Tackling Poe: The Complete Works, Part 11

The eleventh installment of Tackling Poe: The Complete Works continues a four-part review series of Edgar Allan Poe’s poems. The collection I am reading from conveniently divides the poems into four categories (Poems of Later Life, Poems of Manhood, Poems of Youth, and Doubtful Poems) so I will be keeping the same separation. As well, though I will endeavor to find YouTube readings of each poem, I’m a bit worried about load times for this one (there are a LOT of poems), so will just link the video, rather than embed them.

As always, my Dictionary of Purple Prose is gaining all sorts of new words from Poe’s works, so I invite you to check it out. It’s a stand-alone page, so feel free to bookmark it, suggest words, and use them in your stories to your heart’s content!

The poems in the Poems of Youth category include:

  • Letter to Mr. B–
  • Sonnet – To Science
  • Al Aaraaf
  • Tamerlane
  • To Helen
  • The Valley of Unrest
  • Israfel
  • To —
  • To —
  • To the River —
  • Song
  • Spirits of the Dead
  • A Dream
  • Romance
  • Fairy-Land
  • The Lake — to —
  • Evening Star
  • “The Happiest Day”
  • Imitation
  • Hymn to Aristogeiton and Harmodius
  • Dreams
  • “In Youth I Have Known One”

Some humor:

poehumor9

Letter to Mr. B–

Audio Version: Lit2Go

Text Version: Lit2Go

Review: The most amusing element of this text was that it was mostly a tirade against Woodsworth and Milton as poets, rather than a poem itself. Poe raises several interesting points about criticism, and where that criticism comes from, which I think (no surprise) are still quite relevant today.

Here’s one quote I really enjoyed:

“A fool, for example, thinks Shakespeare a great poet-yet the fool has never read Shakespeare. But the fool’s neighbor, who is a step higher on the Andes of the mind, whose head (that is to say, his more exalted thought) is too far above the fool to be seen or understood, but whose feet (by which I mean his everyday actions) are sufficiently near to be discerned, and by means of which that superiority is ascertained, which but for them would never have been discovered-this neighbor asserts that Shakespeare is a great poet—the fool believes him, and it is henceforward his opinion. This neighbor’s own opinion has, in like manner, been adopted from one above him, and so, ascendingly, to a few gifted individuals who kneel around the summit, beholding, face to face, the master spirit who stands upon the pinnacle.

“You are aware of the great barrier in the path of an American writer. He is read, if at all, in preference to the combined and established wit of the world. I say established; for it is with literature as with law or empire-an established name is an estate in tenure, or a throne in possession. Besides, one might suppose that books, like their authors, improve by travel-their having crossed the sea is, with us, so great a distinction. Our antiquaries abandon time for distance; our very fops glance from the binding to the bottom of the title-page, where the mystic characters which spell London, Paris, or Genoa, are precisely so many letters of recommendation.”

And (particularly funny given the fact how much of a mammoth this anthology has been):

“‘Those who have been accustomed to the phraseology of modem writers, if they persist in reading this book to a conclusion (impossible!) will, no doubt, have to struggle with feelings of awkwardness; (ha! ha! ha!) they will look round for poetry (ha! ha! ha! ha!), and will be induced to inquire by what species of courtesy these attempts have been permitted to assume that title.’ Ha! ha! ha! ha! ha!”

And, Poe’s own definition of poetry, which I think rings fairly true:

“A poem, in my opinion, is opposed to a work of science by having, for its immediate object, pleasure, not truth; to romance, by having, for its object, an indefinite instead of a definite pleasure, being a poem only so far as this object is attained; romance presenting perceptible images with definite, poetry with indefinite sensations, to which end music is an essential, since the comprehension of sweet sound is our most indefinite conception. Music, when combined with a pleasurable idea, is poetry; music, without the idea, is simply music; the idea, wi thout the music, is prose, from its very definitiveness.”

And then the text concludes with a proverb, which I found rather cunning:

No Indian prince has to his palace
More followers than a thief to the gallows.

indian_prince_edwinlordweeks

Sonnet – To Science

Audio Version: Lit2Go

Text Version:

Science! True daughter of Old Time thou art!
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? Or how deem thee wise,
Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,
Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car?
And driven the Hamadryad from the wood
To seek a shelter in some happier star?
Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,
The Elfin from the green grass, and from me
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?

Review: I really love this as a poem, a sonnet for the scientific eye, and how, when used in meticulous and cold manners, takes all the breath from life–of course, science has a new culture these days, it seems; it’s not all about the academia, but the force of life; the miraculous, random (but completely imprinted) nature of it. In any case, I really enjoyed this one.

Helix Nebula

Helix Nebula

Al Aaraaf

"Al Aaraaf" by Edmund Dulac

“Al Aaraaf” by Edmund Dulac

Audio Version: Lit2Go

Text Version: Lit2Go

Review: I had a really hard time following this one, as it had so many allusions that I’m not ashamed to admit I know nothing about (I skipped over that teen phase most girls in my class had of pouring over Greek mythology, for whatever reason). What I basically understood was that lovers who fell from the grace of Heaven were lost forever to its heights when they fall into discord, because only those who can hear the “strings of their heart” can know Heaven. The story itself wasn’t bad, but I’m not sure it’s one of Poe’s “better” poems.

There was this one quote I liked though:

Ours is a world of words: Quiet we call
“Silence”—which is the merest word of all.
All Nature speaks, and ev’n ideal things
Flap shadowy sounds from visionary wings…

Tamerlane

p115Audio Version: Lit2Go

Text Version: Lit2Go

Review: This poem was extremely melodic, and I enjoyed listening to it. It’s also one of the few poems in the “love” category that has actually made me “feel” those stirrings of love professed between the lines, and that’s saying a lot, as I usually can keep my emotions out of what I’m reading. Highly worth a read, if you haven’t read, or listened, to it yet.

Quote:

I had no being— but in thee.

Quote:

For all we live to know is known,
And all we seek to keep hath flown…

To Helen

Audio Version: Lit2Go

Text Version:

Helen, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicean barks of yore,
That gently, o’er a perfumed sea,
The weary way-worn wanderer bore
To his own native shore.

On desperate seas long wont to roam,
Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
Thy Naiad airs have brought me home
To the glory that was Greece,
And the grandeur that was Rome.

Lo! in yon brilliant window-niche
How statue-like I me thee stand,
The agate lamp within thy hand!
Ah, Psyche, from the regions which
Are Holy-land!

Review: This was reviewed back in Part 9… not sure why the anthology lists it twice. Thought I was going crazy there, for a moment, haha.

The Valley of Unrest

DulacTheValleyOfUnrestAudio Version: Lit2Go

Text Version:

Once it smiled a silent dell
Where the people did not dwell;
They had gone unto the wars,
Trusting to the mild-eyed stars,
Nightly, from their azure towers,
To keep watch above the flowers,
In the midst of which all day
The red sunlight lazily lay.
Now each visitor shall confess
The sad valley’s restlessness.
Nothing there is motionless-
Nothing save the airs that brood
Over the magic solitude.
Ah, by no wind are stirred those trees
That palpitate like the chill seas
Around the misty Hebrides!
Ah, by no wind those clouds are driven
That rustle through the unquiet Heaven
Uneasily, from morn till even,
Over the violets there that lie
In myriad types of the human eye-
Over the lilies there that wave
And weep above a nameless grave!
They wave:- from out their fragrant tops
Eternal dews come down in drops.
They weep:- from off their delicate stems
Perennial tears descend in gems.

Review: I found out through another blog that this poem was originally published as “The Valley of Nis”. This poem has much of the moodiness and imagery we expect from Poe, though the final lines really are the gem of the whole thing. So powerful.

Israfel

Audio Version: Lit2Go

Text Version:

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 all the 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.

* And the angel Israfel, whose heart-strings are a lut, and
who has the sweetest voice of all God’s creatures.—KORAN.

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 unimpassion’d song:
To thee the laurels belong
Best bard, because the wisest!
Merrily live, and long!

The extacies above
With thy burning measures suit—
Thy grief, thy joy, thy hate, thy love,
With the fervor 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.

Review: This was a really interesting poem for me. I loved the dynamic nature of the words, and the touch at the end, of one’s position being what produces the quality of song, was an interesting jab, and envy, from Poe. I really like the duality of this one.

To —-

Audio Version: Lit2Go

Text Version:

1

The bowers whereat, in dreams, I see
The wantonest singing birds
Are lips—and all thy melody
Of lip-begotten words—

2

Thine eyes, in Heaven of heart enshrin’d
Then desolately fall,
O! God! on my funereal mind
Like starlight on a pall—

3

Thy heart—thy heart!—I wake and sigh,
And sleep to dream till day
Of truth that gold can never buy—
Of the trifles that it may.

Review: Another poem I enjoyed the simplicity of. Though I can’t pretend to be able to analyze it, the third verse does paint a picture of love marred by a greedy maiden.

To —-

Audio Version:

Text Version:

I heed not that my earthly lot
Hath little of Earth in it,
That years of love have been forgot
In the hatred of a minute:
I mourn not that the desolate
Are happier, sweet, than I,
But that you sorrow for my fate
Who am a passer-by.

Review: Words that are ever true, even in this day and age. Especially in lines 3 and 4. The whole poem is powerful, but certainly, the poem speaks to me at this point in my life.

To the River —

edgar-allan-poe-6Audio Version: Lit2Go

Text Version:

Fair river! in thy bright, clear flow
Of crystal, wandering water,
Thou art an emblem of the glow
Of beauty—the unhidden heart—
The playful maziness of art
In old Alberto’s daughter;

But when within thy wave she looks—
Which glistens then, and trembles—
Why, then, the prettiest of brooks
Her worshipper resembles;
For in my heart, as in thy stream,
Her image deeply lies—
His heart which trembles at the beam
Of her soul-searching eyes.

Review: A fairly simple poem…. but for some reason my brain won’t see it simply. I keep imagining a water naiad tempting a man to look deeper and deeper into a stream until he falls in. I think I might, just might, be in a bit of a morbid mood. 

Edit: And I guess I wasn’t so wrong, because I just found this painting:

Naiad1

Song

Audio Version: Lit2Go

Text Version:

I saw thee on thy bridal day–
When a burning blush came o’er thee,
Though happiness around thee lay,
The world all love before thee:

And in thine eye a kindling light
(Whatever it might be)
Was all on Earth my aching sight
Of Loveliness could see.

That blush, perhaps, was maiden shame–
As such it well may pass–
Though its glow hath raised a fiercer flame
In the breast of him, alas!

Who saw thee on that bridal day,
When that deep blush would come o’er thee,
Though happiness around thee lay;
The world all love before thee.

Review: Too late, Poe! She’s married! Back off! And lady, loosen that corset, you’re probably suffocating.

Spirits of the Dead

spirits of the deadAudio Version: Lit2Go

Text Version:

Thy soul shall find itself alone
‘Mid dark thoughts of the grey tomb—stone;
Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy.

Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness–for then
The spirits of the dead, who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee, and their will
Shall overshadow thee; be still.

The night, though clear, shall frown,
And the stars shall not look down
From their high thrones in the Heaven
With light like hope to mortals given,
But their red orbs, without beam,
To thy weariness shall seem
As a burning and a fever
Which would cling to thee for ever.

Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish,
Now are visions ne’er to vanish;
From thy spirit shall they pass
No more, like dew—drop from the grass.

The breeze, the breath of God, is still,
And the mist upon the hill
Shadowy, shadowy, yet unbroken,
Is a symbol and a token.
How it hangs upon the trees,
A mystery of mysteries!

Review: Not quite sure how this poem turned into “an orgy of evil”, as the movie poster states, but I think it goes to show that Poe became so famous for macabre (that few had actually read), that all you had to do was slap his name and the title of one of his works on a movie poster and people would expect to be disturbed. It’s an interesting thing, too, to me, that only Edgar Allan Poe could write a poem as short as this, and “it” gets turned into a feature length film.

As far as the poem itself, it reminds me of Conqueror Worm… but softer, and a bit more forgiving in tone. I liked it.

A Dream

poe_1Audio Version: Lit2Go

Text Version:

In visions of the dark night
I have dreamed of joy departed–
But a waking dream of life and light
Hath left me broken—hearted.

Ah! what is not a dream by day
To him whose eyes are cast
On things around him with a ray
Turned back upon the past?

That holy dream–that holy dream,
While all the world were chiding,
Hath cheered me as a lovely beam
A lonely spirit guiding.

What though that light, thro’ storm and night,
So trembled from afar–
What could there be more purely bright
In Truth’s day—star?

Review: I think my favorite imagery in this poem was his referencing the looking backwards at our past as another kind of dreaming. It is invariably true; despite the fact that what we remember did happen to us, our minds do corrode a memory the more it is called upon- changing it, chipping off little details that we don’t like or not (I’ve talked about this before, in my post The Dream of Memory).

Romance

Audio Version: Lit2Go

Text Version:

Romance, who loves to nod and sing,
With drowsy head and folded wing,
Among the green leaves as they shake
Far down within some shadowy lake,
To me a painted paroquet
Hath been– a most familiar bird–
Taught me my alphabet to say–
To lisp my very earliest word
While in the wild wood I did lie,
A child– with a most knowing eye.

Of late, eternal Condor years
So shake the very Heaven on high
With tumult as they thunder by,
I have no time for idle cares
Through gazing on the unquiet sky.
And when an hour with calmer wings
Its down upon my spirit flings–
That little time with lyre and rhyme
To while away– forbidden things!
My heart would feel to be a crime
Unless it trembled with the strings.

Review: Considering the title, I was expecting a bit more from this poem, but it didn’t really deliver, for me. I don’t know… I do find that once Poe finds imagery he likes (folded wing, heart strings as actual instrument strings, etc), he tends to overuse them.

Fairy-Land

poe-illustrated-dulac-fairyland-728x983Audio Version: Lit2Go

Text Version:

Dim vales–and shadowy floods–
And cloudy—looking woods,
Whose forms we can’t discover
For the tears that drip all over
Huge moons there wax and wane–
Again–again–again–
Every moment of the night–
Forever changing places–
And they put out the star—light
With the breath from their pale faces.
About twelve by the moon—dial
One more filmy than the rest
(A kind which, upon trial,
They have found to be the best)
Comes down–still down–and down
With its centre on the crown
Of a mountain’s eminence,
While its wide circumference
In easy drapery falls
Over hamlets, over halls,
Wherever they may be–
O’er the strange woods–o’er the sea–
Over spirits on the wing–
Over every drowsy thing–
And buries them up quite
In a labyrinth of light–
And then, how deep!–O, deep!
Is the passion of their sleep.
In the morning they arise,
And their moony covering
Is soaring in the skies,
With the tempests as they toss,
Like–almost any thing–
Or a yellow Albatross.
They use that moon no more
For the same end as before–
Videlicet a tent–
Which I think extravagant:
Its atomies, however,
Into a shower dissever,
Of which those butterflies,
Of Earth, who seek the skies,
And so come down again
(Never—contented thing!)
Have brought a specimen
Upon their quivering wings.

Review: I think this is one of Poe’s more playful poems, in that it dips along fairly quickly, sticking to higher vowel rhymes and shorter verses. The accompanying painting by Dulac (from the internet, not the collection I’m reading) helped shaped the image in my mind.

The Lake —- to —-

Audio Version: Lit2Go

Text Version:

In spring of youth it was my lot
To haunt of the wide earth a spot
The which I could not love the less—
So lovely was the loneliness
Of a wild lake, with black rock bound,
And the tall pines that tower’d around.

But when the Night had thrown her pall
Upon that spot, as upon all,
And the mystic wind went by
Murmuring in melody—
Then—ah then I would awake
To the terror of the lone lake.

Yet that terror was not fright,
But a tremulous delight—
A feeling not the jewelled mine
Could teach or bribe me to define—
Nor Love—although the Love were thine.

Death was in that poisonous wave,
And in its gulf a fitting grave
For him who thence could solace bring
To his lone imagining—
Whose solitary soul could make
An Eden of that dim lake.

Review: Another poem from this collection that I loved the lyricism of, and the imagery. The words roll just like the wave Poe describes, and it dragged me along with rising tension.

Evening Star

whr_poe12

“Evening Star” by William Heath Robinson

Audio Version: Lit2Go

Text Version:

‘Twas noontide of summer,
And mid—time of night;
And stars, in their orbits,
Shone pale, thro’ the light
Of the brighter, cold moon,
‘Mid planets her slaves,
Herself in the Heavens,
Her beam on the waves.
I gazed awhile
On her cold smile;
Too cold—too cold for me—
There pass’d, as a shroud,
A fleecy cloud,
And I turned away to thee,
Proud Evening Star,
In thy glory afar,
And dearer thy beam shall be;
For joy to my heart
Is the proud part
Thou bearest in Heaven at night,
And more I admire
Thy distant fire,
Than that colder, lowly light.

Review:  Another simple poem, with a lot of really beautiful imagery about a topic (the evening star) that I haven’t seen in Poe’s writing before. A pleasant little surprise in the middle of this collection.

“The Happiest Day”

Audio Version: Lit2Go

Text Version:

The happiest day–the happiest hour
My sear’d and blighted heart hath known,
The highest hope of pride and power,
I feel hath flown.

Of power! said I? yes! such I ween;
But they have vanish’d long, alas!
The visions of my youth have been–
But let them pass.

And, pride, what have I now with thee?
Another brow may even inherit
The venom thou hast pour’d on me
Be still, my spirit!

The happiest day–the happiest hour
Mine eyes shall see–have ever seen,
The brightest glance of pride and power,
I feel–have been:

But were that hope of pride and power
Now offer’d with the pain
Even then I felt–that brightest hour
I would not live again:

For on its wing was dark alloy,
And, as it flutter’d–fell
An essence–powerful to destroy
A soul that knew it well.

Review: Love this one. The pride before the fall; the day in the sun followed by the rain and darkness. Very well crafted and executed.

Imitation

Audio Version: Lit2Go

Text Version:

A dark unfathom’d tide
Of interminable pride—
A mystery, and a dream,
Should my early life seem;
I say that dream was fraught
With a wild, and waking thought
Of beings that have been,
Which my spirit hath not seen,
Had I let them pass me by,
With a dreaming eye!
Let none of earth inherit
That vision on my spirit;
Those thoughts I would control
As a spell upon his soul:
For that bright hope at last
And that light time have past,
And my worldly rest hath gone
With a sigh as it pass’d on
I care not tho’ it perish
With a thought I then did cherish.

Review: This poem has been considered auto-biographical, written during a time when Poe was having strained relations with his step-father. Having gone through similar, I can feel sympathy for the speaker, and resonate with such pain.

Hymn to Aristogeiton and Harmodius

tumblr_ljlxurxsuP1qag9hro1_400Audio Version: Lit2Go

Text Version:

I

Wreathed in myrtle, my sword I’ll conceal
Like those champions devoted and brave,
When they plunged in the tyrant their steel,
And to Athens deliverance gave.

II

Beloved heroes! your deathless souls roam
In the joy breathing isles of the blest;
Where the mighty of old have their home
Where Achilles and Diomed rest

III

In fresh myrtle my blade I’ll entwine,
Like Harmodius, the gallant and good,
When he made at the tutelar shrine
A libation of Tyranny’s blood.

IV

Ye deliverers of Athens from shame!
Ye avengers of Liberty’s wrongs!
Endless ages shall cherish your fame,
Embalmed in their echoing songs!

Review: It was kind of cool to read a poem about men by Poe. It definitely had a different “atmosphere” to it, and I could feel the strength and resolution in the words.

Dreams

Audio Version: Lit2Go

Text Version: Lit2Go

Review: Much like “Imitation”, “Dreams” brings the power of the unreal as a balm for the pains of reality. I enjoyed this poem, though there was one part in particular that I liked:

Oh! that my young life were a lasting dream!
My spirit not awakening, till the beam
Of an Eternity should bring the morrow.
Yes! tho’ that long dream were of hopeless sorrow,
‘Twere better than the cold reality
Of waking life, to him whose heart must be,
And hath been still, upon the lovely earth,
A chaos of deep passion, from his birth.

“In Youth I Have Known One”

Audio Version: Lit2Go

Text Version: Lit2Go

Review: The tale of the man born with a “torch of life” in his breast, that burned brightly and deeply is the last tale we are left with in this collection of poems, and it is well worth a look, if only for the rendering of sound on the page and in the ear. A very lovely, short poem.

divider_big_transparent

We are moving on to the final four poems of Poe in Part 12, Doubtful Poems. I hope you’ll stick with me until the end! So close I can finally taste it (though the anthology assures me that after all of this, I am still only at 87%….)

If you’d like to read any of the other parts, feel free to check them out below:

5 thoughts on “Tackling Poe: The Complete Works, Part 11

  1. Miranda Stone says:

    Another great summary of Poe’s poems, Alex! I had to laugh at your take on “Song,” and wow–who would be able to resist a movie described as Edgar Allan Poe’s Ultimate Orgy of Evil? 😉

    Like

    • Alex Hurst says:

      Thanks Miranda! I honestly had nothing else to say for that poem, haha. And yeah, the poster has cool marketing (I may try to find a copy. One of the actors looks pretty intriguing).

      Like

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