“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.

 

“Al Aaraaf” – A poem by Edgar Allan Poe

edgar_allan_poe_by_samuel_s_osgood_1845
Edgar A. Poe in 1845 when he wrote his most famous poem “The Raven”.

Al Aaraaf is a poem written by the american gothic author Edgar A. Poe (1809-1849). In this post I write a little about what the poem is about and some of its origins. It’s considered to be one of the earliest poems written by Poe and it was first published in 1829. Two years earlier Poe published his first collection, Tamerlane and Other Poems under an assumed name. His writing career had just begun and behind him was a series of personal failures. First, he dropped out of the University of Virginia and second his career within the US Military would not fall out in good terms. As Poe was unable to support himself, he enlisted in the United States Army as a private on May 27, 1827 using the name “Edgar A. Perry”. He claimed that he was 22 years old even though he was 18. 1829 marked the death of his foster-mother Frances Allan and after much pressure the foster-father finally let Poe enroll as cadet at West Point. On February 8, 1831, he was tried for gross neglect of duty and disobedience of orders for refusing to attend formations, classes, or church. Poe tactically pleaded not guilty to induce dismissal, knowing that he would be found guilty.

Al-Aaraaf : Its origins and context

al_aaraaf_robinsonThe name al-Aaraaf [سورة الأعراف‎‎] is the name of chapter 7 in the Quran and refers to a place in heaven. Its title is “Al Aaraaf” from the Al Aaraaf of the Arabians, a medium between Heaven and Hell where men suffer no punishment, but yet do not attain that tranquil & even happiness which they suppose to be the characteristics of heavenly enjoyment.

The poem contains many references to the classical mytholgy of the Greeks and the Romans. It’s also filled with numerous allusions. It’s the longest poem Poe would ever write and later stated that he wasn’t in favour of long poems. Because of its heavy mix of historical context and different mythologies it was not considered to be either accurate or intelligible. It shows Poe’s possibilites to become a great poet, especially since Poe claimed he wrote some of it at the age of 15. It does have some rythm even if the text’s message and context seem to fail.

The poem Al-Aaraaf