Although Edgar Allan Poe is recognized as the Master of the Macabre for evoking terror through his Gothic fiction, he was also a romantic at heart with the ability to write beautiful deeply-felt love letters. In 1835, Poe, who was 26, secretly married his cousin, Virginia Clemm, who was 13 years his junior. In early 1842, Virginia contracted tuberculosis; the illness grew worse over the years, and five years later she died. Throughout her illness and especially after her death, Poe was deeply depressed and found solace in binge drinking. Poe never recovered from this loss; her death found its way into much of Poe’s fiction — the recurring theme of the beautiful woman’s death. Having lost the love of his life, the distraught author of the Tell-Tale Heart desperately longed to open his heart to another woman. A year after his wife’s death, the famous author began courting two other women (one a poet, the other his childhood sweetheart). Miraculously, from time to time Poe was able to pull himself out of a state of depression — and inebriation — to reach deep into his broken heart to find that last, infinitesimal spark of love that could ignite his soul, allowing him to write passionate, poetic love letters. In October of 1848, Poe wrote to poet Sarah Helen Whitman to express his profound love for her:
All thoughts — all passions seem now merged in that one consuming desire — the mere wish to make you comprehend — to make you see that for which there is no human voice — the unutterable fervor of my love for you: — for so well do I know your poet-nature, oh Helen, Helen! that I feel sure if you could but look down now into the depths of my soul with your pure spiritual eyes you could not refuse to speak to me what, alas! you still resolutely have unspoken — you would love me if only for the greatness of my love. Is it not something in this cold, dreary world, to be loved? — Oh, if I could but burn into your spirit the deep — the true meaning which I attach to those three syllables underlined! — but, alas: the effort is all in vain and “I live and die unheard.”
When I spoke to you of what I felt, saying that I loved now for the first time, I did not hope you would believe or even understand me; nor can I hope to convince you now — but if, throughout some long, dark summer night, I could but have held you close, close to my heart and whispered to you the strange secrets of its passionate history, then indeed you would have seen that I have been far from attempting to deceive you in this respect. I could have shown you that it was not and could never have been in the power of any other than yourself to move me as I am now moved — to oppress me with this ineffable [page 2:] emotion — to surround and bathe me in this electric light, illumining and enkindling my whole nature — filling my soul with glory, with wonder, and with awe. During our walk in the cemetery I said to you, while the bitter, bitter tears sprang into my eyes —”Helen, I love now — now — for the first and only time.”
Read related post: How Did Edgar Allan Poe Die?
For further reading: The World’s Greatest Letters by Michelle Lovric, Chicago Review Press (2002)