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Maria Clemm

Poems by Edgar A. Poe

(April 1831 - August 1831)

Edgar published his new volume of poems, sponsored by the cadets, in New York around April 1831. It was 124 pages, printed on cheap paper, entitled "Poems by Edgar A. Poe... Second Edition" dedicated to "To the U.S. corps of cadets". In the book appeared several poems from the 1829 volume, among others, revised versions of "Tamerlane" and "Al Aaraaf". Six poems from the previous volume were dropped and six new added, e.g. "To Helen" and "The Doomed City". The book did not get much attention and the reviews described it as promising but bizarre and obscure. The cadets thought even worse of it, probably expecting the satirical work he had written at West Point. This they apparently found as "ridiculous doggerel" by a "cracked" author.
Edgar's new poems showed on his preference in mixing past and present, dream and reality, and myth and science. The conflict between the desire for power and need for nurture in "Tamerlane" recurs in "To Helen" where the poet is an adventurous man who longs to be home. In the preface Edgar tells us about how writers tend to steal from eachother and he emphasizes the importance of originality. Still a lot of his own work are virtually rip-offs from other authors. For example the song in his 1827 volume:

I saw thee on the bridal day --
When a burning blush came o'er thee,

Compared to John Lofland's lines:

I saw her on the bridal day
In blushing beauty blest.

American culture at the time fostered a preoccupation with death, and Edgar's poems reflects much of his thoughts of death and the afterlife. This can be seen in, among other poems, "Al Aaraaf", "Evening Star", "To Helen", "Israfel", "The Valley of Nis", "Irenë", "A Paean", and "The Doomed City". In Edgar's work there's often a fine line between life and death. In "Irenë" for example the speaker is uncertain whether a woman is dead or asleep and in "To Helen" he mixes the living with a lifeless statue.
This "obsession" with death is hard to explain but it is said that when adults lose someone they learn to live with it by gradually withdrawing their involvement with the person, while children have difficulties in understanding death and tend to look for a substitute. Edgar did not find this substitute and an underlying denial for death can have influenced his poems.

Maria Clemm
William Henry Leonard Poe

Edgar was the fourth generation of Poes in Baltimore. His paternal great-grandfather, John Poe, came to America from northern Ireland before the American Revolution. Among the Poes who had lived in Baltimore was Edgar's grandfather General David Poe, who left behind his wife, his daughter Maria, and his son David Poe, the actor who disappeared or died.
Maria Clemm got her name from her husband, William Clemm Jr., whom she married at the age of 27. She gave birth to three of his children. About eight and a half year after the marriage, William Clemm died leaving Maria with their children and without property except for a parcel of land.
In Baltimore Edgar got to meet many of his blood relatives such as his first cousins, Virginia Clemm and Elizabeth Herring and his second cousin Neilson (pronounced Nelson) Poe, who had studied law and married one of Maria Clemm's stepdaughters. Edgar also had the opportunity to spend some more time with his brother William Henry Leonard.
Henry who also was born in Boston, though two years earlier than Edgar, had spent most of his childhood with General David Poe's family. He was, like Edgar, heavily affected by Eliza's death. When she died he had retained a lock of her hair which he referred to as "this gift of her I loved so well", and he wrote about her in a poem:

...I have had thy last caress,
And heard thy long, thy last farewell

In his teens Henry had joined the navy, or merchant marine, and visited remote parts of the world such as the West Indies, South America and possibly Russia. Later on he worked in Baltimore law office and during that time he published about twenty stories, poems, and sketches under the initials "W.H.P.". Although growing up in different families and different cities, Edgar and Henry tried to stay in touch with eachother. Henry had written to Edgar and visited him and Rosalie in Richmond and he had also accompanied Edgar and his friend Ebenezer Burling to see Elmira Royster. Edgar on his side had turned to Henry when in trouble, but he found Henry "entirely given up to drink & unable to help himself, much less me.". After his court-martial Edgar again sought Henry's help but again discovered that "he cannot help me".
Henry and Edgar were psychologically close, like many other orphaned brothers or sisters, this can be seen in for example Edgar's use of Henry's name as Henri Le Rennet and that Henry named one of the heroes in his stories Edgar Leonard. This hero, like both Edgar and Henry, lost his parents at an early age, he also had a romance with "Rosalie" using their sister's name. Edgar and Henry also had poems published that are virtually identical, for example:

The happiest day -- the happiest hour,
My sear'd and blighthed heart has known,
The brightest glance of pride and power
I feel has flown--

The happiest day -- the happiest hour
My sear'd and blighthed heart hath known,
The highest hope of pride, and power,
I feel hath flown.

Another poem Henry published was identical through 34 lines with a poem in Edgar's 1827 volume. It is not certain who originally wrote the poems or if they worked together.
Edgar's reunion with Henry lasted for only six months, for Henry died August 1, 1831, and his funeral was held the following day. He was said to have died of "intemperance" and apparently he had not been able to give up his drinking. Henry was 24 when he died, just as Eliza had been when she died, and considering Henry's suicidal slides, that may not have been a coincidence. Many of his poems concern women who through death abandon their loved ones, who longs to join them.

Last modified: February 17 2015 15:18:19.