The Streets of Baltimore TEI
Summary: "MacLean, Clara Victoria Dargan Papers, 1849-1920. 718 items and 21 vols. Columbia, S.C. Fiction writer, poet, teacher. Collection includes correspondence, diaries, an autograph album, book of rhymes and sketches, scrapbooks, and an annotated manuscript of Fenelon. Materials contain much information on Southern literature and the effect of the Civil War on literary efforts and remuneration, as well as personal and family matters" (Duke University Archives). Clara MacLean makes several contradictory references as she describes the origin of the poem in scribbles throughout. At one point she writes, as if in a letter, that the poem was copied by her from a poem that was published in a “New York paper… thirty years ago,” around the time of the Baltimore Riot, the first bloodshed in the Civil War, back in 1861. It is more likely that she wrote it herself, but refused to take credit for it in a letter that accompanied the poem (Image 7-8). On Image 11, though, she states that the poem was written by Edgar Allen Poe, and Image 5 declares that the poem was written by Poe’s spirit to a Medium in New York. Perhaps, the newspaper poem writer is the medium to whom Poe dictated the saga. A search for a poem by this name with Poe as the author turns up the fact that Poe died on the streets of Baltimore on October 3, 1849. The circumstances around Poe’s death are a mystery, he was found in delirium, wearing somebody else’s clothing, and was said to have repeatedly called out “Reynolds,” and his final words might have been, “Lord save my soul.” He might have died of syphilis (Wikipedia). This is a poem about a battle within Poe’s soul, within MacLean's soul, or, perhaps, within the nation’s soul in the aftermath of the Civil War.
The Streets of Baltimore1.
Supposed to have been dictated
by Edgar A. Poe’s spirit to a
“Medium,” in New York
Woman weak, and woman mortal,
Through thy spirit’s open portal
I would read the Rumi2 record
If my earthly being floored
I would feel that fire returning
Which within my soul was burning
When my star was quenched in darkness
Let to rise on earth no more
When I sank beneath life’s burden,
In the streets of Baltimore3
2 Rumi – Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī, Persian poet, philosopher and mystic.
3 Baltimore Riot – the poem might be referring to the April 19th, 1861 riot, which occurred in a confrontation between Union troops and “pro-South” civilians, and is considered to be the first bloodshed in the Civil War.
Oh! those memories dire and saddening,
Oh! that might of anguish maddening,
When my lone heart suffered shipwreck
On a demon-haunted whore –
When the friends grow wild with laughter
And the silence followed after
Was more awful, and appalling,
Than the cannon’s dead roar –
Than the clash of mighty armies,
Through the streets of Baltimore.
Like a prig serpent crawling,
Like a Maelstrom1 madly boiling,
Did this Phlegethon2 of hay,
Greet my maddening spirits before
Rushing onward, blindly reeling
Tortured by intensest feeling
Like Prometheus3, when the vultures
Through his quivering vitals tore
Swift I fled from death and darkness
Through the streets of Baltimore
1Maelstrom – “Powerful whirlpool… The Nordic word was introduced into English by Edgar Allan Poe in his story ‘A Descent into the Maelström’ (1841)” (Wikipedia). It is extremely likely that she is referring to this story because she dedicates the poem to Poe.
2River Phlegethon – the flaming river in Greek mythology that flowed into Tartarus.
3Prometheus – in Greek myth, he is a Titan, who stole fire from Zeus to give it to humankind, for this he was bound to a rock and his liver was repeatedly eaten by an eagle.
[After the end of an introductory letter to a friend]
For love will temper every change
And after all surprise
And wristy with the dreams of earth
The hills of heaven will rise.
No one near, to save or love me,
No kind face to watch above me
Though I heard the sounds of footsteps
Like the waves upon the shore --
Beating, beating, beating, beating
Now advancing, now retreating,
With a dull and dreary rhythm,
With a long continuous roar
Heard the sound of human footsteps
In the streets of Baltimore.
There at length they found me lying,
Weak and mildewed, sick and dying,
And my shattered wreck of being,
Yearning for a kindly refuge love.
But my woe was past enduring,
And my soul cast off its mooring,
Crying as I floated outward
“I am of the earth no more,
I have forfeited life’s blessing
In the streets of Baltimore.”
Where wast then, oh Passes Eternal!
When the prig fiend infernal,
Beat me with his looming faces,
Till I sank to rise no more,
Oh! was all my life a long error
Lamented in that night of terror
Did my sin find satiation,
Which tis judgment went before,
Summoned to a dread tribunal
In the streets of Baltimore?
Nay, with deep delirious pleasure,
I had drained my life’s full measure,
Till the fatal fiery respect
Fed upon my being’s core,
Then with force, and fire volcanic
Summoning a strength Titanic,
Did I hunt the hands that bound me,
Battered down my being’s doom
Fled, and left my shattered dwelling
In the dust of Baltimore
The Streets of Baltimore
by Edgar Allen Poe
Going back without lamenting
With a sorrowful repenting
I can read my life’s sad story
In a light unknown before.
For there is no woe so dismal
Not an evil so abysmal,
But a rainbow full of glory,
Shams the yawning chasm over
And across that bridge of beauty
Did I pass from Baltimore.
In the great eternal City
Where the angel hearts take pity,
On the sin, which men forgive all
Moving on incitingly compline,
Earth has lost the power to chasm me
Death can never more slam me,
And I drink fresh inspiration,
From the Source, which I adore
Through my grand apotheosis,
That, “Now liveth,” in Baltimore.
Now no longer sadly yearning,
Love for love finds much returning
And there comes no ghostly raven
Tapping at my chamber’s door,
Calmly in the golden glory,
I can sit, and read life’s story
For my soul from out that shadow
Flies leer lifted evermore –
From that deep and hiemal shadow
In the streets of Baltimore.
HOME | Index | Contact
Date: May 7, 1890 (Coding Revisions: 11/26/2009). Author: Clara Victoria Dargan MacLean (Coding Revisions: Anna Faktorovich).
Abolitionist Women 2 >