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Edgar Allen Poe to Mrs. Sarah Helen Whitman (1848) Part1

Updated: May 24



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I have pressed your letter again and again to my lips, sweetest Helen — bathing it in tears of joy, or of a “divine despair”. But I — who so lately, in your presence, vaunted the “power of words” — of what avail are mere words to me now? Could I believe in the efficiency of prayers to the God of Heaven, I would indeed kneel — humbly kneel — at this the most earnest epoch of my life — kneel in entreaty for words — but for words that should disclose to you — that might enable me to lay bare to you my whole heart. All thoughts — all passions seem now merged in that one consuming desire — the mere wish to make you comprehend — to make you see that for which there is no human voice — the unutterable fervor of my love for you: — for so well do I know your poet-nature, oh Helen, Helen! that I feel sure if you could but look down now into the depths of my soul with your pure spiritual eyes you could not refuse to speak to me what, alas! you still resolutely have unspoken — you would love me if only for the greatness of my love. Is it not something in this cold, dreary world, to be loved? — Oh, if I could but burn into your spirit the deep — the true meaning which I attach to those three syllables underlined! — but, alas: the effort is all in vain and “I live and die unheard”.


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When I spoke to you of what I felt, saying that I loved now for the first time, I did not hope you would believe or even understand me; nor can I hope to convince you now — but if, throughout some long, dark summer night, I could but have held you close, close to my heart and whispered to you the strange secrets of its passionate history, then indeed you would have seen that I have been far from attempting to deceive you in this respect. I could have shown you that it was not and could never have been in the power of any other than yourself to move me as I am now moved — to oppress me with this ineffable emotion — to surround and bathe me in this electric light, illumining and enkindling my whole nature — filling my soul with glory, with wonder, and with awe.


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During our walk in the cemetery I said to you, while the bitter, bitter tears sprang into my eyes —”Helen, I love now — now — for the first and only time.” I said this, I repeat, in no hope that you could believe me, but because I could not help feeling how unequal were the heart-riches we might offer each to each: — I, for the first time, giving my all at once, and forever, even while the words of your poem were yet ringing in my ears: —


Oh then, beloved, I think on thee


And on that life so strangely fair


Ere yet one cloud of Memory


Had gathered in Hope’s golden air.


I think on thee and thy lone grave


On the green hill-side far away —


I see the wilding flowers that wave


Around thee as the night-winds sway;


And still, though only clouds remain


On Life’s horizon, cold and drear,


The dream of Youth returns again


With the sweet promise of the year.


Ah Helen, these lines are indeed beautiful, beautiful — but their very beauty was cruelty to me. Why — why did you show them to me? There seemed, too, so very especial a purpose in what you did.

(To Be Continued)


Sources

ANON. In-text: (2021) Your Bibliography: 2021. [ebook] Available at: <https://www.eapoe.org/works/letters/p4810010.htm>


Michael Kelahan. THE WORLD'S GREATEST LOVE LETTERS.

In-text: (The World's Greatest Love Letters, 2011)

The World's Greatest Love Letters. New York: Fall River Press.


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