eyes that seemed
To look beyond all time, or, turned
On eyes they loved, so softly beamed —
How few their mystic language learned.
How few could read their depths, or know
The proud, high heart that dwelt alone
In gorgeous palaces of woe,
Like Eblis on his burning throne.

For ah! no human heart could brook
That darkness of thy doom to share,
And not a living eye could look
Unscathed upon thy dread despair.

I mourn thee not: life had no lore
Thy soul in morphean dews to steep,
Love’s lost nepenthe to restore,
Or bid the avenging sorrow sleep.

Yet, while the night of life shall last,
While the slow stars above me roll,
In the heart’s solitudes I keep
A solemn vigil for thy soul.

I tread dim cloistral aisles, where all
Beneath are solemn-sounding graves;
While o’er the oriel, like a pall,
A dark, funereal shadow waves.

There, kneeling by a lampless shrine,
Alone amid a place of tombs,
My erring spirit pleads for thine
Till light along the orient blooms.

Oh, when thy faults are all forgiven,
The vigil of my life outwrought
In some calm altitude of heaven —
The dream of thy prophetic thought —

Forever near thee, soul in soul,
Near thee forever, yet how far,
May our lives reach love’s perfect goal
In the high order of thy star!



In Pace Requiescat

On this day, October 8, 1849, Edgar Allan Poe’s body was available for viewing at the Washington College Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. His funeral attire was donated by some of the students of the college and included a black suit with a white cravat. Poe’s shroud was sewn by his physician’s wife. His coffin was a plain one of simple mahogany. The coffin had no lining, no handles, no nameplate, and not even a cushion for his head. His body was visited by numerous ladies of the city so they could acquire a lock of his hair as a souvenir of the great poet. His funeral procession left the Washington Medical College en route to the Westminster Burial Grounds around 4 o’clock in the afternoon. It was a lugubrious day. Poe’s “cold-blooded” and “unchristian-like” funeral lasted about three minutes. The Reverend William Clemm (a relative of Poe’s) didn’t even give the eulogy he had prepared partly because of the poor weather, but mainly because there were so few people in attendance. The attendees included Poe’s cousin Neilson Poe, his uncle Henry Herring, his cousin Elizabeth Herring and her husband, his friend Joseph Snodgrass, his friend and classmate Z. Collins Lee, his early school teacher Joseph H. Clarke, the sexton George Spence, and of course the undertaker Charles Serter. It was said that Poe was buried like a dog. He was hastily lowered into the ground, and the wet earth was shoveled right upon the lid of his coffin. Poe’s closest loved ones such as his Aunt Maria Clemm, his fiancee Sarah Elmira Royster, or his sister Rosalie Poe were not even notified of his death before he was already buried in the ground.

Pictured here is an early rendering of the Westminster Church and Burial Grounds, circa 1857. The church wasn’t built until after Poe’s interment. His grave was located in back of the church in his family’s plot until 1875, when funds were raised to erect a monument to properly mark the grave of the great American poet. Poe was exhumed, and placed in the front of the the graveyard where he remains today.

A Gentleman “Rather the Worse for Wear” in Baltimore

(Daguerreotype of Poe taken by William Pratt in Richmond, Virginia three weeks before Poe’s untimely death)

It was on this day, October 3, in 1849 that Poe was found outside Gunner’s Hall Tavern in Baltimore by a printer named Joseph Walker. Poe was able to tell Walker his name and a friend that he knew in the city. Walker described Poe as being “rather the worse for wear” and “in need of immediate assistance” when calling upon that friend, Joseph Evans Snodgrass. When Snodgrass arrived at the Tavern, he recounted:

“When I entered the bar-room of the house, I instantly recognized the face of one whom I had often seen and knew well, although it wore an aspect of vacant stupidity which made me shudder. The intellectual flash of his eye had vanished, or rather had been quenched in the bowl; but the broad, capacious forehead of the author of “The Raven,” . . . was still there, with a width, in the region of ideality, such as few men have ever possessed. But perhaps I would not have so readily recognized him had I not been notified of his apparel. His hat — or rather the hat of somebody else, for he had evidently been robbed of his clothing, or cheated in an exchange — was a cheap palm-leaf one, without a band, and soiled; his coat, of commonest alpaca, and evidently “second hand”; and his pants of gray-mixed cassimere, dingy and badly fitting. He wore neither vest nor neckcloth, if I remember aright, while his shirt was sadly crumpled and soiled. He was so utterly stupefied with liquor that I thought it best not to seek recognition or conversation, especially as he was surrounded by a crowd of drinking men, actuated by idle curiosity rather than sympathy. I immediately ordered a room for him, where he could be comfortable until I got word to his relatives — for there were several in Baltimore. Just at that moment, one or two of the persons referred to, getting information of the case, arrived at the spot. They declined to take private care of him, assigning as a reason, that he had been very abusive and ungrateful on former occasions, when drunk, and advised that he be sent to a hospital. . . . So insensible was he, that we had to carry him to the carriage as if a corpse. The muscles of articulation seemed paralyzed to speechlessness, and mere incoherent mutterings were all that were heard.”

Poe was taken to Washington College Hospital where he received care under the attending physician, Dr. John J. Moran. Snodgrass was a fervent supporter of the temperance movement, and it was for this reason (among Poe already having a reputation as an alcoholic) that Snodgrass assumed Poe was under the influence. However, Dr. Moran claimed Poe was NOT intoxicated at all.

Poe only lived another four days after these events took place. What ever was ailing Poe and how he came to be in the circumstances he was in that day remain a mystery. Poe was never coherent enough to explain what had happened to him.

(Washington College Hospital. Poe’s room was located on the far left of the building, third window up from the ground)

Local Lore, Fact or Fiction?

Part of the fun of administrating this website is hearing from YOU! This week, I was contacted by a man named Russell, who told me that he grew up right next to the Power Family Home & St. John’s Cathedral while his father worked at Brown University. His old home stands prominently at 80 Benefit Street, and its bright yellow color is as hard to miss as the deep red of Sarah Helen Whitman’s family home at 88 Benefit Street.

 

Russell’s childhood home at 80 Benefit Street (Russell Bright, 2005)

 

Living next to the notorious site of Edgar Allan Poe’s courtship with our Providence Poetess naturally comes with local lore. One myth I was able to dispel for Russell that he had heard during his youth on Benefit Street was that the graveyard of St. John’s Cathedral inspired Poe’s most famous work, “The Raven.” As cool as that would be, it’s unfortunately FALSE! Poe published “The Raven” in January of 1845, and his first visit to Providence wasn’t until July of 1845. During that brief visit, we’re not even sure Poe got a decent view of the graveyard, as he passed by in the dark of night and his attention was arrested solely on Sarah Helen Whitman in her rose garden. If he spent any time among the graves of St. John’s, it wouldn’t have been until 1848 when he returned to Providence to formally court Sarah Helen Whitman (and at that point his ebony bird had long made him a household name). Providence is connected to a few significant pieces of Poe history, but “The Raven” is not one of them. For example, Poe’s most famous daguerreotype portrait, the “Ultima Thule,” was taken right here in the city in November, 1848. The photo marked a turbulent fortnight for Poe in Providence, and it visually documents a significant period in Poe’s life.

 

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St. John’s Cathedral from the backyard of 80 Benefit Street (Russell Bright, 2005)

 

Russell shared a few photos with me that he allowed me to pass on here. After exchanging a few emails, I think it’s safe to say we both walked away with an affirmation of enlightenment and gratitude.

 

4-Frances, Patricia, Russell Bright, Providence, RI 1947
Russell with his mother and younger sister at their home at 80 Benefit Street (1947)

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Poe and Helen!

I’m regrettably four days late with this post, but better late than never! On January 19, 2020, we celebrated the 211th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe as well as the 217th anniversary of the birth of Sarah Helen Whitman! That’s right, the two shared the same birthday, Helen having been born six years earlier than Poe.

I can’t think of a better occasion to share the news that The Providence Athenaeum and I collaborated after the Ravenous Exhibit to bring Poe permanently to the Athenaeum. This iconic bust of Poe is a copy of a copy of the original that remains in my private collection. He will be displayed above the main entrance of the Athenaeum directly facing a bust of Pallas (how perfectly POEtic) in the center of the library’s pantheon of busts. It’s been an absolute honor to help bring attention to Poe here in Providence and to allow his legacy to live on within the walls of this incredible institution. The same walls surrounded the living Poe while he was here in 1848 courting Sarah Helen Whitman. I can only hope that this endeavor will make future generations who enter the Athenaeum leave with a curiosity about the man portrayed in the melancholy bust above the entryway.

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Here’s a link to The Providence Athenaeum’s Digital Art Collection with more extensive details on the bust: http://digital.provath.org/items/show/49?mc_cid=4ba337a329&mc_eid=131ec30ef6

In Memoriam: The 141st Anniversary of the Death of Sarah Helen Whitman

“A heavenly halo Kindles round thy brow;
Beyond the palms of Eden softly wave;
Bright messengers athwart the empyrean go,
And love to love makes answer o’er the
grave.”

-Stanza from Sarah Helen Whitman’s “To The Angel Of Death”

Today (June 27, 2019) marks the 141st anniversary of the death of Sarah Helen Whitman. Every year, I pay tribute to our Providence Poetess at her grave in the North Burial Ground. I put together a little wild bouquet (with the exception of some dried wheat I had in the house) to leave at her tablet. I spent the late morning and majority of the afternoon reading some of her poetry from my 1879 first edition of her works. The edition was compiled by her literary executor, Mrs. Dailey, at Helen’s request to be published after her death. I left her grave with a final reading of her poem, “To The Angel Of Death,” the same poem that was read at the closing of her funeral service in 1878.

Ave Atque Vale!

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Welcome to Edgar Allan Poe: Rhode Island!

Edgar Allan Poe is associated with many places throughout the east coast of the United States. Those places include: Boston, MA, the Bronx, NY, Philadelphia, PA, Baltimore, MD, Richmond, VA, and even Charleston, SC. Scarcely does anybody ever connect Poe to Providence, RI. Although his time here was short (and he never did actually live here), there were some major events that occurred deeming quite significant to his biography. Edgar Allan Poe: Rhode Island will elaborate in those events and celebrate in all things POE! We’ll also bring attention to Providence Poetess and fiancée of Poe, Sarah Helen Whitman. Our mission here is to educate on Edgar Allan Poe’s Rhode Island story, claiming a little piece of the poet for ourselves.

As for me (the administrator of this website), I was born, raised, and still currently living here in the Ocean State. I have a tenacious passion for Edgar Allan Poe, and am a member of the Poe Studies Association. My goal is to not only educate and bring light to Poe, Whitman, and their story, but to have a neatly compiled resource for everything relating to the poets here in Rhode Island.

Thanks for taking an interest in Edgar Allan Poe: Rhode Island! I hope you enjoy all that we have to offer. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions, comments, concerns, or just to share your story! We’d love to hear from you.

Ave Atque Vale!