A Valentine by Edgar Allan Poe: Analysis

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  • 0:00 Poe and the Acrostic
  • 1:16 The Poem
  • 2:19 Analysis
  • 4:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

Maybe you haven't made a Valentine since middle school, but that doesn't mean adults can't be creative for their special sweethearts. See just how cleverly creative they can be when you explore this lesson analyzing Edgar Allan Poe's 'A Valentine!'

Poe and the Acrostic

When we were little, many of us wrote special poems for our parents that spelled out things like their names, the words 'father' or 'mother', or maybe even 'happy birthday.' Poems like these that use certain letters of each line to spell related words or phrases are known as acrostics, and Edgar Allan Poe was a fan.

One of his most famous and scandalous acrostics is 'A Valentine,' which was originally written on the eve of St. Valentine's Day in 1846 and presented to a literary party the next day, though he didn't attend himself. The poem itself is a riddle, which we'll analyze more closely momentarily, that the reader must decipher to discover its addressee, whose 'own sweet name' Poe spelled out as an acrostic.

Though many acrostics use the first or sometimes last letters of each line to produce their effect, Poe chose to use the letter in each line that corresponds to the line's position in the poem. For example, in the first line is the first letter of the acrostic. In the fifth line is the fifth letter, and so on. Eventually, we see that the acrostic spells the name of American female poet Frances Sargent Osgood, with whom Poe was said to have had an affair.

The Poem

Let's explore the poem now:

'For her this rhyme is penned, whose luminous eyes,

Brightly expressive as the twins of Leda,

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 in 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

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.'

Analysis

Although Poe claimed that 'you will not read the riddle,' people obviously figured it out, many believe almost immediately. His scandalous relationship with Frances 'Fanny' Osgood was one of the worst-kept secrets in American literary society in the early 19th century, so just a good guess would've probably been enough to decipher his clues. Some of these clues are cloaked in mythological or historical references, while others are actually pretty straightforward and likely helped readers discover the addressee of 'A Valentine' rather easily.

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