Friday, June 22, 2012

Virginia Eliza

Portrait of Virginia Eliza Poe, painted shortly after her death.

Virginia Eliza

She died so young
and yet she lives,
a dark strawflower
pressed in poems,
paper stronger
than ever she was, than 
mind or flesh of brother, cousin,
spouse and spirit who
wrote her, dreamed her.
She was a child
who never changed
innocent, faithful as leaf
to tree till her autumn came.

Then she bled; all women bleed,
but she from her heart
though they said her lungs,
still her harp rang sweetest
when she came to sing 
farewell in the freezing night.
Her cheap dress hung 
from a nymph's frail frame
yet she was wise and wide with love,
a shield, a guardian host,
a black-eyed garden walled in one;
after, a pale fire burning in the brain
a raven crying forevermore.

She still walks the House
where the Ushers fell,
haunts the dank tarns of Wier
where Psyche failed, not strong enough
to keep him from her dead arms
or sing louder than the memory
of her child's high tenor, 
face ice white, dianthus eyes
brimming with a care
that could find no fault
nor feel a lack
though her brief pained life
was lived in ruin;

it ended, after all, as it began, warm
in the haven of a madman's arms.

June 2012

Acrostic valentine written for her husband when Virginia was 23, 11 months before her death from tuberculosis.

Posted for   Fireblossom Friday   at real toads

Process Notes: Virginia Eliza Clemm was Edgar Allan Poe's first cousin. They met when she was seven, when Poe moved in with her widowed mother, his invalid grandmother and their extended family in Baltimore. There was considerable disparity in their ages; their marriage took place when she was 13 and he 27, but the evidence suggests it was her own choice, that they were a loving, happy and devoted couple. Friends at the time said the Poes were more like sister and brother, and the marriage was not consummated till some years later, though some scholars suggest it was never consummated. Regardless, Poe did his best to support and care for her and her mother throughout their lives.  His work was little respected during his own short lifetime, and the couple lived in grinding poverty on handouts and the pittance he earned as a peripatetic journalist. Virginia Eliza Poe died of tuberculosis in January, 1847 at the age of 24. Much is made of the macabre nature of Poe's genius, and the theme of the 'death of a beautiful woman,' which plays a large role in so much of his prose and poetry. One wonders how much of his finest writing we would have had without Virginia.

Images: public domain, courtesy wikipedia & wikimedia commons


  1. Such a tribute to a fine wrote it so well....and thanks for the information there.

  2. One of my students wrote about the women in Poe for her research one year and introduced me to this lady through the poems and prose of Poe. Here you have her "pressed in poems, / paper stronger / than ever she was" once again, and I ADORE how you do it: moving from death to literary aliveness to innocence to blood to legend. "a raven crying forevermore," nymph, shield, host,ggarden, pale fire, haunt, psyche . . . .

  3. fascinating....i like the little ref to poe in this, it frames it up without having to say who it is...i appreciate the process notes though as they help...the matter of fact statements....she bled, all women bleed....seem loaded...i like it gave me pause....just saying they are well placed for sure...smiles.

  4. Oh I enjoyed this poem, Hedge. So sad she died so young. Fascinating history of the couple, too. Especially love the two powerful last lines.

  5. This is a fascinating story, and I love the tender way you wrote about her.

    Funny, isn't it, that if a 27 year old man pursued and married a 13 year old today, we would call it aberrant, but 150 years ago, it was perfectly acceptable.

    1. Well, it was still illegal, and the marriage certificate was accompanied by a false affadavit that states her age as 21. I honestly think the motivation was more protective--Virginia and her mother were in dire straits just then, living on the edge of going under, all her brothers dying--in that time, women had very few ways of supporting themselves.Also, Poe the orphan, recently broken with his adoptive family, may have felt a need for a family bond. But who knows.

    2. I'm thinking that there also may have been some issue of proprietary - marrying a cousin better than living with one! (Maybe.) I don't think there was the interdiction about cousins.

      In fact, I'm pretty sure that one can marry as young as 14 in New York State with parental permission even today.

      Marriage has also been one of those contracts that could bind minors traditionally--crazy! k.

    3. Yes, I'm sure what was proper--a young man living in the same house, and so forth, even with her mother there, may have been a factor, but Poe apparently had made up his mind that she was his muse and he intended to marry her at the first opportunity, too. They were remarried about a year later, which supports your idea about the 14 year old thing.

  6. Sometimes it may just take tragedy to spur one to bigger things. We're all the richer with Eliza in Poe's life. What it would otherwise had been I wonder. Great write Joy!


  7. I usually feel itchy reading other peoples' personal notes; but, in this case the expression is so clear and sincere that it must be shared in the hope that it will brighten the love we all must share.

    1. The acrostic is what brought out this poem--I think it gives us a very clear look at the writer, more so than any commentary on her short life.

  8. "never changed
    innocent, faithful as leaf
    to tree till her autumn came."

    Love this portion, Hedge, and am grateful for the glimpse into a life I hadn't really known about previously. Great write!

  9. Love that you chose E A Poe's wife for this. Nice writing.

  10. A lovely poem, written somehow in an Annabel Lee mode--all the TB, lung/heart parts especially effective, I thought. Thanks for the background as well. Really enjoyed. k.

  11. There are so many poems within this poem, Hedge...a mark of a true, creative master poet! At least in my opinion...this issue of layered poems.

    I am so impressed with the tender renendering of her life here, how many women died so young and with so little other opportunity except marriage?

    We have so many options today....though many don't around the world. Marriage or prostitution for many women.

    TB was (and it is reviving now amongst the prison population...a virluent strain) an enormous tragedy and a common-place disease for so many until antibiotics. It was endemic.

    a dark strawflower
    pressed in poems,
    paper stronger
    than ever she was,

    Oh! this tears my heart apart.

    and excellent poem with a compassionate and tender rendering, Hedge.


  12. She is a fascinating story, I love how you cared for her so gently here, especially the gorgeous significance of her life pressed in paper. Excellent choice.

  13. What a marvelous choice, Hedge. I didn't know anything about her, and so I eagerly learned something today. Poe, of course, is a special favorite, and I can't help but note how many of my favorites were not famous or well remunerated in their lifetimes: Poe, Dickinson, Van Gogh, Keats, the list goes on. On weheartit, I have been seeing a little badge that says "art doesn't come from happiness." Maybe that's true.

    I love how you've dropped in references to Poe's work in the body of the poem, suggesting even in its structure, how important she was to his process; indeed, it must be true that she is there within many of his works.

    Thank you for this, dear friend. I enjoyed it immensely, and loved learning about a woman I hadn't known a thing about.

  14. gorgeous tribute to a great young artist hege, thankks for sharing

  15. You genius, you. I got so much out of this poem and your commentary. She is alive for me now.

  16. Accomplished writing and fascinating content - what more could one want?

  17. Doing what you do best, weaving power from fragility. She is absolutely gorgeous and alive in your pen and paper.

  18. A brilliant write...and I love the commentary at the end. I too wonder what Poe's poetry would have been without her.

  19. What a tender account of her life Hedge. It made me want to know her. So thanks for the author notes. They were just what I needed. :)

  20. What a write Hedge. Just fantastic. And the backstory you provided is outstanding. I wrote my master's thesis on Poe and I have to say, that despite the relational aspect, their love seemed genuine. Outside the poem itself, which is, again, such a fantastic piece, but your ending remark about wondering the mental relationship between Poe and Virginia and how it relates to his work, is an amazing observation. Personally, I believe ever bit of contact we have shades our artistry in some way, and obviously in cases of devotion and our love, the shading will be naturally much deeper, but even more so with Poe, as he, despite how much of his work is perceived, if you look closer, you'll see pieces of his sensitivity in there. Granted in some cases you have to look harder than others, but it's there. He was a person that was affected by events in his life, especially tragedies, and seemed to me as if his ability to use it as writing fuel, could be what kept him going, and even then he needed to temper his sentiments as much he could. Really a fascinating piece here. Thanks

  21. very, very nice, Hedgewitch. deep and true. simple, but this line, i love: "faithful as leaf to tree till her autumn came." bravo.

  22. This is moving, beautiful, and pretty much perfect. You brought her to life for me.

  23. the first verse set the entire poem up so well! loving, tender, sorrowful! and thank you for the information about the couple.


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats

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