Text: Thomas Ollive Mabbott (and E. A. Poe), “A Valentine,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. I: Poems (1969), pp. 386-391 (This material is protected by copyright)


­[page 386, continued:]


This is a puzzle poem concealing a lady’s name. Poe wrote it out on February 13, 1846, keeping the draft, which was later found among Mrs. Clemm’s papers and is now in the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore. He made a copy with slight changes (substituting “comprehend” for “understand” in line 12 and omitting ­[page 387:] a superfluous comma in line 20), dated it the fourteenth, and sent it to the St. Valentine’s Day party given by Anne Charlotte Lynch at 116 Waverly Place, New York. Poe did not attend, but I think the recipient was identified, for the manuscript was found among the papers of Rufus W. Griswold, Mrs. Osgood’s literary executor; it is now in the Harvard College Library. Whether Poe knew that his piece was published in the Evening Mirror a week after the party cannot be certainly known.

Finding that he had misspelled the lady’s middle name, the author later reworked the piece to introduce the correct spelling, preparing a manuscript which he dated “Valentine’s Eve, 1848,” and presumably hoped to have published that year in some magazine. In this he did not succeed. But, undaunted, he made ready again for the proper season in 1849, with unexpected and embarrassing double success.

On February 5, 1849, Poe told Frederick Gleason, publisher of The Flag of Our Union (Boston), that he was leaving with Mr. French, Mr. Gleason’s New York agent, a short poem. Another letter written about the same time told an uncertain correspondent that “A Valentine” came out “in The Flag dated 3rd March, but which was issued the Saturday previous — Feb. 24.” Poe seems to have been unaware that the Osgood verses had appeared in Sartain’s Union Magazine for March, which came out on February 15. In The Flag for March 17, 1849, Killis Campbell (Poems, pp. 261-262) found the following paragraph.


Having received a poem from our regular contributor, Edgar A. Poe, Esq., and having paid for the same as original, we were not a little surprised to see the poem appear in Sartain’s Union Magazine for March, uncredited, and as original, though in the table of contents on the cover it is omitted. We at once addressed Mr. Poe, for an explanation, lest it should appear that we had taken the Valentine from the Magazine without credit. His answer to us is full and satisfactory. The said poem was written and handed to Mr. De Graw, a gentleman who proposed to start a magazine in New York, but who gave up the project and started himself for California. Mr. Poe, learning of this, thought, of course, his composition was his own again, and sent it to us as one of his regular contributions for the Flag; and was himself as much surprised as we could be, to see it, not long afterwards, in the Magazine, though the publisher does not say there that it was written for his pages. ­[page 388:] It was doubtless handed by Mr. De Graw to Sartain, and published thus without any intent to wrong any one. We make this statement, as in duty bound to Mr. Poe, and ourselves.

De Graw was certainly connected with the Union Magazine and his name, James L. DeGraw, Agent, appears on the title page of Volume III, which indicates that when Israel Post disposed of the magazine, De Graw arranged to sell the bound volumes. In matters of this kind Poe was not always candid, and since Sartain’s text is close to that of the manuscript of 1848, I suspect Poe had tried to get publication early in that year. In the first sixteen lines The Flag text preserves some readings of the original draft of 1846.

Poe later composed “An Enigma” in which were concealed in similar fashion the names of his patroness Sarah Anna Lewis.(1)



(A) Manuscript, “Valentine’s Eve, 1846” (in Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore; facsimile in Quinn and Hart, 1941, p. 2); (B) manuscript, “Saturday, February 14, [18]46,” from Griswold’s papers (now in Houghton Library, Harvard University; text printed by Harrison, VII, 217); (C) New York Evening Mirror, February 21, 1846; (D) manuscript, “Valentine’s Eve, 1848,” from Griswold’s papers (now in Houghton Library; facsimile in Woodberry, II, 182); (E) Sartain’s Union Magazine for March 1849 (4:173); (F) Flag of Our Union for March 3, 1849; (G) Works (1850), II, 14.

The first manuscript (A) was obviously retained by the poet (pace Quinn and Hart), for it comes from the papers of the poet’s relatives. The second (B) was that sent to the party, for the Mirror text (C) was based on it. For convenience I call texts A, B, and C the “Sergeant versions” and D, E, F, and G the “Sargent versions.”

We give the first text (A) and Griswold’s (G) with one misprint corrected.


[page 389, continued:]


Heading:  [added at a later time] To — — — (A); To —— (B); To Her Whose Name is Written Below (C)

12  understand / comprehend (B, C)

16  for / [above this, written later] as (A)

19  Ah / All [an obvious misprint, spoiling the hidden name] (C)

1  Were you not something of a dunce, my dear: — (B, C)

Signature:  B is dated at the bottom Saturday Feb. 14. 46 and has no signature


[page 390, continued:]


Heading:  A Valentine By Edgar A. Poe. To — — — (D, E)

1  this rhyme is / these lines are (F)

2  Læda [corrected from the manuscript D; it is misprinted Lœda in E, F, and G]

3  that, nestling lies / that, nestling, lies (D, F)

4  the page / this page (F)

5  the lines / these lines (D); this rhyme (F); they hold / which holds (F)

7  at heart / at heart (F)

8  the syllables / the letters themselves (F)

11  sabre, / sabre [no comma] (D)

13  the leaf / this page (F); where now / whereon (F)

14  Such eager eyes, there lies, I say, perdu, (F)

15  Three eloquent words / A well-known name (F)

18  [Line enclosed in parentheses, D]; Like the knight Pinto (Mendez Ferdinando) — (F)

Note:  [The terminal note appears only in G]


[page 390, continued:]


2  The twins of Leda are Castor and Pollux, who became a constellation, Gemini, which governs a sign of the Zodiac. Poe compares the eyes of the heroine of “Ligeia” to the “twin stars of Leda.” He perhaps had in mind some “Lines on Harvey’s Death” by Cowley:

Say, for ye saw us, ye immortal lights,

How oft unwearied have we spent the nights

Till the Ledaean stars, so famed for love,

Wond’red at us from above. ­[page 391:]

He surely had seen them in the chapter on “Literary Friendships” in the Curiosities of one of his favorite writers, Isaac D’Israeli.

9  In his later years Poe was developing a rather complicated theory of scansion, for which the interested reader is referred to “The Rationale of Verse.” Basically his system is quantitative, but he thought English syllables to be of several sizes, not merely long and short, and he wished to have no elisions save those made in ordinary speech. Since (in order to substitute “a” for “e”) he deliberately changed smallest to trivialest in this line, he obviously regarded trivial and small as metrical equivalents. Thus, the line is meant to be an iambic pentameter. See also the notes on “Ulalume,” line 41.

10  The Gordian knot was that most cunningly tied on the cart of Gordius, a Phrygian peasant. In accordance with an oracle, Gordius was made king and the knot was preserved in the temple at Gordium. It was prophesied that whoever loosened it would conquer Asia. Alexander the Great drew his sword and cut it. In his manuscript selections from Milton, Poe quoted from “At a Vacation Exercise in the College,” lines 89-90: “What power, what force, what mighty spell, if not / Your learned hands, can loose this Gordian knot?”

14  To lie perdu is to lie hidden. Poe used the French expression several times in articles about Mrs. Osgood, and elsewhere at least as early as in the first chapter of the “Journal of Julius Rodman,” which was written late in 1839.

16 Poe also believed that certain words or syllables in a line, because of repetition of sound or for some other reason, receive special emphasis. Here a natural reading is “Of poets — by poets — as the name — is a poet’stoo.”

17-19  The lines will be understood as founded on a punning Spanish joke on the Spanish form of the name of a famous traveler, renowned as a teller of tall tales, Ferdinando Mendez Pinto (1509-1583). The name was regarded as a question and answer — “Mendez Ferdinando? Minto” means “Ferdinand are you lying? — I lie.” When he admitted he was a liar he was not lying — and his name became a synonym for truth. Incidentally, in 1846, Charles F. Briggs (Poe’s sometime associate on the Broadway Journal) wrote a series of letters to the Evening Mirror which he signed “Ferdinand Mendoza Pinto.” Poe in his “Literati” sketch of Briggs in Godey’s for May 1846, called the signature “apt.” Far earlier, reviewing Thomas Campbell’s Life of Petrarch in Graham’s for September 1841, he coupled Pinto’s name (in the Spanish form) with Baron Munchausen’s. I am told that the Peregrinação of Fernãs Mendes Pinto, published posthumously in the original Portuguese in 1614, is undeserving of the incredulity it has long received.

19  Poe’s Hungarian translator, Dr. György Radó, wished to see another pun, on “argent” and “O’s good” here, but I think this is gilding the lily. See his Edgar Allan Poe Összes Versei (Budapest, 1959), p. 406.



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 388:]

1  See page 424 below. In the volume of passages from his father’s correspondence, issued by W. M. Griswold in 1898, there may be seen a poem by Mrs. Osgood on a similar but more elaborate plan. A second name is concealed in the last letter of the first line, the penultimate letter of the second, and so on. Thus linked are the names of the lady and the elder Griswold.





In the note to line 9: changed / change


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