E Edgar Allan Poe

A Valentine by Edgar Allan Poe

‘A Valentine’ throws a challenge to the readers in the guise of a meticulously formed poem. This poem hints at the name of Edgar Allan Poe’s platonic lover.

Edgar Allan Poe’s poem follows the model of acrostic poetry. The title of the poem, ‘A Valentine’, though revised, refers to the idea that it is dedicated to someone whom the poet loved. However, decoding the name of his beloved and reading the poem at the same time are undoubtedly a difficult task. Whatsoever with a little help, one can easily find the name hidden inside the lines. Most importantly one has to follow the guidelines presented in this poem by the poet himself. Then the process would seem easier yet it is not that easy. Familiarity with acrostic poems will not help one to win this riddling game!

A Valentine by Edgar Allan Poe

 

Summary

‘A Valentine’ is an acrostic poem by Edgar Allan Poe and here the poet interestingly hides the name of his platonic lover, Frances Sargent Osgood.

At first, Poe makes his point clear to the readers. He penned this rhyme for his beloved, Frances Sargent Osgood whose name is hidden in between the lines of the text. Employing the acrostic form, the poet hides the name in a specific order. However, in the text, the speaker urges his beloved to find her name. Her name to him is like a treasure. Moreover, it’s a lucky charm that the poet wears at his heart. Thereafter the poet confuses readers by using a reference to the “Gordian knot”. Just before the confusion begins, Poe provides the way using which one can find the name. According to him, one has to “Search well the measure—/ The words—the syllables!” If they ignore the “trivialest point”, they may lose the way of finding the name.

 

Structure

This poem consists of two stanzas. Each stanza of this work contains ten internally rhyming lines. Along with that, the rhyme scheme of this poem is conventional. In the first stanza, the rhyming scheme is ABAB CDCDCD. While the first two lines of the second stanza can be grouped with the first one as it follows the previous rhyming pattern. However, the rhyme scheme of the rest of the stanza follows the same pattern (EFEF…) as the previous stanza. Apart from that, the overall poem is written in iambic pentameter with a few trochaic variations.

 

Literary Devices

Poe’s riddle, ‘A Valentine’ begins with a metaphor. Here, the poet compares the eyes of his beloved to luminous objects. Thereafter, he uses a simile to compare her eyes to the “twins of Loeda”. Here, the poet uses an allusion to classical Greco-Roman mythology. Thereafter, one can find rhetorical exclamations in the first stanza. The poet uses his beloved’s name as a symbol of good luck in the line, “Divine—a talisman—an amulet.” Apart from that, one can find the use of enjambment throughout this piece. The second stanza begins with a litote. Thereafter, Poe uses synecdoche in the line, “Eyes scintillating soul, there lie perdus.” Here, he uses a metaphor, “perdus” to refer to the words of the lady’s name. In the line, “Still form a synonym for Truth,” there is a paradox. However, here the poet utters the truth in a roundabout manner.

 

Analysis, Stanza by Stanza

Stanza One

     For her this rhyme is penned, whose luminous eyes,

         Brightly expressive as the twins of Loeda,

     Shall find her own sweet name, that, nestling lies

         Upon the page, enwrapped from every reader.

     Search narrowly the lines!—they hold a treasure

         Divine—a talisman—an amulet

     That must be worn at heart. Search well the measure—

         The words—the syllables! Do not forget

     The trivialest point, or you may lose your labor!

         And yet there is in this no Gordian knot

This poem, ‘A Valentine’ makes the design of the poet clear to the readers in the very first line. The poetic persona of the poem, Poe himself, says this verse is penned for the lady whose luminous eyes are as expressive as the twins of Leda. Here, the poet refers to Dioscuri or the sons of the Spartan Queen Leda. They were Castor and Pollux.

The lady can find her “sweet name” nestling upon the page on which the poem is written. The speaker clarifies that he has enwrapped her name from every reader. Thereafter, the poet urges the lady to scan the lines attentively as these lines hold her name, metaphorically referred to as a “Divine treasure”. Moreover, the name is like an amulet or talisman for the poet that must be worn at one’s heart.

Thereafter the poet gives a hint regarding how to find the name. It is between the lines, words, or syllables. Besides, one has to be meticulous while searching the name as it is like a “Gordian knot”. But, at last, the poet negates the task to be a Gordian knot, a reference to a difficult problem. As it is solvable if one uses the right approach.

 

Stanza Two

     Which one might not undo without a sabre,

         If one could merely comprehend the plot.

     Enwritten upon the leaf where now are peering

         Eyes scintillating soul, there lie perdus

     Three eloquent words oft uttered in the hearing

         Of poets, by poets—as the name is a poet’s, too.

     Its letters, although naturally lying

         Like the knight Pinto—Mendez Ferdinando—

     Still form a synonym for Truth—Cease trying!

         You will not read the riddle, though you do the best you can do.

In the second stanza of ‘A Valentine’, the poet says the answer does not lie in the plot of this poem. If one tries to scan the plot, one might not undo the riddling knot without a sabre. Here the poet’s statement contains irony.

Thereafter, the poet refers to the three words of her beloved’s name, hidden inside the poem, that is uttered by poets. As it is also a poet’s name. Thereafter Poe gives another hint in the lines, “Its letters, although naturally lying/ Like the knight Pinto—Mendez Ferdinando—”  Ferdinand Mendez Pinto was a Portuguese sailor and writer. But the poet refers to his name for pointing at the fact that his beloved’s name also starts with the letter “F”.

Lastly, the poet’s remark humorously throws a challenge to readers. No matter how much they try, they can’t find the answer to his riddle.

However, the answer is “Frances Sargent Osgood”. To find the name, one has to read the first letter of the first line in connection with the second letter of the second line, the third letter of the third line, and the scheme has to be followed till the last line.

 

Historical Context

Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, ‘A Valentine’ is an innovative address to his platonic beloved, Frances Sargent Osgood. Osgood was an American poet and one of the best-known women writers in contemporary time. Popular by her nickname, “Fanny”, she was also famous for her platonic relationship with Poe. This poem was first published in the February 21, 1846 issue of the New York Evening Mirror. The previous title of the poem was “To Her Whose Name Is Written Below.” Before publishing, Poe presented this poem at a public literary salon at the home of Anne Lynch Botta on 14th February 1846.

 

Similar Poetry

Like Poe’s one of the best poems, ‘A Valentine’, here is a list of a few love poems that similarly features a speaker’s heartfelt emotions for the beloved.

You can also read about poems for Valentine’s Day and the best love poems for her.

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About
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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