Text: Thomas Ollive Mabbott (and E. A. Poe), “Romance,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. I: Poems (1969), pp. 127-129 (This material is protected by copyright)


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This fine poem, first published under the title “Preface” in Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems in 1829, is a declaration of the poet’s dedication to Romance, in the voice of Nature, “at once the source, and end, and test of Art.” The poet hears this voice speaking through a paroquet, of whom he sees but a reflection and whom he identifies with a mark at which a skilled archer aims.

Killis Campbell, in Poems (1917), p. 193, suggested that Poe was answering Byron’s “To Romance,” in which the noble author “professed to abjure romance and to swear allegiance thenceforward to truth.” There are no close verbal parallels; but Poe says that for him Romance is Truth.

Poe thought highly of the poem. Writing of his new book to John Neal on December 29, 1829, he said, “the best thing . . . is the small piece headed ‘Preface’ . . . I am certain these lines have never been surpassed,” and quoted lines 11-15.

In 1831 Poe incorporated the two stanzas of the poem into a much longer poem, “Introduction,” for his Poems of that year. He never reprinted the expanded version.



(A) Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems (1829), p. 57: (B) manuscript (lines 11-15 only), December 29, 1829, in a letter to John Neal now in the Koester Collection; (C) Poems (1831), pp. 33-36 (in “Introduction,” pp. 156-158, below); (D) Philadelphia Saturday Museum, March 4, 1843; (E) Herring copy of Al Aaraaf . . . , with revisions made in 1845; (F) Broadway Journal, August 30, 1845 (2:119); (G) The Raven and Other Poems (1845), p. 84; (H) Works (1850), II, 106; (J) Portland Daily Advertiser, April 26, 1850 (lines 11-15 only).

Text G is given. J is merely the first publication of B. ­[page 128:]


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(For variants in C, see lines 1-10 and 35-45 of the 1831 version, pp. 156-157 below.)

Title:  Preface (A, changed in E); none (B, D, J)

12  Heaven / air (A, B, J); Heavens (E, F)

14  I have no time for idle / I hardly have had time for (A, B, J); I scarcely have had time for (D changed in E)

15  the unquiet / th’ unquiet (A, B but not J)

18  time / hour (D)

21  Unless it trembled / Did it not tremble (A changed in E)


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4  The poet sees only the reflection of the bird; compare his use of mirror images in “To the River —” and in the tales, “Mystification,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

5  Here the author connects his bird with the carved and painted figure of a ­[page 129:] bird, in Scotland locally called a papingo, hung from a pole outside a church tower to be shot at by archers. The custom was kept up from the fifteenth century until 1868 at Kilwinning Abbey at Irvine in Ayrshire, where Poe stayed for a time as a boy. It is clearly referred to in his story, “The Bargain Lost,” published in 1832, where it is said of a character wearing brightly colored garments, “the paroquet, upon a certain cathedral, resembled nothing so much as Pedro.” The passage is not included in the several later versions of the story called “Bon-Bon.” Miss Phillips, I, 385ff, acknowledges indebtedness to R. M. Hogg of Irvine and gives two illustrations of the Kilwinning popinjay (to use the English word for such a target).

7  A suggestion has been made (I believe by J. H. Whitty) that Poe knew a parrot that could say the alphabet. This, without any early evidence, must seem too fanciful, but perhaps the poet imagined one. The idea of the unreasoning speech of parrots long interested Poe, and he said, in “The Philosophy of Composition,” that this notion had a part in the genesis of “The Raven.”

10  Compare Poe’s tale “Morella”: “the wisdom or the passions of maturity I found hourly gleaming from [infancy’s] full and speculative eye.”

11  The condors, the largest birds of prey, are noted for voracity; Poe refers to them also in “The Conqueror Worm.” The Norse demon Hresvelger, who, in the form of an eagle, caused storms by flapping his wings, may have been known by Poe, from a mention in the “Ode Addressed to H. Fuseli” by the once widely read poet Henry Kirke White.

11f  Compare the last stanza of “The Happiest Day.”

14  “Cares” are here “concerns” rather than “sorrows,” as Wilbur in Poe (1959), p. 131, remarks.

16-17  Compare E. C. Pinkney’s “Lines From the Port Folio of H—,” no. I, 75-77:

Time flings

Our pains and pleasures from his wings

With much equality.

16-21  Compare Byron’s “Well! Thou Art Happy.” lines 25-27:

Yet was I calm: I knew the time

My breast would thrill before thy look;

But now to tremble were a crime.

18-21  See also “Israfel” (version of 1841), lines 21-22: “That trembling living lyre / Of those unusual strings . . .”






[S:1 - TOM1P, 1969] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (T. O. Mabbott) (Romance)