The Portrait

by SARAH HELEN WHITMAN (1803-1878)

Slowly I raised the folds concealing
That face, magnetic as the morning’s beam
While slumbering memory thrilled at its revealing
Like Memnon wakening from his marble dream.

Again I saw the brow’s translucent pallor,
The dark hair floating o’er it like a plume;
The sweet, imperious mouth, whose haughty valor
Defied all portents of impending doom.

Eyes planet calm, with something in their vision
That seemed not of earth’s mortal mixture born—
Strange mythic faiths and fantasies Elysian,
And far, sweet dreams of “fairy lands forlorn.”

Unfathomable eyes that held the sorrow
Of vanished ages in their shadowy deeps,
Lit by that prescience of a heavenly morrow
Which in high hearts the immortal spirit keeps.

Oft has that pale, poetic presence haunted
My lonely musings at the twilight hour,
Transforming the dull earth-life it enchanted,
With marvel, and with mystery, and with power.

Oft have I heard the sullen sea-wind moaning
Its dirge-like requiems on the lonely shore,
Or listened to the Autumn winds intoning
The wild, sweet legend of the lost Lenore;

Oft in some ashen evening of October,
Have stood entranced beside a mouldering tomb
Hard by that visionary lake of Auber,
Where sleeps the shrouded form of Ulalume;

Oft in chill, star-lit nights have heard the chiming
Of far-off mellow bells on the keen air,
And felt their molten-golden music timing
To the heart’s pulses, answering unaware.

Sweet, mournful eyes, long closed upon earth’s sorrow
Sleep restfully after life’s fevered dream!
Sleep, wayward heart! till on some cool, bright morrow,
Thy soul, refreshed, shall bathe in morning’s beam.

Though cloud and sorrow rest upon thy story,
And rude hands lift the drapery of thy pall,
Time, as a birthright, shall restore thy glory,
And Heaven rekindle all the stars that fall.

Sarah Helen Whitman

Poet, spiritualist and transcendentalist, Sarah Helen Whitman was born in Providence, RI on January 19, 1803, six years before Edgar Allan Poe was born on the same day in Boston, MA. Helen, as she was commonly known, became engaged to be married to Poe, a marriage that would have taken place the year before Poe died. It did not due to Poe’s inability to keep his promise to stop drinking. Helen’s mother also exerted her influence to break the two poets apart.

Sarah Helen Whitman Contemporaries
Letitia E. Landon
Helen Selina, Lady Dufferin
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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