“The Haunted Palace” – A poem by Edgar Allan Poe

Context: This poem by  Edgar A. Poe (1809-1849) was incorporated in the story  “The Fall of the House of Usher”, published in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine (Sept. 1839). It’s presented as a song written by the main protagonist Roderick Usher. The poem is an Allegory about a king, his palace and the kingdom. The palace is the main object in focus and is described through a romantic scenery of pittoresque nature sorrounding it. People living in the valley are happy and the king has wit and wisdom. There are also beauty and music. But bad times comes and the king is nolonger happy. Unamed sorrows struck the king and the poem takes on a darker theme. The valley is no longer beautiful, but scary.

Themes: Happiness, sadness, memory, past, present, ghosts, Music and Madness. Notice that Music and Madness is also a main theme of the novel The Fall of the House of Usher.

The Haunted Palace

In the greenest of our valleys
By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace—
Radiant palace—reared its head.
In the monarch Thought’s dominion,
It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair!

Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow
(This—all this—was in the olden
Time long ago)
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A wingèd odor went away.

Wanderers in that happy valley,
Through two luminous windows, saw
Spirits moving musically
To a lute’s well-tunèd law,
Round about a throne where, sitting,
Porphyrogene!
In state his glory well befitting,
The ruler of the realm was seen.

And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes, whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.

But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch’s high estate;
(Ah, let us mourn!—for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)
And round about his home the glory
That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.

And travellers, now, within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody;
While, like a ghastly rapid river,
Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever,
And laugh—but smile no more.

Kuvahaun tulos haulle edgar allan poe usher house rackham
Arthur Rackham’s illustration to the House of Usher.

Sources

wikipedia.org [various entries]

Poe’s Literary Sources of Inspiration in “The Black Cat” and “The Tell-Tale Heart”

In this post I search for literary parallels (not to be confused with parallelism) in two short stories The Black Cat and The Tell-Tale Heart; by Edgar Allan Poe. Simply, I look for other sources or texts which may have inspired Poe to write these stories. “The Black Cat”story was published in August 1843 and has strong parallels to “The Tell-Tale Heart” published earlier the very same year. The genres for both books are detective stories. According to Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (1997) Quinn states that Poe may have read Charles Dickens ”The Clock-Case” in which a retired soldier kills his young nephew to profit economical from his death. The child had also a sort of gaze which frightened and irritated the soldier (Quinn, 1997 p. 394). Dickens story was published in Master Humphrey’s Clock (1840/41). Compare Dicken’s story with Poe’s ”The Tell-Tale Heart” in which the narrator is deeply disturbed by an old man’s eye. In Poe’s story the narrator’s madness explode after the man’s death because the eye is replaced by the loud beatings of the dead man’s heart which the narrator hears repeatedly in his head. As the policemen enters his house to ask him questions about the whereabouts of the old man he no longer cannot hold himself and confesses the deed.

Edgar_Allan_Poe_daguerreotype_cropNotice, that in the story of “The Black Cat”, the cat Pluto once beloved by the narrator has only one eye. As the narrator goes crazy he thinks the cat harbours the soul of his dead wife. There are other references to  superstitions in the story but the main theme is alcoholism which the narrator battles and looses. Finally, Mr Poe himself was an owner of a black cat in real life.1 Today many scholars refers to Edgar A. Poe as the father of the modern detective story, but he had his sources. Another literary role model was E T A Hoffman. Hoffman’s stories Die Elixiere desTeufels (1815/16) and Das Fräulein von Scuderi (1820) are both in some sense detective stories. However, some critics question if Mme. Scuderi can be thought of as a ”detective” since she doesn’t pose as one even though she does perform some investigations.

Resources

Barger, Andrew (2008). Edgar Allan Poe Annotated and Illustrated Entire Stories and Poems.

Quinn, Arthur H. (1997). Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (Johns Hopskins University Press)

wikipedia.org


  1. In his short article “Instinct vs Reason- A Black Cat” Poe reveals: “The writer of this article is the owner of one of the most remarkable black cats in the world – and this is saying much; for it will be remembered that black cats are all of them witches.” (Barger 2008, p. 58) 

‘Ulalume’ – A Gothic Poem by Edgar Allan Poe

Context: “Ulalume” is perhaps one of Poe’s most well-known poems after “The Raven”.1 It was written in the style of elocution which pays attention to sound and pronunciation. Sometimes it’s presented as a ballad. Poe wrote this the same year as his wife Virginia Poe died of TB. This might explain his somber mood, but it’s also a poem heavily influenced by Gothic themes.2 We can determine this by looking at the setting scenes of the poem. Let’s take a look at the following lines and pay attention to the strange place names:

It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,

in the midsty mid region of Weir –

It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,

In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

So, the narrator tells us he’s standing by a dim lake named Auber, in ghoul-haunted woodland region called Weir. It’s not a very pleasant atmosphere here and that’s exactly what we can expect from a piece of Gothic literature whether poetry or not. Strange and spooky things are about to happen. The scenery is dramatic! The narrator’s inner feelings are just as big and vivid as the dark explosive nature around him. His heart is likened to a volcano and his feelings are as restless as the big lava streams. We know the month is October but time and location doesn’t affect the narrator who is busy walking the spooky landscape; talking to himself. Dawn approaches, it’s getting darker but a bright star emerges in the skies and lights up a pathway which he chose to follow. Despite the brightness of the star he’s afraid he will be mislead. He speaks to “Psyche” his inner self who tries to warn him not to continue.

Our talk had been serious and sober,
But our thoughts they were palsied and sere —
Our memories were treacherous and sere —
For we knew not the month was October,
And we marked not the night of the year

He chose to ignore Psyche’s voice and continue his walk on the path. Suddenly he stands in front of a tomb. Reality hits and he remembers how he buried his beloved Ulalume there a year ago. He doesn’t understand why he came. The poem ends at the gravesite and we really don’t know why happened as the end is a bit abrupt. We can always blame the narrator’s state of mind when things in the poem doesn’t work logical.

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crispèd and sere —
As the leaves that were withering and sere,
And I cried — “It was surely October
On this very night of last year
That I journeyed — I journeyed down here —
That I brought a dread burden down here —
On this night of all nights in the year,
Oh, what demon has tempted me here?
Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber —
This misty mid region of Weir —
Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”

Except from Psyche and Ulalume there are several other references. The ghouls are demons haunting the forest and they eat and consume corpses. The name of the star is Astarte which the narrator compares to the Roman Diana. Quotation marks are used when the narrator converse with Psyche. Past tense is used everywhere except within the conversations.

Themes: “Ulalume” focuses on the narrator’s loss and mourning of his beloved due to her death. Death and loss of a beloved one; usually a beautiful young woman is repeated over and over in Poe’s writings. You may want to notice how Poe prefer his muses to have the letter L attached in their names: Ligeia, Annabel Lee, Ulalume.

Read the poem in full with explanations here.

Sources:

Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy. New York: Cooper Square Press, 1992

wikipedia.org

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  1. First published anonymously, in the American Whig Review in December, 1847. 
  2. The title itself suggests wailing, from the Latin ‘ululare’ (Meyers 1992). 

‘The City in the Sea’ – A poem by Edgar Allan Poe

Context: The poem appeared in the Southern Literary Messenger, The American Review, the Broadway Journal, as well as in the 1850 collection The Poets and Poetry of America. Poe drew his inspiration from several works, including Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The final version of text appeared in 1845 and contains many subjects associated with Gothic fiction. Poe was inspired at least in part by Flavius Josephus’s History of the Jewish Wars, a first-century account of the Biblical city of Gomorrah. Poe was accused of plagiarizing part of the poem from a poem called “Musing Thoughts”, first published in 1829 in The Token. Both poems include a line about a “thousand thrones”.

Themes: Death; a city in the sea ruled by death. Death is a real person here and resides in a tower from where he can see everything. Other themes are typical for the Gothic tradition such as loneliness and melancholy; catastrophe and collapse. The city can be a metaphor of man’s own soul. In another poem “Annabel Lee” there is also a reference to a kingdom by the sea as the narrator’s love suddenly dies.

****************

Lo! Death has reared himself a throne
In a strange city lying alone
Far down within the dim West,
Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best
Have gone to their eternal rest.
There shrines and palaces and towers
(Time-eaten towers that tremble not!)
Resemble nothing that is ours.
Around, by lifting winds forgot,
Resignedly beneath the sky
The melancholy waters lie.

No rays from the holy heaven come down
On the long night-time of that town;
But light from out the lurid sea
Streams up the turrets silently —
Gleams up the pinnacles far and free —
Up domes — up spires — up kingly halls —
Up fanes — up Babylon-like walls —
Up shadowy long-forgotten bowers
Of sculptured ivy and stone flowers —
Up many and many a marvelous shrine
Whose wreathéd friezes intertwine
The viol, the violet, and the vine.
So blend the turrets and shadows there
That all seem pendulous in the air,
While from a proud tower in the town
Death looks gigantically down.

There open fanes and gaping graves
Yawn level with the luminous waves;
But not the riches there that lie
In each idol’s diamond eye —
Not the gaily-jeweled dead
Tempt the waters from their bed;
For no ripples curl, alas!
Along that wilderness of glass —
No swellings tell that winds may be
Upon some far-off happier sea —
No heavings hint that winds have been
On seas less hideously serene.

But lo, a stir is in the air!
The wave — there is a movement there!
As if the towers had thrust aside,
In slightly sinking, the dull tide —
As if their tops had feebly given
A void within the filmy Heaven.
The waves have now a redder glow —
The hours are breathing faint and low —
And when, amid no earthly moans,
Down, down that town shall settle hence,
Hell, rising from a thousand thrones,
Shall do it reverence.

Ancient Mythology in Poe’s novel ‘Ligeia’ (1838)

ligeia-clarke2Context and themes

Edgar A. Poe’s short novel Ligeia was first published in September 1838 by The American Museum in Baltimore.1 Poe, who was always short of money, was given 10 dollars for the story. It’s a mix of Gothic fiction and several other themes which are typical for the Romanticism. The major themes in the story are the death of a young woman, resurrection of a dead (young) woman and drug use since the narrator hallucinate through the entire story. Other sub-themes are memory and mourning. Playwright George Bernard Shaw said, “The story of the Lady Ligeia is not merely one of the wonders of literature: it is unparalleled and unapproached”(Sova 2007, p.96). On the whole reception of the novel was positive, despite Poe revised it a few times. There are three characters in this story – an unknown narrator in first person, Ligeia and the Lady Rowena. The narrator suffers from a psychological condition, monomania in which he constantly reflects upon the beauty and personal character of his late wife Ligeia. Despite his frail psychological condition and opium addiction the narrator has remarried a woman named Lady Rowena. She is not from the city and lives in fear of her husband. Her features doesn’t assemble the previous wife and we’re told her hair is blond. The narrator doesn’t like her: “I loathed her with a hatred belonging more to demon than to man.” His addiction to opium helps him to hallucinate and get into a deeper spiritual connection with his dead wife. He calls her name and sees her in several visions. At one time he hallucinate and sees four large drops coming from an imagined well in the room. He collects the red drops and administer them to the Lady Rowena who dies from the dose. In the eyes of the dying Rowena he sees Ligeia. The novel also contains a poem called “The Conqueror Worm”. The poem is written by Ligeia as she is dying, though it is actually recited by the narrator, her husband.2

Myths and other references in Ligeia

I wrote previously on this blog about Poe’s use of Ancient mythology in the poem called Al-Aaraaf. The name Ligeia also appears in the poem. It’s constructed out of a Greek adjective, ligys first used by Homer and is related to something which is bright, light sounding. This was pointed out by T.O Mabbott in The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (1978). The narrator identifies Ligeia as Astarte. In Poe’s novel known as Ashtophet (Andriano 1978, p. 87). Just as in his Al-Aaraaf poem Poe once again touch upon the islamic myth of the houris; mentioned serveral times in the Qur’an.3 Another reference to Eastern traditions can be found in this sentence: “They were even fuller than the fullest of the gazelle eyes of the tribe of the valley of Nourjahad.”4

Resources

Andriano, Joseph. 1993. Our ladies of darkness: feminine daemonology in male Gothic fiction. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Sova, Dawn B. 2007. Critical companion to Edgar Allan Poe: a literary reference to his life and work. New York, NY.

Mabbott, Thomas Ollive, ed., 1978. The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (Vols 2-3 Tales and Sketches), Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

NOTES


  1. The American Museum was a monthly American literary magazine published by Mathew Carey in the late-18th century. 
  2. It was first published separately in Graham’s Magazine in 1843. 
  3. ḥaurā is singular form, meaning a gazelle-eyed (woman). Read more about houris here
  4. Frances Sheridan published The History of Nourjahad in 1767. The story describes Nourjahad’s life, who is tricked by the sultan Schemzeddin to believe that he has become immortal and that his period of sleep last for several years at a time. 

“Annabel Lee” : A poem by Edgar Allan Poe

Context.

THIS is the final poem known to have been written by Poe (1841-1849) and published posthumously first time October, 1849. The publishers were Sartain’s Union Magazine, John Sartain. We can only speculate who the woman is in this poem, but it’s possible Annabel Lee may be Poe’s own wife who died 2 years before Poe himself.

Themes.

LOVE AND DEATH are major themes in this poetic story in which the narrator in first person tells of his love for the beautiful woman who is dead. Death and women are central motifs in Poe’s writing and much research has been done on how and why. Departure and grief are also present.

poes-tales-of-mystery-and-imagination-arthur-rackham-first-edition-signed

 

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
I and my Annabel Lee—
With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
Went envying her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we—
Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in Heaven above
Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea—
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

“Israfel” – A poem by Edgar A. Poe

THE POEM ISRAFEL [transl. Isrāfīl] was written while Edgar A. Poe (1809-1849) was at West Point and first published in April 1831. At West Point Poe didn’t accomplish much except getting expelled from the Military Academy. He was however more determined to become a writer. This one of a few poems which relate to Muslim literature. Apparently he read from an English translation of the Qur’an and maybe several other sources on Islam. Not much research has been done on why Edgar A. Poe took an interest in reading various scriptures from Arabic literature. He was, for sure, familiar with the stories from The Arabian Nights. In this poem he touches briefly on two islamic motifs – the Archangel Israfel and the Koranic Houris. The story which emerges about Israfel in this poem places Poe as a poet within the Romantic tradition. There are much focus on feelings, music and the heart. All of them various expressions typical of Romanticism. The poem consists of uneven stanzas, each stanza ranging from five to eight lines in length. Israfel plays his lute with passion and he sing both wildly and with fire. Israfel’s singing gets noticed as the Heavens listen to him.

isafil
Israfel, (1375-1425) Mamluk Dynasty.

The word Israfel is not mentioned in the Quran, but in the Hadiths. However, there’s one Koranic verse which relates to his mission: “And the trumpet shall be blown, so all those that are in the heavens and all those that are in the earth shall swoon, except Allah; then it shall be blown again, then they shall stand up awaiting.” —Qur’an (39.68).

He’s one of the four archangels and often depicted with a horn. On the Day of Resurrection Israfel will appear on a holy rock in Jerusalem, blow the horn and announce the day has arrived. In the Judeo Christian tradition Israfel’s counterpart is Raphael. As already mentioned, Poe also include the Houris in this poem. They are a sort of companions dwelling in Paradise and mentioned several times in the Qur’an. The 72 virgins in the islamic tradition are Huoris.Various interpretations on them among Muslim scholars reveal they are made for lusty adventures for men in Paradise. A Western counterpart would be the Greek nymphs.

In Heaven a spirit doth dwell
“Whose heart-strings are a lute”;
None sing so wildly well
As the angel Israfel,
And the giddy stars (so legends tell),
Ceasing their hymns, attend the spell
Of his voice, all mute.

Tottering above
In her highest noon,
The enamoured moon
Blushes with love,
While, to listen, the red levin
(With the rapid Pleiads, even,
Which were seven,)
Pauses in Heaven.

And they say (the starry choir
And the other listening things)
That Israfeli’s fire
Is owing to that lyre
By which he sits and sings—
The trembling living wire
Of those unusual strings.

But the skies that angel trod,
Where deep thoughts are a duty,
Where Love’s a grown-up God,
Where the Houri glances are
Imbued with all the beauty
Which we worship in a star.

Therefore, thou art not wrong,
Israfeli, who despisest
An unimpassioned song;
To thee the laurels belong,
Best bard, because the wisest!
Merrily live, and long!

The ecstasies above
With thy burning measures suit—
Thy grief, thy joy, thy hate, thy love,
With the fervour of thy lute—
Well may the stars be mute!

Yes, Heaven is thine; but this
Is a world of sweets and sours;
Our flowers are merely-flowers,
And the shadow of thy perfect bliss
Is the sunshine of ours.

If I could dwell
Where Israfel
Hath dwelt, and he where I,
He might not sing so wildly well
A mortal melody,
While a bolder note than this might swell
From my lyre within the sky.

 

Resources

Houri Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Islamic Elements in Poe’s “Al Aaraaf” and “Israfel” – by: ADNAN M. WAZZAN Islamic Studies. Vol. 27, No. 3 (Autumn 1988), pp. 221-229

Israfil Encyclopaedia Britannica.