Poet, playwright, journalist, lecturer Elizabeth Oakes Smith, 1845, testifying on the murder of Edgar Allan Poe

Smith did not name the offended woman, but Poe scholars know who she is.  Scarriet will investigate all of this further.    A recent work by John Walsh made great strides in solving the mystery of Poe’s death:

“Now the least curious aspect of the Smith charge is the way it was, and has been ignored.   Only when Mrs. Smith had put forward her beating charge [1857] did the cooping idea make its appearance.  At first, Thompson accepted Poe’s death [1849] as did everyone then, as the result of a drunken debauch.  Not until the late 1860s did [Thompson] come out with his cooping theory.  By then, Mrs. Smith had twice stated her own belief in Poe’s having been beaten to death by ruffians who were related to, or agents of, some offended woman.

“John Thompson, it can be seen, in addition to being the originator of the idea, was also the one who, through Stoddard and the influences of Harper’s, then The Southern Magazine, deliberately put it into print.   …if there is no real support, no actual evidence…for the “cooping” theory, then how and why was it ever conceived?”

—John Evangelist Walsh, Midnight Dreary: The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe St. Martin’s, 2000.

Poe’s death is still a mystery, but we at Scarriet have faith that one day the mystery will be solved.  First, the cover-ups and lies need to be cleared away, and that is gradually happening: the drunken debauch, and now the ‘cooping theory’ have been debunked.  There are many odd facts surrounding Poe’s murder.  The oddness of those facts should actually make the solving of the case that much easier, (to steal a little of Dupin’s logic.)

A significant author, a mother, an early champion of women’s rights, a friend of Poe’s, here is a poem by Elizabeth Oakes Smith, which could be a tribute to Shelley.  It sheds no light on Poe’s death, but it does make the whole matter more interesting to know that the source of a theory on Poe’s death is by a very fine poet, and this should also give us pause: why have so many fine writers with connections to Poe been ignored all these years?   Are you getting tired of the Harvard University/F.O. Matthiessen/N.Y. Review of Books view of 19th century American literary history?  Emerson, Emerson, Emerson, Whitman, Whitman, Whitman?  Well, we are, too.

The Drowned Mariner
by Elizabeth Oakes-Smith

A mariner sat on the shrouds one night;
The wind was piping free;
Now bright, now dimmed was the moon-light pale,
And the phosphor gleamed in the wake of the whale,
As he floundered in the sea;
The scud was flying athwart the sky,
The gathering winds went whistling by,
And the wave as it towered, then fell in spray,
Looked an emerald wall in the moonlight ray.

The mariner swayed and rocked on the mast,
But the tumult pleased him well;
Down the yawning wave his eye he cast,
And the monsters watched as they hurried past
Or lightly rose and fell;
For their broad, damp fins were under the tide,
And they lashed as they passed the vessel’s side,
And their filmy eyes, all huge and grim,
Glared fiercely up, and they glared at him.

Now freshens the gale, and the brave ship goes
Like an uncurbed steed along;
A sheet of flame is the spray she throws,
As her gallant prow the water ploughs,
But the ship is fleet and strong:
The topsails are reefed and the sails are furled,
And onward she sweeps o’er the watery world,
And dippeth her spars in the surging flood;
But there came no chill to the mariner’s blood.

Wildly she rocks, but he swingeth at ease,
And holds him by the shroud;
And as she careens to the crowding breeze,
The gaping deep the mariner sees,
And the surging heareth loud.
Was that a face, looking up at him,
With its pallid cheek and its cold eyes dim?
Did it beckon him down? did it call his name?
Now rolleth the ship the way whence it came.

The mariner looked, and he saw with dread
A face he knew too well;
And the cold eyes glared, the eyes of the dead,
And its long hair out on the wave was spread.
Was there a tale to tell?
The stout ship rocked with a reeling speed,
And the mariner groaned, as well he need;
For, ever, down as she plunged on her side,
The dead face gleamed from the briny tide.

Bethink thee, mariner, well, of the past,—
A voice calls loud for thee:—
There’s a stifled prayer, the first, the last;—
The plunging ship on her beam is cast,—
Oh, where shall thy burial be?
Bethink thee of oaths that were lightly spoken,
Bethink thee of vows that were lightly broken,
Bethink thee of all that is dear to thee,
For thou art alone on the raging sea:

Alone in the dark, alone on the wave,
To buffet the storm alone,
To struggle aghast at thy watery grave,
To struggle and feel there is none to save,—
God shield thee, helpless one!
The stout limbs yield, for their strength is past,
The trembling hands on the deep are cast,
The white brow gleams a moment more,
Then slowly sinks—the struggle is o’er.

Down, down where the storm is hushed to sleep,
Where the sea its dirge shall swell,
Where the amber drops for thee shall weep,
And the rose-lipped shell her music keep,
There thou shalt slumber well.
The gem and the pearl lie heaped at thy side,
They fell from the neck of the beautiful bride,
From the strong man’s hand, from the maiden’s brow,
As they slowly sunk to the wave below.

A peopled home is the ocean bed;
The mother and child are there;
The fervent youth and the hoary head,
The maid, with her floating locks outspread,
The babe with its silken hair;
As the water moveth they lightly sway,
And the tranquil lights on their features play;
And there is each cherished and beautiful form,
Away from decay, and away from the storm.


  1. Christopher Woodman said,

    December 13, 2009 at 4:23 am

    You know me, Tom, I always start my best comments with what goes on here in Siam — and oh, the tales I could tell if I weren’t so proper!

    Like this.

    I have a good friend, a beautiful and rich woman with a royal Chiang Mai name (NOT connected to the present royal family, but much older) who put out a contract on her out-of-line French lover and had him beaten almost to death in a bar — I knew him well too. It cost her just 20,000 baht ($606.00 at today’s rate), was skillfully executed, and nobody asked any questions, not even the Frenchman who just left — the country!

    Bobbits are also a dime a dozen here, which is one reason why there are so many surgeons who specialize in sexual adjustments in Thailand. Indeed, say to any Thai husband the single word “knife” and he’ll think just what you’re thinking as you read this, but in real-time fear rather than your comfortable literary-shocked, Poe-inspired amazement.

    The reason I’m saying all this is that from a human stand point your theory about the death of Edgar Allen Poe is hardly far-fetched, and in fact more plausible than most of Zeitgeist or even Oliver Stone. I mean, such things have been happening forever all over the globe and still do, even if Americans don’t believe it. Christopher Marlowe’s demise, for example — the irony being that we probably know more of the facts about that violent end than we do about Poe’s.

    I like your confidence that we will discover the facts in the case of the latter — and feel sure you’re right that if that ghost is at last not laid to rest but resurrected, Modernism will have to be entirely re-examined. Because there have been so many mysterious character assasinations carried out by Poetry & Co, our 20th Century Parnassian cosa nostra — just like on the Rue Morgue or yes, on Harriet, the bodies are going to tumble out of goodness knows where!

    I think part of the outrage [click here for one example] that met Foetry’s revelations arose out of the human tendency to close in when the family’s in trouble. But the moment it’s out, wow, it’s Tiger Woods unzipped in the bunker!


  2. Christopher Woodman said,

    December 13, 2009 at 5:20 am

    I like the last stanza in particular of the Elizabeth Oakes Smith poem, wondrous and memorable, and though not in his voice at all, as inevitable/unwritable as W.B.Yeats.

    A peopled home is the ocean bed;
    The mother and child are there;
    The fervent youth and the hoary head,
    The maid, with her floating locks outspread,
    The babe with its silken hair;
    As the water moveth they lightly sway,
    And the tranquil lights on their features play;
    And there is each cherished and beautiful form,
    Away from decay, and away from the storm.

    The theme of the poem seems hackneyed even to me, and can be dismissed as sentimental. But that’s also true of much of Frost, Yeats, and Heaney, the difference being the glimpse the poem gives at the very heart of the familiar of what is most hidden but important in life. The avant garde would like to be deep, indeed runs up a big flag saying don’t even try to enter here if you’re bourgeois. But that’s all it does — whereas “The Drowned Mariner” takes us by the hand like a Song of Innocence and Experience or some of Kipling or Millay or a poet like Auden when he’s simple and best and then leads us gently to a place where we know we have to go, whatever our assumptions about art or education or the meaning of life.

    Or of death — an astonishing glimpse of something there beyond memory or hope.

    A few years ago I was most moved by Elaine Pagels’ study of the secret Gospel of Thomas. Beyond Belief, it is called, and as it’s title promises it explores how a Christian theologian functions after she has lost her child and her faith — or any of us, for that matter.

    Could the avant garde ever address such an issue? Does our American avant garde ever address any issue that is related to our humanity or the quality of our life? Does it ever prepare us for anything remotely resembling the “silken hair” of the baby we’ve lost, or the “floating hair” of the love of our lives we’ve lost to leukemia?

    As the water moveth they lightly sway,
    And the tranquil lights on their features play;
    And there is each cherished and beautiful form,
    Away from decay, and away from the storm.

    And what are they talking about on Blog:Harriet today? Gary B. Fitzgerald just got closed down with red votes for just mentioning matters like poetry, whereas Annie Finch and her friends were all about them.

    And thus Scarriet, and the huge literary-historical revision you, Tom, have undertaken.

    Thank you for your courage.


  3. wfkammann said,

    December 13, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    Here’s something inspired by my recent visit to Chiang Mai.

    From Out the Spirit Grove

    The twinkling lights of happless souls set free
    Produce a perfect offering ‘neath the Bodhi tree

    He drives the car beyond the compound gate
    His father’s love like Esau’s blessing now too late

    Building houses for his guru yet again
    The rice barns’ hope the final antidote to Zen?

    He sniffs his daughter’s cheek; the fragrant scent
    Protects from dark despair a life not heaven sent

    She took her mother home and made her walk
    The dripping betel juice still stains her pleasant talk

    Who will reveal the secret to the man?
    Not self destruction but Life’s twice-eternal plan

    A brush for Nooey’s neice to smoothe her hair
    And spoil her disregard within the dragon’s lair

    The spirit house without the shadowed pall
    Still keep you safe ’til starless evening’s shadows fall

    Clearly the result of listening to an album of Shakespeare’s Sonnets on the flight across the Pacific and too much Scarriet! Or as the old blues singer said …too much barbecue… WHAT’S MY PROBLEM?… too much barbecue…

  4. thomasbrady said,

    December 13, 2009 at 6:21 pm


    It’s interesting to read the Harriet post and discussion in 2008 on Foetry.com and see all the bone-headed ignorance. [click here]

    First, Travis Nichols doesn’t mention the Jorie Graham rule or that Foetry.com caught poets cheating–his only detail (very telling) is the “mirth” the NY Times showed at Al’s unmasking.

    Robbins: “Getting f–ing shot because you write poetry” is a naive attempt to raise the bar and diminish what Foetry.com was about. Poe, for instance, was rubbed out for something more complex than “writing poetry,” yet political influence entwined with poetic reputation for which poets get murdered is driven by reviews and winning contests; Foetry = important and dangerous. “Getting shot” is a sour grapes attempt at diversion.

    Robbins also got caught lying with his list of poets who never entered a contest.

    Boyd Nielson: “I can’t see the importance of worrying about the unfairness of poetry contests.” WTF?

    Joseph Hutchison spoke wisely.

    Kent Johnson’s rant against criminal poets was nice; but I’m not sure why he included Millay as a “drunk” together with fascists, Gulag-supporters and murderers.

    The cowardly Nichols attempted to save face by making the tired caveat ‘yea, at FIRST, foetry.com did some good…BUT…’ Even the haters have to admit it was ‘good at first…’

    I’m glad the Steven Ford Brown interview with Louis Bourgeois was linked. At times Kent Johnson serves a purpose…

    I just don’t get Bill Knott’s “poets should unite.” Why should poets unite? ???
    This seems incredibly naive….

    Joan Houlihan thinks the same way…poets should unite. Again, why? She admits the problem is poetry has no audience. The reason poetry has no audience is the public long ago got sick of poets standing united behind poetry the public no longer cares for.

    Poetry moved from the public sphere to the academy and set up their own rules in their own little sandbox and now they wonder why po-biz resembles rats in a cage.

    Asking ‘the rats to play nice’ misses the whole point.

  5. thomasbrady said,

    December 13, 2009 at 9:27 pm


    “dismissed as sentimental…”

    I read “House of Light,” today, a book of poems by Mary Oliver–a fairly popular contemporary woman poet and she, a powerful combo of Lawrence, Thoreau and Dickinson, certainly avoids the ‘sentimentalism’ of the 19th century with her flat, philosophical, full-eyed, appreciative inspection of wild nature. She’s “mournful” when a snapping turtle eats a baby duck but ends up telling the reader, “nothing’s important/ except that the great and cruel mystery of the world,/ of which this is a part,/ not be denied.”

    Nothing’s “sentimental” in Oliver, and yet nothing’s really at stake, either. The ‘action’ of the poems are: person-who-seems-to-have-a-lot-of-free- time passively observing nature. Oh, she takes a vacation to south east asia, where she makes some passive observations of the people there, in passing. There’s no human-interactive life in these poems. Thus, no “sentimentality.”

    Smith’s poem of the drowned mariner might be called prophetic. Many years after the poem was published, Smith lost four (four!) granddaughters in a shipwreck–her son managed to save his two boys.

    There was so much tragedy in the 19th century, and so much of it because of natural events: did tragedy enforce “sentimentality?” Is it the horror of those days that makes us turn away from its poetry? And, when 20th century, man-made horrors are transcended, will poems from that century be forgotten for that reason? When sorrow ends, will poetry itself no longer appeal to us? We will always remember–but will the poetry no longer appeal?

    There’s also no attempt by Oliver at stanzaic music—which we get in Mrs. Smith’s poem on the drowned mariner. Making language sing is a sure way to sound “sentimental,” unless you do it really, really well.

    When Oliver writes “The face of the moose is as sad/as the face of Jesus” in “Some Questions You Might Ask,” the first poem of the book, you ask yourself: if a sentimental Christian poet from the 19th century wrote this, wouldn’t a modern reader find this line to be in really bad taste?

    It’s interesting to think about what makes a poem “sentimental,” and how much popularity and “sentimentality” are linked. Oliver’s moose/jesus line is traveling away from Christianity towards Nature, but the line could easily be traversed in the opposite direction. Is Oliver’s line “sentimental” depending on the time period and the audience? Can something be timelessly sentimental, or is sentimentality always conditional?

    Was Oliver exploiting Jesus, exploiting moose, when she wrote the line? Is it a great line, or no?

    I think a good essay needs to be written on Sentimentality in Poetry. Is it necessary at all? Is it always to be avoided? Can it be completely avoided? etc


  6. Christopher Woodman said,

    December 14, 2009 at 11:32 am

    “From Out The Spirit Grove” by my friend, W.F.Kammann, who has just been visiting me in Chiang Mai, is a beautiful example of how a modern sensibility can treat themes that in the past would have been sentimental. Indeed, the poem’s images are so full of feeling that if you knew what they were referring to would overwhelm you completely. I know them and so they make me cry — they’re my home images, they’re all my hurts rolled up in all my joys.

    It’s the equivalent of a hearth poem. In a past American setting it would have been logs crackling in the fire of a log cabin that will be burnt to the ground full of babies by vengeful indians. It would be straight out of the Carter family, sung by Johnny Cash, resurrected by Willy Nelson.

    Whom I love too.

    But since it’s Asia it’s tough, and indeed it’s only the rhyme that gives away the fact that it’s a poem about real life.

    A brush for Nooey’s neice to smoothe her hair
    And spoil her disregard within the dragon’s lair

    A fifteen year girl, our cook’s niece. Both her parents are dead of Aids, and she is now our responsibility forever. She has bad teeth and bleeding gums, and you could put all her belongings in one small plastic bag. I would die for her.

    The poem tells of things like that — it’s one of the most precious gifts I have ever received.

    The spirit house without the shadowed pall
    Still keep you safe ’til starless evening’s shadows fall

    Thank you, Bill.


    • wfkammann said,

      December 22, 2009 at 12:40 am

      Here’s one more verse Christopher and thanks for a great party and wonderful visit.

      “Slash the bobbit; flush it fast” her words
      Lest shriveled Bikhus tie it on with lotus chords

      This type of occasional poetry doesn’t pretend to be more than a personal observation and is meant only for the recipient.

  7. Christopher Woodman said,

    December 15, 2009 at 12:49 am

    The following was spotted on Blog:Harriet — so true, yet the relicts that remain there still keep talking about other things as if they mattered.

    And isn’t it interesting that the only thread that has worked up a little interest should be about something so unpoetic, boring — and useless?

    It’s all well and good to be a technically adept poet, and focus on technique. After all, craft is the only thing you can teach in the classroom. You can’t teach hunger or inspiration.

    All the technical skill and craft in the world are useless if you really have nothing to say.


    This appears to be the last comment posted on Harriet’s most ‘successful’ thread since September 1st. Nobody seems to have anything more to say once the chat is over, legs have been lifted, and the hydrant watered.

    Now reread “The Drowned Mariner” and “From Out the Spirit Grove” and ask yourself what has happened in the 150 years separating Elizabeth Oakes Smith and W.F.Kammann. Has anything come up to make such poetry less “new?”


  8. thomasbrady said,

    December 15, 2009 at 4:35 pm


    “Most successful thread since September 1st”

    “Poets: Really, they’re the laziest, stupidest people I know.”

    After 90 days, this is the title that finally got Harriet talking LOL

    13 of the 66 comments were by Henry Gould. Blabbermouth. He should be banned, by Harriet’s logic.

    As for Durkee’s remark: it finally comes down to this.

    You can teach everything. You can’t teach anything. Both are true.

    Here’s the rub: you need a good teacher.

    “Teaching” from a bad teacher, on the most tangible of subjects, can actually make the student less adept at the subject.

    For instance, if Colin Ward taught metrics, his students would be less likely to understand the subject than if they simply read Poe’s “The Rationale of Verse.” Ward would fill their heads with so much complicated, pedantic nonsense, his students would finally be less able to understand meter than a person who used his own ear.

    As for teaching “inspiration:” yes, it can be taught. Why not? One just needs an inspirational teacher who teaches inspirational material in an inspirational manner.

    Harriet tends to link an article rather than get into the heart of a point right there on the blog itself.

    I’m not sure why there’s this hesitation on Harriet to really discuss a subject.

    It might be ‘the professional’ impulse to ‘save’ its ‘gems’ for the right ‘professional’ occasion, but this is nothing but cowardice. Shine your light, dude. Life is short. There’s no ‘proper’ venue for your ‘inspiration.’ Holding back in this way just feeds into a hesitancy of mind, in which the mind finally fails to know itself. It’s a selfish and penurious attitude, full of low ambition.

    Or, it could just indicate stupidity, shallowness, pettiness—an inability to state an idea in one’s own words so that others can truly understand and be enlightened.

    Finally, Harriet-managment’s rabid paranoia—in which expressiveness is puritanically frowned upon—doesn’t help, either.


  9. poetryandporse said,

    December 16, 2009 at 3:15 am

    Argh, just lost a post I’d spent an hour over and am checking with this one, if there’s a glitch or it’s lost forever into the basement.