Edgar Allan Poe, Complete Poetical Works

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When Edgar was unhappy at home, which, says his aunt, Mrs. Clemm, "was very often the case, he went to Mrs. Stannard for sympathy, for consolation, and for advice." Unfortunately, the sad fortune which so frequently thwarted his hopes ended this friendship. The lady was overwhelmed by a terrible calamity, and at the period when her guiding voice was most requisite, she fell a prey to mental alienation. She died, and was entombed in a neighboring cemetery, but her poor boyish admirer could not endure to think of her lying lonely and forsaken in her vaulted home, so he would leave the house at night and visit her tomb. When the nights were drear, "when the autumnal rains fell, and the winds wailed mournfully over the graves, he lingered longest, and came away most regretfully."

The memory of this lady, of this "one idolatrous and purely ideal love" of his boyhood, was cherished to the last. The name of Helen frequently recurs in his youthful verses, "The Paean," now first included in his poetical works, refers to her; and to her he inscribed the classic and exquisitely beautiful stanzas beginning "Helen, thy beauty is to me."

Another important item to be noted in this epoch of his life is that he was already a poet. Among his schoolfellows he appears to have acquired some little reputation as a writer of satirical verses; but of his poetry, of that which, as he declared, had been with him "not a purpose, but a passion," he probably preserved the secret, especially as we know that at his adoptive home poesy was a forbidden thing. As early as 1821 he appears to have essayed various pieces, and some of these were ultimately included in his first volume. With Poe poetry was a personal matter--a channel through which the turbulent passions of his heart found an outlet. With feelings such as were his, it came to pass, as a matter of course, that the youthful poet fell in love. His first affair of the heart is, doubtless, reminiscently portrayed in what he says of his boyish ideal, Byron. This passion, he remarks, "if passion it can properly be called, was of the most thoroughly romantic, shadowy, and imaginative character. It was born of the hour, and of the youthful necessity to love. It had no peculiar regard to the person, or to the character, or to the reciprocating affection... Any maiden, not immediately and positively repulsive," he deems would have suited the occasion of frequent and unrestricted intercourse with such an imaginative and poetic youth. "The result," he deems, "was not merely natural, or merely probable; it was as inevitable as destiny itself."

Between the lines may be read the history of his own love. "The Egeria of _his_ dreams--the Venus Aphrodite that sprang in full and supernal loveliness from the bright foam upon the storm-tormented ocean of _his_ thoughts," was a little girl, Elmira Royster, who lived with her father in a house opposite to the Allans in Richmond. The young people met again and again, and the lady, who has only recently passed away, recalled Edgar as "a beautiful boy," passionately fond of music, enthusiastic and impulsive, but with prejudices already strongly developed. A certain amount of love-making took place between the young people, and Poe, with his usual passionate energy, ere he left home for the University had persuaded his fair inamorata to engage herself to him. Poe left home for the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, in the beginning of 1825. lie wrote frequently to Miss Royster, but her father did not approve of the affair, and, so the story runs, intercepted the correspondence, until it ceased. At seventeen, Elmira became the bride of a Mr. Shelton, and it was not until some time afterwards that Poe discovered how it was his passionate appeals had failed to elicit any response from the object of his youthful affection.

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