Tag Archives: edgar allan poe

“Rebelling Against Obscurity”

The dying Werther, from Goethe's  novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther

The dying Werther, from Goethe’s novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther

A welcome to the dVerse poets and readers.

From the last canto of Kamal, Book One

I promise you, Kamal, that I will give
you all I have – and love – so you may live.
And that by telling your story (and telling it well)
I will against obscurity rebel.
For I’ve been desperate to be heard! I’ve feared
not that my dreamed-of epic would be jeered
at by the critics – no! But rather Kamal
would never have a listener!
(Then Sheela came, as you’ll recall,
and that is what I couldn’t resist in her:
Her audience – addressing all
those ears!). One thing it is to write,
to finish a great work, but quite
another to ensure the work is read
and understood before its author’s dead.

I’ve promised to tell you, reader, the story of Kamal, one of the great stories of modern American literature. I introduced the story the day before yesterday — with “Be Clear My Throat!”.

To my readers — “rebellion big in spine and mind”

…I must first acknowledge, before I go further
— not books from my college, Poe’s Raven, or Werther,
or mentors, or teachers, their kindly reviews,
or even (though O! How I’ll need her!) my Muse —
but readers! Dear readers! So faithful…and few!
You’ve given to me; now I give to you:

To Mary and Brian — exemplars of loyalty
(change “readers” to “leaders,” “loyal” to “royalty”);
Across the tumultuous Tasman, yonder,
there’s Lowe and Helen, Pearce and Ponder,
Penelope, Raymond, Claire and Bell;
there’s Harvey and Welsh, Janis, Michelle.
And here in Australia, Compton and Penny,
Marsha and David (I’ve missed some? Or many?),
oh yes, there’s Gemma — but why this insistence
on listing by regions, or countries, or distance?
There’s Claudia, Great Griff and Green,
antipodal Jones — from Tim to Kathleen,
and Becky Kilsby (from the UAE!)
Susan, Chazzy, a reader named Tree,
musicians and poets, and some who write prose,
Ms. Funster, Ms. Punster, and Karin’s large Nose;
Shawna, Rallentanda, Brendan, Glenn,
Aaron, Belinda, Ginny and Zen,
Marilyn, Venessa, Martin, Colette
— poetry, forsooth! — Sarah Barnett,
Mohana and Anna, and Garden Lily,
and Kling and King, and someone named Chili;
and Leary and Hedgewitch and Semaphore
and Zongrik and Orchid and several more
with lovely names, like “Daydream,” “Tashtoo.”
And if, my reader, I’ve left out you,
I’m surely to blame. An innocent lapse.
Or — you haven’t yet registered, perhaps?

(Please do)

To all of you, I thank you all!
My following — it may be small
but it is big in spine and mind.
We’re bound together, fates entwined,
and we must grow together, too!
Help spread Kamal to minds anew.
We don’t need Tinkerbell’s ovation,
but rather, a simple recommendation
to a friend — to stir my story’s heart.

Just three more followers before we start…


See the complete index of episodes from Kamal, Book One


Filed under Kamal, Book One, Poetry by Zireaux

“America” by Zireaux

‘…and, of course / by Sendak’s blessed isle…’


(Lines from Kamal, Book One).

To M.

America! You gave me your tongue.
Your child-bard who madly swung
your throbbing bullroarer around
his head to hear the primal sound
of Quaoar – out there among

the muted witnesses of rape,
the oaks and willows and wild grape
(who once heard stories Ovid’s lyre
would take a thousand years to sire )
– that child, who with your giants shivered
in his sleep, whose soul was roused
by songs that crossed a frozen river’s
rails to Ursula (which housed
the torch dear Langston and Zora delivered);
was stirred by Twain’s and Whitman’s sermons,
inspired by Nathan, Edgar and Herman
(forgive me, men — you shouldn’t be put
in lists to keep one’s rhyme afoot);
and christened – or rather, his faith determined

by Walden’s water (and, of course,
by Sendak’s blessed isle — that source
of yearned for metamorphosis) –
O! I could go on like this,
but here’s my point: That child was me!
Is me still! Your wondrous lessons
even now – in south-most sea –
still surface with their phosphoresce.
Usonian Calliope!
Great Astronaut of Art! The part
you played for me still stokes my heart;
– for who, but you, oh country mine,
could give the god of epic rhyme
a wife like Marge, a son like Bart?

And then there are my children. Their sleep
reminds us: Angels are not ours to keep.
That never-met custodian takes back
her wards each night. A firm but light arrest,
as when a butterfly, on losing track
of up and down, decides it might just test
that rippling sky that blinks below (in fact,
a shimmering pond) and lo, it’s quickly pressed
into a specimen! So, too, my kids,
– awake beyond their closed eyelids –

seem caught in buoyant immobility.
Kamal’s face shows that same tranquility.
He even has my little Clara’s way
of tipping down her chin, as when a tide
recedes, the shore dips down into a bay;
the day’s sweet effervescent magic sighed
out from her chest. Kamal’s lips also splay
apart, and seem unlikely to subside;
the upper most of all – not just agape,
but puckered in a suckling shape.

Published as part of the dVerse poetry group.


Filed under Kamal, Book One, Poetry by Zireaux

Tuesday Poem: “Dreams” by Edgar Allan Poe

Thomas Stothard's Tempest, c 1799

Thomas Stothard's 'Tempest' (c 1799). Says Prospero: "We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep."

“Dreams” was selected for Immortal Muse by Zireaux (read Zireaux’s comments on this poem).

Zireaux is also this week’s editor of the Tuesday Poem blog, on which he discusses the poetry of “Kath and Kim” (Jane Turner and Gina Riley).

Edgar Allan Poe

Oh! that my young life were a lasting dream!
My spirit not awak’ning, 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.
But should it be — that dream eternally
Continuing — as dreams have been to me
In my young boyhood — should it thus be giv’n
‘Twere folly still to hope for higher Heav’n.
For I have revell’d when the sun was bright
In the summer sky, in dreams of living light.
And loveliness, — have left my very heart
In climes of my imaginings apart
From mine own home, with beings that have been
Of mine own thought — what more could I have seen?

‘Twas once — and only once — and the wild hour
From my remembrance shall not pass — some pow’r
Or spell had bound me — ‘twas the chilly wind
Came o’er me in the night, and left behind
Its image on my spirit — or the moon
Shone on my slumbers in her lofty noon
Too coldly — or the stars — howe’er it was
That dream was as that night-wind — let it pass.
I have been happy, tho’ in a dream.
I have been happy — and I love the theme:
Dreams! in their vivid colouring of life
As in that fleeting, shadowy, misty strife
Of semblance with reality which brings
To the delirious eye, more lovely things
Of Paradise and Love — and all our own!
Than young Hope in his sunniest hour hath known.


Edgar Allan Poe

A Chaos of Passions: Edgar Allan Poe. Portrait by Oscar Halling, c 1860s, after an 1849 daguerreotype.

Zireaux’s comments on this poem
“Is it true what Robert Graves once said / that every poet over thirty’s dead?”

Any work by Poe deserves a careful handling (snap and snap of the blue nitrile gloves), but especially this poem, a piece of juvenilia, composed with all the flexible fancies and daring dismounts of a lithe and limber brain.

Edgar was 18 when he wrote it.

Many more times he’d attempt to capture this unique species of dream, in essays, poetry, short stories: Not sleeping dreams, not Freudian dreams, or Proustian time-traveling remembrances; not hallucinations of hope, or preacher visions sung from the Capitol’s Mall; or Disney dreams, or the fantasies of aspiring pop-stars; not pipe-dreams, prophecies, visions, trances, mirages, hypnotic dreams, psychedelic dreams, laudenum-induced comas, the Dreamtimes of prehistory, visitations from Morpheus or Sibyl, glossolalia, or a hello from a hologrammic TuPoe with a trillion views on YouTube (“Yo whassup Tuesday Poets!”).

Fancies, daydreams, reveries — Poe would settle, at last, on “fancies,” but even that, he insists, was just a word plucked at random to capture a “shadow of a shadow.” (“A dream itself is but a shadow,” says Hamlet).

“Dreams” is often dismissed as an immature work, and it’s true, the poem is no “Raven”, no “Ulalume” (see my comments on “Ulalume”), no “Bells” or “Annabel Lee.” But when we gently cut through the poem’s husk (Eternity, Paradise, Love, Hope, High Heaven), peel back the fleshy endosperm (all that “living light” and “loveliness”), we not only find the germ of poetic genius, but one of the most important discoveries ever made by an English language poet.

I don’t just mean the fine observation — see it there, in lines 4 through 8 — that for a person of passion, even the saddest dreams are more pleasurable than waking life. Enchanting, yes, but Coleridge had distilled the same elixir 40 years earlier (notice, by the way, the Coleridgian cast of moonlight that shimmers across lines 23-24).

Poe’s vision is much more radical than that. As his dreamer marvels in line 18, the most critical element of such dreams, it turns out, is that they are “of mine own thought.” They are “all our own!”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

A pilot dreamer: Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900-1944)

The dreamer, then, isn’t possessed. The dreamer possesses. The Raven on which the dreamer flies, flapping its black wings of Time (same dark wings that swoop through H.G. Wells‘s phantasm), belongs to its rider. A pilot, then, is this dreamer, with compass to consult, instruments of accuracy — airspeed, altitude, pitch — and there’s Saint-Exupery buzzing over the Sahara in his Brueget biplane (oneiric angels splattering against his windscreen).

Freedom through form, fancy as precision, music as mathematical formula, mutation through logic, a brilliantly bridled madness — this is Poe. And this was young Edger, his “chaos of passions” expressed in rhyme, carefully constructed meter (note the mimicking meter of lines one and four in “Dreams”), his “wild hour,” his being “bound” in a spell, a vivid colouring in a moonlit slumber for a delirious eye.

This, to me (slap and slap, gloves removed, flourished, tossed in bin), is the miracle of all great poetry. Not the passion alone, but the structure, the precision, the dreamy chaos held in absolute control.
Published as part of the Tuesday Poetry group.

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What are Brains but Great Intestines? — Stanzas 177 to 183

Res Publica, Book One, Canto the Third

The narrator recalls how, ready to set sail to his island, he parked his car outside the home he grew up in – a recollection which evokes painful memories of his parents . . .

Mount Rangitoto

Mount Rangitoto, North Shore, Auckland


Memory, in a Jaguar, gleaming,
burnished by the rain, propels
me down a North Shore lane which smells
of paint-soaked lawns and asphalt steaming,
soggy trees and burning wood,
the heady scents of childhood.
Robotically, and intersecting
kwoosh, then slurp – to make an ‘M’,
two sweeping arms are each collecting
Ua’s ante: dazzling gems.94
A day of rain and blazing sun,
and cars agleam with all they’ve won.
An autumn scene, all gold and garish;
the kind of day I used to cherish.


Round the bay we drive. A distant
cloudburst slowly starts to spread
on Rangitoto’s cloven head
– as if it were the mount’s assistant –
a silver cloak of satin thread.
A plastic playground, washed-out red
with yellow slide; a toddler swinging
over grass so green and bright
that surely those are emeralds clinging
to each sheeny blade. The light
gives all the houses veins –
the casement joints, the rooftop drains,
the frames of windowpanes defining
lifeless blocks with blood that’s shining.


One house, however – fence-bound, shaded,
armed for ancient savageries
with bristling, mace-like cabbage trees –
appears to cower, a fort degraded,
its power humbled, mana lost.
A gloomy place. Let’s steer across
the street, dear Memory, my faithful

             ‘Right here,’ I say . . .

             *             *             *

                                                         . . . I’d packed
the boat that morning – seven case-fulls
of Waikato Draught, and neatly stacked,
a crate of Speights, and five Monteith’s
with rows of Lion Red beneath;95
(I daren’t mention the Sauvignon Blanc or
Kiwi mates might call me ‘Plonker’).

'...culinary / canned delights (of Watties’ ilk)...'

'...culinary / canned delights (of Watties’ ilk)...'


And water, of course – a lot of water.
Twelve two-hundred liter tanks,
to be my island’s hydro-bank
so I could live long years a squatter;
(These giant, dirt-green plastic drums
required help from swarthy chums
to load onto my wobbling ferry);
cases, too, of powdered milk,
Weet-Bix boxes, culinary
canned delights (of Watties’ ilk),96
dried fruits as well, and mixed diffuse
with berries of the Chinese Goose,97
and shriveled apples, sun-baked peaches,
(pits removed for cleaner beaches);


And meat? No meat. I’d thought of hauling
goats along – and sheep whose shanks
can well assuage a stomach’s angst.
I don’t find carnivores appalling,
but rather – why should beasts be forced
to live with someone so divorced
from life? They’d die of thirst, starvation,
disease while I sat idly by,
absorbed in selfish contemplation,
blind to outside stimuli;
their sorry state, each wretched bleat
I’d meet with eyes and ears effete.
For living life devoid of feeling
was what, to me, made life appealing.


And books. A ton of reading matter
gave greater ballast to the hull –
sweet fruits to fill a hungry skull.
Linguistic cakes of sundry batter,
some bound soft and others hard,
from Stephen King to Cherry-Garrard
to Baudelaire, Dumas and Horace,
Byron, Poe and Kerouac,
the O.E.D., Roget’s Thesaurus,
an Atlas and an Almanac
– and, too, just as my ‘hydro-bank’
and food obliged an extra tank
to store my body’s foul expiries,
I also packed some pens and diaries.

Apsley George Benet Cherry-Garrard, 1886–1959

Apsley George Benet Cherry-Garrard (1886–1959), author of The Worst Journey in the World


For what are brains but great intestines?
And what are thoughts but bits of fat
absorbed or by a Blogger shat?
How lucky, reader, what’s expressed in
common writing lacks the smell
of other waste that we expel!
How loose the public’s peristalsis!
A steady stream of stench each day.
The TV’s high cholesterol is
crapped at every street café
. . . in magazines . . . at dull soirees . . .
but never mind . . .

             *             *             *

                                         . . . ‘Right here,’ I say
to Memory.

                          The car grows quiet.
For it has keys to pacify it.

If only hearts had such devices!

94 Ua is a Maori god of rain.
95 Waikato Draught, Speights, Monteith’s, Lion Red – all popular brands of beer in New Zealand (also see footnote 40).
96 Watties has been manufacturing canned and frozen food products which, since 1934 ‘have been enjoyed by generations of families across New Zealand’, according to the company.
97 Kiwifruit is a popular brand name for the Chinese gooseberry.

Zireaux’s comments on these stanzas
A good choice, Cherry-Garrard. To which I’d add Edward O. Wilson. Shakespeare. John Livingston Lowes, the blossoms of Harold Bloom — for I’m thinking of a kind of nosegay here, a bouquet of books, with the pink heather petals of Proust, a burgundy-hued Boyle (T.C.), the baby’s breath of Burgess. Or maybe just a single boutonnière — Joyce in full Bloom?

And you? Which books would you take to your island, reader?

Perhaps you’ll find some inspiration in the latest selections from the Tuesday Poets?


Read from the beginning of Res Publica | Listen to the audio version (read by Stuart Devenie) | Buy a signed copy of the book

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The Curse of Poets — Stanza 26

Albert Einstein and Johanna Fantova with their sailboat onton, New Jersey. Lake Carnegie in Prince

Albert Einstein and Johanna Fantova with their sailboat on Lake Carnegie in Princeton, New Jersey.

Res Publica, Book One, Canto the First


to see the bank where Joyce once clerked.
We went to Baltimore, where Poe
was found in rags, so I could know
– and feel – the curse of poets (it worked);
just three of us to Einstein’s Princeton,
the beautiful lake which once convinced him
home was in the States…and me,
dear reader, that home would always be
those journeys with my parents. Dozens
of relatives, a swarm of cousins
I have. But once I crossed the sea,
the only child who mattered was me.

Zireaux’s comments on this stanza
O the pathos of poor Edgar’s demise! Found in a delirium on the streets of Baltimore, ‘in great distress and…in immediate need of assistance,’ according to the man who brought him to his hospital deathbed. America’s greatest poet was 40 years old.

For our Tuesday Poem readers, a translation of a poem by Albert Einstein, who wasn’t a poet as such (an artist, yes), but who turned to poetry to express his deep admiration for the 17th century Dutch philosopher, Spinoza:

On Spinoza’s Ethics
Albert Einstein
©2007-2008 English translation by Jonathan Ely

How I love this noble man
More than I can say with words.
Still, I fear he remains alone
With his shining halo.

Such a poor small lad
Whom you’ll not lead to freedom
The amor dei leaves him cold
Mightily does this life attract him

Loftiness offers him nothing but frost
Reason for him is poor fare
Property and wife and honor and house
That fills him from top to bottom

You’ll kindly forgive me
If Münchhausen here comes to mind
Who alone mastered the trick
Of pulling himself out of a swamp by his own pigtail

You think his example would show us
What this doctrine can give humankind
My dear son, what ever were you thinking?
One must be born a nightingale

Trust not the comforting façade
One must be born sublime

Read from the beginning of Res Publica | Listen to the audio version (read by Stuart Devenie) | Buy a signed copy of the book

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“The Way Through the Woods,” by Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling

Selected for Immortal Muse by Zireaux (read Zireaux’s comments on this poem)

The Way Through the Woods
Rudyard Kipling

They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few.)
You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods.
But there is no road through the woods.

New York Times article on Rudyard Kipling

From the New York Times, March 7, 1899

Zireaux’s comments on this poem:
Last year, my kindly non-judgmental reader, we visited the works of Poe, Updike, Shakespeare, Nabokov, Wallace Stevens, St. Vincent Millay, P. Gardenne, Melville, Lee O’Neil, Keats, Keats, Keats, more Keats, Stephen Colbert, Notorious B.I.G., Stevens again, Coleridge, Larkin, Bryan Walpert, Mark Twain, Terina Kingi, The Flight of the Conchords, Elizabeth Bishop, and the magnificent Mary McCallum.

But how could a year go by, so many words, without a single mention of Kipling? In fact, it didn’t. It can’t. I searched this blog for “Rudyard” or “Kipling” and there he is — four different posts — not as sitter, not as subject, but ever lurking over my shoulder, an inescapable shade.

So let us turn around. Look the master in the eye. Kipling was somewhere in his 40s when he composed “The Way through the Woods.” He was living in Sussex, England, his copious literary outburst perhaps more a kind of psychological bleeding, or rather an engrossment, an immersion in childhood fantasies that, despite the fullness of their enchantments, could never quite protect him (how could they?) from the creeping ache of despair caused by the death of his six-year-old daughter, whose ghostly skirt, in “The Way Through the Woods,” we seem to hear “swishing in the dew.”

This was no longer the writer of The Jungle Book or of Kim, possibly the best Indian-English novel ever written, and more deservingly belonging to India — if great books can belong to countries (they can’t) — than the works of just about any contemporary writer of Indian-English fiction. Nor is this the same writer of that most popular poem, “If” (1895), often referred to as “hortatory verse,” and which — as art has no obvious utility other than to capture, as precisely as possible, its creator’s passion — can hardly be called a work of art.

Rather, this is the America-touched, America-inspired and introspecting Kipling. The “Seventy years ago” of the second line sets us near the timeframe of the French Revolution of 1848, the California goldrush, our dear New Zealand’s birth, but most important of all, it takes us directly to Ulalume, the requiem of Edgar Allan Poe, the woodland lament to lost love (and first of my Tuesday Poems). It was in America, in that northeastern dark and dolorous climate of Poe, that Kipling spent his time with his daughter; and in the story which accompanies “A Way Through the Woods,” the Marklate Witches, about a free-spirited young girl insouciantly dying of pneumonia (from which Kipling’s daughter died), the heroine’s name is, in fact, Philadelphia.

What Poe achieves with sound and meter, Kipling delivers with rhythm. In each of the two stanzas, the lilting flourish of the first two quatrains — trimeters rising (Poe-tently) to an internally rhyming tetrameter (rain/again, underneath/heath, cools/pools, beat/feet) — vanishes and flattens in the third quatrain. The song, as does all beauty, as does every love, fades into “misty solitudes.” It’s the out-of-place final line, the thirteenth in the second stanza, that delivers the poem’s haunting antipodal blow. There once was, but there is no more. “There is no road through the woods.”

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“Mrs. Reynold’s Cat” by John Keats

Selected for Immortal Muse by Zireaux (read Zireaux’s comments on this poem)

Mrs Reynold’s Cat, by John Keats

Cat! who hast passed thy grand climacteric,
  How many mice and rats hast in thy days
  Destroyed? How many tit-bits stolen? Gaze
With those bright languid segments green, and prick
Those velvet ears – but prithee do not stick
  Thy latent talons in me, and up-raise
  Thy gentle mew, and tell me all thy frays
Of fish and mice, and rats and tender chick.
Nay, look not down, nor lick thy dainty wrists –
  For all thy wheezy asthma, and for all
Thy tail’s tip is nicked off, and though the fists
  Of many a maid have given thee many a maul,
Still is that fur as soft as when the lists
  In youth thou enteredst on glass-bottled wall.

Zireaux’s comments on this poem:
What other poets have found themselves beguiled or heartbroken by cats (see last Tuesday’s poem, “Elegy to Joy“)? No shortage here. From Sir Walter Scott’s cat, Hinse of Hinsefeldt, to Tennyson’s feline clan of “Sweet-Arts,” to Henry Walpole’s emerald-eyed Selima, who drowned in Thomas Gray’s goldfish bowl (to rise again in Gray’s “Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat”). W.B. Yeats’s black Minnaloushe, Byron’s brave Beppo, Poe‘s Cattarina, Amy Lowell’s Winky, Lear’s Foss, Eliot’s Jellylorum, Bly’s mysterious cat in the kitchen, Edward Hirsh’s Zooey, Marianne Moore’s Peter, Weldon Kees’s (appropriately named) Lonesome — poems from them all; plus Shelley, Dickinson, Swinburne, Swift, Wordsworth, Rosetti, Hughes, Updike and many others, with T.S. Eliot and Shakespeare disqualified: the former for writing what might be called “cattoons,” the latter for breaking the rules of eligibility (Forces of Nature not allowed).

Sir Walter Scott and his cat named Hinse (and the dog that may have killed Hinse

Sir Walter Scott with his cat named Hinse of Hinsefeldt (and the dog that may have killed Hinse), posthumous portrait by Sir John Watson Gordon, circa 1845

The best cat poem goes to Christopher Smart’s “My Cat Jeoffry,” but few readers today can tolerate his long mad litany of ailurophilia; so “Mrs. Reynold’s Cat” achieves selection here, because it’s written by John Keats, and even an average poem by Keats can out-strut just about any field of models, not to mention supermodels like Meowmi Campbell, Tiger Banks, Kit Moss (apologies, a private joke). “Cat!”

The “grand climacteric” refers to the 63rd year of a person’s life, in other words, a kind of meno-paws (too easy, the cat-pun). The final couplet brilliantly brings the fresh young cat over the protecting wall that — paved with glass shards — surrounds Mrs. Reynold’s property, and into the fighting arena (“lists”) of an unprotected world. A perfect example of what I call “poetic depth.” So much portrayed — about the cat, Mrs. Reynolds, the neighborhood — in just a few lines. Live on, dear thing, to prick thy velvet ears and lick thy dainty wrists forever!

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“Ulalume” by Edgar Allan Poe

Selected for Immortal Muse by Zireaux (read Zireaux’s comments on this poem)

The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crisped and sere-
The leaves they were withering and sere;
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year;
It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
In the misty mid region of Weir-
It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

Here once, through an alley Titanic,
Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul-
Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul.
There were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll-
As the lavas that restlessly roll
Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek
In the ultimate climes of the pole-
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek
In the realms of the boreal pole.

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-
(Ah, night of all nights in the year!)
We noted not the dim lake of Auber-
(Though once we had journeyed down here),
Remembered not the dank tarn of Auber,
Nor the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

And now, as the night was senescent,
And star-dials pointed to morn-
As the star-dials hinted of morn-
At the end of our path a liquescent
And nebulous lustre was born,
Out of which a miraculous crescent
Arose with a duplicate horn-
Astarte’s bediamonded crescent
Distinct with its duplicate horn.

And I said- “She is warmer than Dian:
She rolls through an ether of sighs-
She revels in a region of sighs:
She has seen that the tears are not dry on
These cheeks, where the worm never dies,
And has come past the stars of the Lion,
To point us the path to the skies-
To the Lethean peace of the skies-
Come up, in despite of the Lion,
To shine on us with her bright eyes-
Come up through the lair of the Lion,
With love in her luminous eyes.”

But Psyche, uplifting her finger,
Said- “Sadly this star I mistrust-
Her pallor I strangely mistrust:-
Oh, hasten!- oh, let us not linger!
Oh, fly!- let us fly!- for we must.”
In terror she spoke, letting sink her
Wings until they trailed in the dust-
In agony sobbed, letting sink her
Plumes till they trailed in the dust-
Till they sorrowfully trailed in the dust.

I replied- “This is nothing but dreaming:
Let us on by this tremulous light!
Let us bathe in this crystalline light!
Its Sybilic splendor is beaming
With Hope and in Beauty to-night:-
See!- it flickers up the sky through the night!
Ah, we safely may trust to its gleaming,
And be sure it will lead us aright-
We safely may trust to a gleaming
That cannot but guide us aright,
Since it flickers up to Heaven through the night.”

Thus I pacified Psyche and kissed her,
And tempted her out of her gloom-
And conquered her scruples and gloom;
And we passed to the end of the vista,
But were stopped by the door of a tomb-
By the door of a legended tomb;
And I said- “What is written, sweet sister,
On the door of this legended tomb?”
She replied- “Ulalume- Ulalume-
‘Tis the vault of thy lost Ulalume!”

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crisped 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,
Ah, 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,
This ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”

Zireaux’s comments on this poem:
“Ulalume” may puzzle critics and readers — but not musicians, and not the musician’s cousin: the mathematician. Few poems scan more precisely than Poe’s, so let’s get it right. The trimeter stanza lengths vary (9-13 lines), but the intro lines start with amphibrachs; a playful foot employed by Dr. Seuss and children on playgrounds with skipping ropes, but here we have “ashen” and “sober” — and this is what embodies Poe’s greatness: The honeysuckle sadness. The unbearable beauty in despair. The Siren’s song of lost love. Wax our ears? No! Tie us to the mast-pole so we can hear this dulcet and dolorous dirge!

Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon (1830–35) by Caspar David Friedrich

Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon (1830–35) by Caspar David Friedrich

The amphibrach is quickly cut short in the second line; then “withering” seizes us with its long cold fingers, as does “treacherous” and “crystalline” later. Poe switches to the anapest whenever he wishes to set his narrative time and place: in the NIGHT, in the LONEsome OcTOber, in the GHOST haunted WOODland, in the DAYS when, at the END of our PATH. The narrator of Ulalume then starts mixing these two meter forms and (as Poe was likely an alcoholic himself) becomes drunk with his own heady 80-proof rhyme (morn/born/horn, crescent/senescent/liquescent), as his poem ululates out of control and he finds himself “by the door of a tomb.” Ulalume. Ulalume. A sweet and sonorous sound. The maddening allure of sorrow. It can be safely said that no other poem in English captures despair in this way — with such rhythmic musicality, such intoxicating song.


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