July 7, 2010

Poe: To My Mother

Edgar A. Poe outlived several mothers and maternal figures. His birth mother, Eliza Poe, died when the boy was a month and a half shy of his third birthday. Jane Stanard, his first crush as a schoolboy and the mother of his friend Robert, died when he was 15. Poe's foster-mother Frances Allan, who doted on him, died when Poe was 20 (Poe himself missed the funeral because his foster-father didn't tell him in time). Six years later, Poe's paternal grandmother (Elizabeth Cairnes Poe) died an old woman in her 70s.

But Poe himself later denied his connection to these mother figures. Instead, he looked to his mother-in-law, Maria Poe Clemm. "Muddy," as he called her, was the mother of Poe's wife Virginia Clemm (she was also his aunt, making Virginia his first cousin). After the marriage, the trio made a unique family household and stuck by each other through financial hardships and personal tragedies. When Virginia died in 1847, Poe and Muddy remained together in their cottage in The Bronx.

Poe's appreciation for Muddy was expressed in a sonnet published on July 7, 1849 in Boston's Flag of Our Union newspaper.

"To My Mother."

Because I feel that, in the Heavens above,
The angels, whispering to one another,
Can find, among their burning terms of love,
None so devotional as that of “Mother,”
Therefore by that dear name I long have called you—
You who are more than mother unto me,
And fill my heart of hearts, where Death installed you,
In setting my Virginia’s spirit free.
My mother—my own mother, who died early,
Was but the mother of myself; but you
Are mother to the one I loved so dearly,
And thus are dearer than the mother I knew
By that infinity with which my wife
Was dearer to my soul than its soul-life.

*The image of Maria Clemm is courtesy of the Edgar Allan Poe Society (http://www.eapoe.org), the absolute best resource for Poe on the internet.


  1. It is interesting that Poe's sonnet was adapted for Mother's Day plaques in the 1920s and 1930s, omitting the lines that were most specific to Poe and Mrs. Clemm. A somewhat unusual legacy for the man mostly remembered today as the master of horror.

    1. I agree! It must seem unusual to folks who know Poe only as "the master of the macabre" to hear such heartfelt, beautiful lines coming from his pen. But when you become educated on Poe, and read ALL his works, you see that he was the master of many genres: horror, mystery, science fiction, and even comedy! Poe is certainly a genius.