The Complete poems of Edgar Allan Poe, by Edgar Allan Poe


An Enigma (1848)

A riddle poem in a modified sonnet form, “An Enigma” was published in March 1848 in the Union Magazine of Literature and Art under its original simple title “Sonnet.” Its new title was attached by Rufus Wilmot Griswold. Its lines conceal an anagram with the name Sarah Anna Lewis (also known as “Stella”). Lewis was an amateur poet who met Poe shortly after the death of his wife Virginia while he lived in Fordham, New York. Lewis’s husband paid Poe $100 to write a review of Sarah’s work. That review appeared in the September 1848 issue of the Southern Literary Messenger. Marie Louise Shew (Virginia’s one-time volunteer nurse, of sorts) later said that Poe called Lewis a “fat, gaudily-dressed woman.” Poe biographer Arthur Hobson Quinn called “An Enigma” “one of Poe’s feeblest poems”.

“Seldom we find,” says Solomon Don Dunce,

“Half an idea in the profoundest sonnet.

Through all the flimsy things we see at once

As easily as through a Naples bonnet —

Trash of all trash! — how can a lady don it?

Yet heavier far than your Petrarchan stuff —

Owl-downy nonsense that the faintest puff

Twirls into trunk-paper the while you con it.”

And, veritably, Sol is right enough.

The general tuckermanities are arrant

Bubbles — ephemeral and so transparent —

But this is, now — you may depend upon it —

Stable, opaque, immortal — all by dint

Of the dear names that he concealed within ‘t.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59