As I have already posted several poems inspired by the mystique of Edgar Allan Poe, I thought that, in the interests of equality, I should include a tribute to his wife. The following anonymous poem, entitled simply, "Virginia Clemm," was published in honor of Poe's 100th birthday. As odes go, it's certainly no "Annabel Lee," but there is a sweet sincerity in these awkward, rather awful lines that I find oddly touching. If nothing else, it is a demonstration on the remarkable hold both Edgar and Virginia had acquired over the imaginations of so many readers. (Incidentally, this poem's theme of "If a woman as admirable as Virginia could love Edgar Poe, the guy couldn't have been that bad," was a popular, if slightly backhanded, argument used by his early defenders.)
If he had had no other thing,
No harp upon whose diverse string
To strike with music's sovran spell
The witchering note of Israfel;
If he had had no other art
Except this lad's love in the heart,
This holy, pure, unsullied flame--
It would have been immortal fame!
If he had had no other light
Except this love to lead him right;
If he had had no other dream
Except this woman's eyes of gleam,
No man e'er had so much as he
To lift his soul in melody,
No man e'er had such diadem
As thy pure love--Virginia Clemm!
Oh, spirit that in shadow moved,
This any, o'er the rest, beloved!
What though he bent beneath the care
Whose bitter brood stalks everywhere;
What though he suffers slander yet
From tongues of scorn against him met;
Had he no other single claim
On time, his love would crown his name!
Sting, sting, the dead cannot arise!
But O Virginia, in thine eyes
He was a lover, and we know
Your love uplifted all below;
You would not, could not, love, indeed,
A worthless thing, a bitter weed;
Thy love around him makes hate vain
And wipes out every mortal stain!
Truth mocks the living through the dead;
Hate, writhing on Procrustean bed,
Sees the thing slayed by it unslayed,
Sees the thing cursed by it remade;
So from his shadow and his night
Poe walks out into newer light,
Grandeur upon him in that she
Dwelt in his heart's idolatry!
She was his sun and star and moon,
His ambient autumn and his June,
His balmy cloud, his pillared sea,
His gate to music's mystery;
There by her bed he saw her perish
Whom he had not the food to cherish;
His summer died--alone with Strife
He fought the unfinished fight of Life!
Time has his song and fame his art,
But in her spirit dwells his heart,
Who with her whole soul drew and drew
His own soul, singing, through and through.
A woman, yet a little child,
Set all his wondrous harp strings wild;
And so we say that it were best
Take up his love and leave the rest!
Tear from his brow the singer's Lay,
Take all his crowns of art away;
Strip him of genius, say he sinned,
Yet over Paradise a wind
Wafting the balmy rose of spring
Shall crown him kinglier than a king
Whose spiritual passion won this gem--
The saintly, sweet Virginia Clemm!