Edgar Allan Poe’s shortest poem is a glorious hymn to the Virgin Mary

It is almost astonishing that a writer like Edgar Allan Poe, a romantic in soul and literary intention, fascinated by the Gothic and the murky enchantments that intrigued the French cursed poets, could turn so and directly to the Virgin Mary of all people. Yet, his shortest poem is precisely titled “Hymn.” It is more of a prayer, devoid of all forms of allegory and rhetoric, simple and direct: a thanksgiving and an invitation, elements that, however, as we will have a chance to discuss, become almost utopian, transmuting from desperate urges to lucid realizations of reality.

Edgar Allan Poe, in his study, composing his verses.

The poetic text

First, I report my translation of the poem “Hymn.”

At morn - at noon - at twilight dim -
Maria! thou hast heard my hymn!
In joy and woe - in good and ill -
Mother of God, be with me still!
When the hours flew brightly by,
And not a cloud obscured the sky,
My soul, lest it should truant be,
Thy grace did guide to thine and thee;
Now, when storms of Fate o'ercast
Darkly my Present and my Past,
Let my Future radiant shine
With sweet hopes of thee and thine!

Brief analysis of the composition through the eyes of Edgar Allan Poe

The “Edgar Allan Poe” man is ambivalent in his being: sometimes romantic, almost to the point of recalling Sturm und Drang, at other times as fragile as a child seeking the comfort of his mother. Most know him for his macabre tales, invention of the detective genre, and eagerness to delve into the murky, like a California prospector, but he was much more than that, and his poetic works clearly show it.

In particular, many poems in the anticipatory wake of Baudelaire focus on amorous passions, on the exaltation of a dialectical relationship between a man who feeds with all his senses on the beloved creature and, on the opposite side, she, statuesque, silent, almost dreamlike. It is so for Lenore in “The Crow,” for Annie, Annabel Lee, Eulalie, and Irene in “She Sleeps,” and Elena, all characters who appear to remain diaphanous, distant, and inconsistent.

And the same, perhaps to a greater extent, applies to the Virgin Mary, whom Poe addresses with blunt sincerity. Despite a troubled life full of disappointments drowned in alcohol, failures, and successes that came perhaps too late, the poet continues to believe. He holds firm to his faith, turning Mary into one of his beloved women, an image more to be contemplated than possessed.

The lexical choice

The opening of the poetic poem is almost a doxology, a praise of Mary, who, according to Poe, has always welcomed his invocation. But why does he specifically use the word “Hymn”? Wouldn’t it have been more logical to refer to a prayer? The answer is hidden in the very romantic spirit of the poet. He, despite everything, prefers to raise a hymn, a courtly description that transmutes every dark corner into a golden drop. Poe cannot, too quickly, yield to the plea, for that would imply a subservient relationship, a condition foreign to the untamed spirit of one who enjoys nature because he embraces it with his senses.

That is perhaps why the choice is so strange. Mary listened to his hymn, which, like a circadian rhythm, spans time and follows the motions of the stars like heartbeats. But immediately, the storm returns: the poet is tormented, we know, and his writings testify to that. He perhaps delves deep into the psyche precisely to get to the bottom of his existential malaise. And if the romantic force is mighty, likewise, the terrible action of his subconscious mind manages to overcome even the most invincible acts of will.

Prayer

Here then shyly appears that request which, perhaps only in his heart, Edgar Allan Poe would like to address to all his “beloved” women: closeness. An unlimited proximity is expressed more in a marriage formula than in the simplicity of prayer. May Mary, already a bride and mother, already surrounded by “her own,” not leave this man alone in any circumstance, in joy as in sorrow.

It is with tender timidity that the poet takes a small step toward this spendthrift image. He, during his happy moments, as if not to be overwhelmed by a sense of laziness, allowed himself to be touched by heavenly grace and was grateful. Perhaps he was not delighted as a genuine Christian should have done; perhaps he did not exalt what he did not immediately participate in as a gift, but his soul, at the bottom always distressed, did not turn its gaze from Mary’s sweet face.

However, Poe’s timeline is cyclical, full of winding curves and sudden changes in direction. The “Now” has no chronological connotation; like any written word, it can reverberate at any instant, repeat itself, and move back and forth. The before “happy” and the after “sad” are two coexisting conditions, two realities that combine to define the poet’s existential condition.

Poe’s time is static, cold as a statue, and always turned toward him.

Perhaps not coincidentally, he uses the capital initially to denote three actors acting in the same drama: Past, Present, and Future. Perhaps not coincidentally, he describes a Fate (a strange element compared to Christian Providence) that is timeless and acts with the present verbal tense in both the present moment and the past. It is almost as if Poe wanted to betray himself, as if, in a moment of distraction, his pen prompted him to write what he would never want to include in a hymn. That is his persistent desolation.

A reality that, even when Mary perhaps brightened his days, resisted and continued to haunt him. In this sense, the hymn, which lives in the non-place of the will to read, becomes a projection, like the iridescent image of Mary, the expression of an unconscious but overt desire in its opposite (i.e., anguish). It is thus the Future, a place unattainable unless moved toward us and thus made present, that becomes the moment of hope, supplication, and abandonment of all romantic vagueness.

Much like the “Never Again” of “The Crow,” the Future represents the mixture of impossibility and the paroxysmal affirmation of unalterable permanence. “Never again” means “It will always be so,” similarly, in this hymn, Poe places all his hope on an absent number from the roulette wheel. He bets like a desperate man but does not give in to the lure of blatant depression. He, in other words, with the sincerity of a child (who, however, has already lived many lives), surrenders himself to Mary and her Dear Ones, perhaps knowing that even the Mother of God will only accept his prayer in the future, that is, never.

Short biographical note on Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe was an American writer known for his macabre and gothic writing style. Born January 19, 1809, in Boston, Massachusetts, Poe endured a tumultuous life marked by personal tragedies and professional struggles. His works often explored themes of death, madness, and the supernatural, captivating readers with their dark and mysterious atmosphere.

Pop Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe
Pop portrait of Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849).

Vivid imagery, intricate plots, and psychological depth characterized Poe’s writing style. Some of his most famous works include “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Raven,” “The Conquering Worm,” “The City in the Sea,” “The Stolen Letter,” and “The Fall of the House of Ushers,” which solidified his legacy as a master of noir and detective storytelling and poetry.

Throughout his life, Poe faced financial hardship and personal loss, including the death of his wife Virginia, which strained his mental and emotional well-being. Despite these challenges, Poe’s literary contributions have had a lasting impact on the horror and suspense genre, influencing future generations of writers and artists.

Edgar Allan Poe’s unique style and eerie tales continue to fascinate readers worldwide, cementing his reputation as one of the most iconic figures in American literature. He died in Baltimore on October 7, 1849, at only forty years of age, after being found to be in delirium tremens due to rampant alcoholism.

This is for insights and further readings of poems and stories

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