The Complete Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

I’ve recently reviewed the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Now I’m going to take a look at his poetry. Poe has a reputation for writing horror stories, but he also wrote stories of adventure, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, and humor. Likewise, not all of his poems are dark and melancholy. He also wrote love poems and poems with a joyful tone. He even wrote a Hymn to Mary, Mother of God. Due to their sing-song rhythm and oft-repeated lines, many of his poems feel like songs. Love, death, and dreams seem to be his favorite topics. Some of his poems rhyme, some don’t.

My favorite poems of his are “The Raven”, “A Dream Within a Dream”, “The Conqueror Worm”, and “Dream-Land”. Honorable mentions go to “Bridal Ballad”, “Lenore”, “Silence”, and “Romance”.

His most famous poem, “The Raven”, is a masterpiece of rhyme, rhythm, and alliteration. I loved the line, “Take thy beak from out my heart.” Although, I was thrown off a couple times. To my ear, “evil” and “devil” don’t rhyme and neither do “undaunted” and “enchanted”. Many lines are repeated, but the repetition is musical rather than annoying.

“A Dream Within a Dream” was set to music by one of my favorite bands, Elysian Fields. I admit, I may like this poem more because I hear the music in my head when I read it. I’m not sure exactly what it’s about. He asks if life is just a dream and tells us hope has flown away. He weeps as sand flows between his fingers and he’s not able to hold on to it despite his best efforts. This imagery is reminiscent of the “sand through the hourglass” metaphor for time. I like that it’s a bit mysterious. Maybe it’s just about a dream he had.

“The Conqueror Worm” was included in Poe’s short story “Ligeia”. Angels gather in a theater to watch a play. There is a Phantom chased by a crowd that cannot catch it. A worm appears and eats the actors. The play is a tragedy called “Man” and the hero is the Conqueror Worm. This is one of his many poems about death, but it stands out from the rest due to its vivid imagery.

“Dream-Land” was certainly an inspiration for H.P. Lovecraft. It’s filled with surreal, dream-like imagery such as skies of fire. Notably, color doesn’t appear in the poem, only shades of black and white. Poe must have believed the myth that people don’t dream in color. He describes a world without limits: bottomless valleys, seas without a shore, and so forth. In Dream-Land, we meet ill angels, ghouls, and the dead. However, it’s also a peaceful region. It can be either a dream or a nightmare and contains mysteries unknown to the waking world.

“Bridal Ballad” may be his only poem written from a woman’s point of view. A bride wonders if it’s wrong for her to marry another man after the death of her first love. Wonderful poetry.

The main character of “Lenore” is Guy De Vere who is mourning the death of his fiancĂ© Lenore. Since the narrator of The Raven is also mourning the loss of a woman named Lenore, one wonders if these two poems are connected. Lenore dies young and Guy accuses those at her funeral for only loving her for her wealth and for killing her with their slander. They apologize, but say the funeral should go on. Guy isn’t in the mood for a dirge. He’s going to sing a song of praise (a paean) instead. (Poe also wrote a poem titled “A Paean” which seems like an earlier version of this poem as it has the same basic plot.)

“Silence” is a mysterious sonnet, having fifteen lines rather than the usual fourteen. He speaks of duality such as the body and soul being like the shore and sea. It’s a confusing poem as evidenced by the fact different analysis I found online disagree regarding what it’s about. It may have something to do with Poe’s short story also titled “Silence”. To me, it seems to say when someone dies, we should not fear the corpse, but we should fear the ghost.

“Romance” is a fun, silly poem filled with non-sequiturs. Romance loves to sing with leaves down in a lake while drowsy. A parrot taught the narrator the alphabet. Condor years shake Heaven as they thunder by, while an hour with calmer wings spends time in song. It’s random in a fun way, like a song by Beck.

“Fairy-Land” is another fun, surrealist poem more concerned with rhyming than making sense. It seems to be throwing out words that rhyme with each other randomly. Huge moons, forever changing places, put out starlight with breath from their faces. One of the moons descends and buries everything in light. The people wake in the morning and don’t use the moon as a tent anymore. They tear it apart and butterflies bring pieces of it down.

“The Bells” has lots of rhyme, but also lots of repetition. (The word “bells” is simply repeated seven times in a row near the end of each stanza.) The poem begins with joyful descriptions of sleigh bells and wedding bells. It then moves on to the horror and despair of fire alarm bells (although still using the same upbeat rhythm) and finishes with church bells that make us “shiver with affright” as they announce a person’s death.

In a surprising twist, he accuses the people who ring the bells of being ghouls for taking too much joy in ringing them:
“And the people-ah, the people-
They that dwell up in the steeple,
All alone,
And who, tolling, tolling, tolling,
In that muffled monotone,
Feel a glory in so rolling
On the human heart a stone-
They are neither man nor woman-
They are neither brute nor human-
They are Ghouls.”

Instead of rhyme, “Ulalume” often just repeats the same word. In some cases, nearly the entire line is repeated, making it too repetitious for my tastes. The repetition gives it a slow, sober pace, unlike “The Bells” which was fast-paced due to its repetition. He uses obscure words like “scoriac”, but since the next line repeats the same thought in slightly different words, you can guess what it means:
“There were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll-
As the lavas that restlessly roll”

It’s a bit confusing that the first stanza mentions a dim lake and woodland, but the second stanza speaks of an alley. Does this take place in the woods or a city? Narrator is roaming with Psyche, which makes me wonder if he’s meant to be Cupid, although Psyche also means soul. We’re told Psyche has wings, and later Narrator calls her sister.

He rhymes “Dian” with “dry on” which is awkward, and ending a line with a preposition is already awkward enough. The planet Venus is first described as a crescent, making us think it’s the moon, then later it’s called a star, before he finally reveals what he’s really talking about. It seems like he’s being confusing on purpose. Narrator thinks the planet Venus rising in the sky is a good sign, but Psyche is terrified and wants to run for some reason. They continue on and find a tomb. It’s the tomb of Ulalume who Narrator lost this very night a year ago.

“To Helen” is a bit surreal. Narrator sees Helen in a garden. A thousand roses die in ecstasy because of her presence. Everything disappears except her eyes which stay with Narrator the rest of his years. I like the description of the garden “Where no wind dared to stir, unless on tiptoe” and the description of her eyes: “Venuses unextinguished by the sun.”

“A Valentine” and “An Enigma” are acrostics which both hide a name in the poem. To uncover the name, take the first letter of the first line, the second letter of the second line, the third letter of the third line, and so forth. This is pretty neat, but that’s all there is to it. These poems just tell us a name is hidden in them and how tricky it will be to figure it out.

I didn’t enjoy his love poems as much as I liked his melancholy or surreal poems. Interestingly, the sonnet “To F——” and the poem “To Frances S. Osgood” were originally addressed to a different woman.

Narrator loves the titular “Annabel Lee”, but she dies of a chill. I felt the poem was too sing-songy for such a melancholy subject. Each stanza rhymes the same three words, which makes it repetitive. “To One in Paradise” and “To Zante” are a couple other poems about the woman Narrator loved dying. Certainly a theme for him.

“To My Mother” is a sonnet written to Poe’s mother-in-law/aunt who he called mother because he loved her so much. He loved her more than his biological mother because she was the mother to his dear wife.

People think the narrator of “For Annie” is dead because his moans and groans have ceased, but he’d not dead. Instead, the love of Annie has made him content.

“To M.L.S.” seems like a poem of worship. He speaks of his love as the sacred sun in high heaven. People bless her for hope, life, and faith. MLS apparently brings people back from the brink of death by saying “Let there be light.” Narrator claims to be the most fervently devoted of those who worship this angel. The entire poem is a single run-on sentence.

The narrator of “To ——” once claimed anything someone thought could be spoken, but he can’t speak his beloved’s name. He can’t even write or think or feel. She’s so amazing she completely stupefies him.

He compares the beauty of a women to a ship in “To Helen”. He compares the beauty of a woman to a river in “To the River ——” in which the river is especially beautiful when it’s reflecting his love’s image. He thinks a bride looks especially beautiful when she’s blushing in “Song”.

“Eldorado” is about a knight who searches for Eldorado. A shadow tells him where to go, then the poem ends. It seems unfinished. “The Coliseum” and “The Haunted Palace” are about once grand buildings that now lie in ruins.

“The City in the Sea” describes a city of Death populated with both the good and the bad. The city seems timeless and unchanging, but there’s a stir as Hell is coming. Seems kind of unfair that Hell is coming for both the good and the bad.

“The Valley of Unrest” was once peaceful when the people left to fight in wars, but now it’s restless. Trees and clouds move and the flowers weep.

“Spirits of the Dead” is confusing. He doesn’t seem to know what he wants to say. The solitude of the grave isn’t lonely because the spirits of the dead you knew when alive will return. Stars give hope to mortals, but are a fever to the dead. When you’re dead, you can no longer forget anything. Mist hanging on trees is a mystery.

“The Sleeper” starts with a description of a foggy night. The second stanza changes tone as the narrator chastises a woman named Irene for leaving her window open while she sleeps. He then finishes by wishing she never wakes up. Seems extreme to wish death upon someone for leaving a window open.

His “Sonnet – To Science” complains that science ruins mythology. Thanks to science, there are no more naiads in the water, and so forth.

“Al Aaraaf” is Poe’s longest poem, inspired by a supernova which was visible for months and by a place in the Koran that exists between Heaven and Hell. God commands the angel Nesace to deliver a message and she recruits Ligeia. Two souls, however, fail to respond: the “maiden-angel” Ianthe and her “seraph-lover” Angelo. It’s full of obscure references, making it confusing and largely unreadable. “Tamerlane” is another long poem about a medieval conqueror who regrets that he chose power over love.

“Hymn to Aristogeiton and Harmodius” praises a couple guys who killed a tyrant. “Israfel” is an angel and the best bard. All listen when he plays his lyre.

As a child, the narrator of “The Lake —– To ——-” loved a lake. It got scary at night, but in a good way. The narrator of “Evening Star” admires the fire of the evening star more than the cold moon.

The narrator of “The Happiest Day” tells us the happiest moment, when hope for pride and power were at their highest, it was followed by disappointment.

“Dreams” tells us even sorrowful dreams are better than harsh reality. While “A Dream” tells us nightmares are bad, but good dreams make you sad when you awake. Every day is a dream to those who live in the past.

Although I didn’t like most of his poems, the ones I did like are so amazing they more than make up for the lesser poems.

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