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,
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.
“Lenore” was a ballad written in 1774 by Gottfried August Bürger (1747-1794) a German poet from the Sturm und Drang period. It’s one of the earliest pieces of texts containing references to the undead in European literature. It became quite famous in its days and was translated into English and French1. We know it became a part of the literary text books for many Gothic authors as well. Not only Stoker but also Edgar Allan Poe knew about the ballad. The text is about a young woman named Lenore2 and the story goes that she was recently married, but her husband Wilhelm died suddenly. Lenore then curses Heaven because of her loss of the husband (who died in the Seven Years’ War3). As a result of the curse the soldier returns. Wilhelm writes a letter to her with a greeting from far away Bohemia. He writes he left long after midnight and wants to take her with him. One line goes: “Sieh hin, sieh her! Der Mond scheint hell. Wir und die Toten reiten schnell!”//Look here, look there! The moon shines bright. We and the dead rides fast! The term “die Toten reiten schnell” was used by Bram Stoker in Dracula (1897) as a short reference.
At midnight, a mysterious stranger who looks like Wilhelm knocks on the door searching for Lenore and asks her to accompany him on horseback to their marriage bed. Lenore happily gets on the stranger’s black steed and the two ride at a frenetic pace, under the moonlight, along a path filled with eerie landscapes. Terrorised, Lenore demands to know why they are riding so fast, to which he responds that they are doing so because “the dead travel fast” (“die Todten reiten schnell”). Lenore asks Wilhelm to “leave the dead alone” (“Laß sie ruhn, die Todten”).
At sunrise, their journey ends and they arrive at the cemetery’s doors. As the horse goes through the tombstones, the knight begins to lose its human appearance, and is revealed as Death, a skeleton with a scythe and an hourglass. The marriage bed is shown to be the grave where, together with his shattered armour, Wilhelm’s skeleton lies. The ground beneath Lenore’s feet begins to crumble and the spirits, dancing in the moonlight, surround dying Lenore, declaring that “no one is to quarrel with God in Heaven” (“mit Gott im Himmel hadre nicht”). However, Lenore, punished with death, still has hope for forgiveness (“des Leibes bist du ledig/Gott sei der Seele gnädig”).
The Ballad contains some common themes associated with the period; such as the dead rider, the night, the return of the dead. There are also some critique towards established Religion of the time visible in Lenore’s loose faith in God. Take notice on how the dialogue between Lenore and her mother is presented. The mother is more conservative and stricter with religious matters. Some research has been done concerning the ballad. In the work Sensus communis: contemporary trends in comparative literature (1986) Peter Boerner address some issues in the text “Bürger’s Ballad Lenore in Germany, France and England”. Boerner stresses the folk-lore connections visible and the fact that the story has various endings though mostly fatal. In one version Lenore is saved by the crowing of a cock, but in most of the stories she perishes.
Lenore in Stoker’s Dracula (1897)
Abraham “Bram” Stoker (8 November 1847 – 20 April 1912) was an Irish author, best known today for his 1897 Gothic novel Dracula. During his lifetime, he was better known as the personal assistant of actor Henry Irving and business manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London, which Irving owned. The story of Dracula is told in epistolary format, as a series of letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, and ships’ log entries, whose narrators are the novel’s protagonists, and occasionally supplemented with newspaper clippings relating events not directly witnessed. The events portrayed in the novel take place chronologically and largely in England and Transylvania during the 1890s and all transpire within the same year between the 3rd of May and the 6th of November. A short note is located at the end of the final chapter written 7 years after the events outlined in the novel.
The main charachters in Dracula
Most people know the contents of the novel but may want to repeat the main charachters and their functions:
Jonathan Harker: A solicitor sent to do business with Count Dracula; Mina’s fiancé and prisoner in Dracula’s castle.
Count Dracula: A Transylvanian noble who has purchased a house in London.
Wilhelmina “Mina” Harker (née Murray): A schoolteacher and Jonathan Harker’s fiancée (later his wife).
Lucy Westenra: A 19-year-old aristocrat; Mina’s best friend; Arthur’s fiancée and Dracula’s first victim.
Arthur Holmwood: Lucy’s suitor and later fiancé. He inherits the title of Lord Godalming upon his father’s death.
John Seward: A doctor; one of Lucy’s suitors and a former student of Van Helsing.
Abraham Van Helsing: A Dutch doctor, lawyer and professor; John Seward’s teacher.
Quincey Morris: An American cowboy and explorer; and one of Lucy’s suitors.
Renfield: A patient at Seward’s insane asylum who has come under the influence of Dracula.
“Weird Sisters”: Three siren-like vampire women who serve Dracula. In some of the plays, films etc. that came after the novel they are referred to as the Brides of Dracula.
Jonathan Harker encounters Dracula for the first time
I copy-paste from wikisource’s edition of Dracula, taken from the first chapter where the reference to Bürger’s ballad can be found. In this section of the chapter Jonathan Harker travels with some Romanians to be taken to a remote place in the forest where he’ll be waiting for another carriage; and to be taken to Dracula’s Castle. Notice the official language spoken between the charachters is German. His new driver is most likely Dracula himself:
There is no carriage here. The Herr is not expected after all. He will now come on to Bukovina, and return tomorrow or the next day; better the next day.” Whilst he was speaking the horses began to neigh and snort and plunge wildly, so that the driver had to hold them up. Then, amongst a chorus of screams from the peasants and a universal crossing of themselves, a calèche, with four horses, drove up behind us, overtook us, and drew up beside the coach. I could see from the flash of our lamps, as the rays fell on them, that the horses were coal-black and splendid animals. They were driven by a tall man, with a long brown beard and a great black hat, which seemed to hide his face from us. I could only see the gleam of a pair of very bright eyes, which seemed red in the lamplight, as he turned to us. He said to the driver:—
“You are early to-night, my friend.” The man stammered in reply:—
“The English Herr was in a hurry,” to which the stranger replied:—
“That is why, I suppose, you wished him to go on to Bukovina. You cannot deceive me, my friend; I know too much, and my horses are swift.” As he spoke he smiled, and the lamplight fell on a hard-looking mouth, with very red lips and sharp-looking teeth, as white as ivory. One of my companions whispered to another the line from Burger’s “Lenore”:—
“Denn die Todten reiten schnell”—
(“For the dead travel fast.”)
The strange driver evidently heard the words, for he looked up with a gleaming smile. The passenger turned his face away, at the same time putting out his two fingers and crossing himself. “Give me the Herr’s luggage,” said the driver; and with exceeding alacrity my bags were handed out and put in the calèche. Then I descended from the side of the coach, as the calèche was close alongside, the driver helping me with a hand which caught my arm in a grip of steel; his strength must have been prodigious. Without a word he shook his reins, the horses turned, and we swept into the darkness of the Pass. As I looked back I saw the steam from the horses of the coach by the light of the lamps, and projected against it the figures of my late companions crossing themselves. Then the driver cracked his whip and called to his horses, and off they swept on their way to Bukovina. As they sank into the darkness I felt a strange chill, and a lonely feeling came over me; but a cloak was thrown over my shoulders, and a rug across my knees, and the driver said in excellent German:—
“The night is chill, mein Herr, and my master the Count bade me take all care of you. There is a flask of slivovitz (the plum brandy of the country) underneath the seat, if you should require it.” I did not take any, but it was a comfort to know it was there all the same. I felt a little strangely, and not a little frightened. I think had there been any alternative I should have taken it, instead of prosecuting that unknown night journey. The carriage went at a hard pace straight along, then we made a complete turn and went along another straight road. It seemed to me that we were simply going over and over the same ground again; and so I took note of some salient point, and found that this was so. I would have liked to have asked the driver what this all meant, but I really feared to do so, for I thought that, placed as I was, any protest would have had no effect in case there had been an intention to delay. By-and-by, however, as I was curious to know how time was passing, I struck a match, and by its flame looked at my watch; it was within a few minutes of midnight. This gave me a sort of shock, for I suppose the general superstition about midnight was increased by my recent experiences. I waited with a sick feeling of suspense.
Dracula – Full text of Bram Stoker’s novel available through wikisource.
Scholz, Bernhard, János Riesz, Peter Boerner, and Henry Remak. 1986. Sensus communis: contemporary trends in comparative literature. Tübingen: Narr.
wikipedia.org [various entries]
“During the last quarter of the eighteenth century and up to the nineteenth, Lenore was widely read in all those nations of Europe where the Romantic movement reigned. Comparable in popularity only to Werther, Childe Harold or Réne.” (Boerner 1986, p. 305) ↩
Sometimes spelled Leonore, Leonora, Elenora depending on translation. ↩
The Seven Years’ War was a war fought between 1754 and 1763, the main conflict occurring in the seven-year period from 1756 to 1763. It involved every European great power of the time except the Ottoman Empire and spanned five continents, affecting Europe, the Americas, West Africa, India, and the Philippines. The conflict split Europe into two coalitions, led by the Kingdom of Great Britain (inc. Prussia, Portugal, Hanover, and other small German states) on one side and the Kingdom of France (inc. Austria-led Holy Roman Empire, Russia, Spain, and Sweden) on the other. Meanwhile, in India, the Mughal Empire, with the support of the French, tried to crush a British attempt to conquer Bengal. ↩
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.
Notice, 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.
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)
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) ↩
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.
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
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.
The American Museum was a monthly American literary magazine published by Mathew Carey in the late-18th century. ↩
It was first published separately in Graham’s Magazine in 1843. ↩
ḥaurā is singular form, meaning a gazelle-eyed (woman). Read more about hourishere. ↩
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. ↩