The Protection of the Theotokos
Hymns of petition to the Theotokos are of no recent invention in the Church: indeed, the oldest hymn to her, known in Latin as the "Sub tuum praesidium," dates back to a Coptic text in the 3rd century. Further hymns have not been infrequent in the intervening centuries, and Christians around the world pray constantly for her intercession. She is also not tardy in responding to these requests: do we not have an entire feast recalling her protection of Constantinople? The miracles wrought through her intercession, through the means of icons, springs, statutes, or merely prayers, are countless, and so she has inspired many to proclaim the greatness that the Lord has bestowed upon her, the greatness she prophesied in her canticle: "From now will all generations bless me." Her greatness has inspired saints (such as St. Romanos the Melodist and St. Bernard of Clairvaux) and those whose fate is not known for certain, such as great musicians (think of Franz Schubert's Ave Maria) and artists (as one example, Jean Augustine Dominique Ingre's The Virgin of the Host), Yet sometimes she inspires those whom one might not think of as at all inclined towards the Lord or His Mother. The following is a poem written by Edgar Allan Poe, entitled "Hymn," which first appeared in his short story "Morella," and then appeared as a stand-alone poem. I do not know if there was any deep-seated love of the Theotokos in Poe's heart, but the poem still speaks of Marian devotion, regardless of the author's overall mindset. May it remind us of how we can find hints of truth in even the most unlikely places.
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!
Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe taken by Edwin H. Manchester (11/09/1848)
Nota Bene: The text of "Hymn" is taken from Edgar Allan Poe's Complete Tales & Poems (Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 2002), p. 777.