Edgar Allan Poe’s Hymn to Our Lady

Edgar Allan Poe portrait B
By Oscar Halling [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Did you know that Edgar Allen Poe once penned a hymn to Our Lady?

Poe, the tortured poet of the American Romantic Movement, is best known for his stories of mystery and the macabre–stories like “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and famous narrative poems like “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee.”

His onomatopoeic poem “The Bells,” which was published after his death in 1849, is believed to have been inspired by the bells of the tower at Fordham University, near his home.  It relies on iambic pentameter in the haunting repetition of “the bells, bells, bells, bells, the tintinnabulation of the bells….” to capture the reader’s imagination.

But amidst the haunting poetry and prose which characterize the work of the troubled artist, one poem stands alone as evidence of his spiritual hunger.

Poe wrote “Hymn” after a noon-time stop into a church staffed by the Jesuits.  While walking along the noisy street, Poe heard the clear ringing of a church bell.  “Why,” he wondered, “would the bell be ringing at this time of day?”  A Jesuit explained that the bell rang at noon, as well as at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., to call the faithful to pray the Angelus, the prayer which reflects on the Incarnation of Christ and on Mary’s “fiat,” her “yes” to the announcement of the archangel Gabriel.

Poe had never before heard of the traditional prayer, but the story inspired him to write the following poem:

“Hymn” 

At morn–at noon–at twilight dim–
Maria! thou hast heard my hymn!
In joy and woe–in good and ill–
Mother of God, be with me still!
When the Hours flew brightly by,
And not a cloud obscured the sky,
My soul, lest it should truant be,
Thy grace did guide to thine and thee
Now, when storms of Fate o’ercast
Darkly my Present and my Past,
Let my future radiant shine
With sweet hopes of thee and thine.  

The Angelus derives its name from its opening words in Latin, “Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariæ.”

512px-Jean-François_Millet_(II)_001
“The Angelus” by Jean-François Millet [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
And here, in case you’ve forgotten, are the words of the Angelus:

 V. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
 Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with Thee;
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen
V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it done unto me according to thy word.
 Hail Mary, etc.
V. And the Word was made Flesh.
R. And dwelt among us.
 Hail Mary, etc.
V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
LET US PRAY

Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Zippy

    Wow! Beautifully written! Gonna have to memorize that one. And pray the Angelus during Lent. Thanks for bringing this to light.

  • Deoacveritatimyfaithsustainsm

    Thank you for posting!

  • WalterPaulKomarnicki

    most enlightening!

  • Yankeegator

    Wow…

  • J_Bob

    Who would have known!!!!

    Great Article.

  • Anne Flanagan

    Magnificent! I try to promote the praying of the Angelus by posting a weekly work of art depicting the Annunciation: http://www.calltoprayer.blogspot.com

  • http://www.dariasockey.blogspot.com/ Daria

    Puts me in mind of another Marian poem by an American protestant, Henry Longfellow. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174832

  • http://theyhavenowine.wordpress.com/ Bob Drury

    In grammar school we said the Angelus at noon, before dismissal for lunch. How quickly we forget that ringing the church bells was the call to prayer, to the Angelus, three times a day. I saw no mention of this in the recent furor at Duke over the prospect of using the chapel bells for a Muslim call to prayer. Did anyone else? Of course, Duke started out as Methodist.

  • John WARD

    Was Poe a Catholic?

  • KyPerson

    How lovely! Poe was not a Catholic and was by all counts, a very tortured soul. I have never seen this poem, thank you so much for printing it.

  • Steve Mirachi

    Kathy: Thanks for posting this. Here’s some more information for those who are interested.
    “Hymn” first appears in Poe’s short story “Morella,” spoken by the character of the same name. There’s an extant manuscript from 1833, and various versions of the story were published from 1835 onwards. Interestingly, Poe eventually removed the poem from the story and published it separately–much later in 1845. Thomas Mabbott has more information on these details in his scholarly edition of Poe’s collected poems.
    Poe was living in Baltimore when he wrote “Morella,” as Arthur Quinn establishes in his magisterial biography. Is it possible that Poe went into a church staffed by Jesuits in early 1830s Baltimore? The story sounds anecdotal at best, and is probably apocryphal. To associate the writing of “Hymn” with the days in which Poe spent near Fordham–during which he was a close friend and spiritual confidante with Fr. Doucet–would not be correct.
    Nonetheless, “Hymn” is without a doubt Catholic through and through, from the swinging Angelus bells that are imaged in the lines through the implication of the “to Jesus through Mary” pathway distinctive to Catholic Mariology.
    The best scholarly article for further investigations of Poe’s fascination with Catholicism is Michael Burduck’s “Usher’s ‘Forgotten Church’?” which is freely available on the EAPoe.org website.