Posts filed under ‘Edgar Allan Poe’

Israfel

Edgar Allan Poe

Listen

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 enamored 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 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.

No, it's not that I'm that crazy about Poe. It's just that the 'To One in Paradise' post made me think of this relatively obscure little poem that I'd read about the same time as I read "To One in Paradise' and so I thought I'd just go ahead and post it.

I'm strangely fond of Israfel. Not that I'm making any extravagant claims for it – I see its many shortcomings (in particular, that second stanza always makes me wince) but I like the rhythm of it, the almost rap like beat (which is strange, seeing as I don't really like rap that much). And I love the little sting in the tail that Poe puts in. All that long, yawning praise, and then somewhere around the middle things start to sour and before you know it the poem has broken out in explicit rebellion. It's not the person, it's the context, Poe cries, anticipating decades of behavioural research to follow a century later. But what an unexpected, almost startling ending to a poem that started off seeming so unpromising.


		
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April 6, 2006 at 9:47 pm Leave a comment

To One in Paradise

Edgar Allan Poe

Listen

Thou wast all that to me, love,
For which my soul did pine:
A green isle in the sea, love,
A fountain and a shrine
All wreathed with fairy fruits and flowers,
And all the flowers were mine.

Ah, dream too bright to last!
Ah, starry Hope, that didst arise
But to be overcast!
A voice from out the Future cries,
"On! on!"—but o'er the Past
(Dim gulf!) my spirit hovering lies
Mute, motionless, aghast.

For, alas! alas! with me
The light of Life is o'er!
No more—no more—no more—
(Such language holds the solemn sea
To the sands upon the shore)
Shall bloom the thunder-blasted tree,
Or the stricken eagle soar.

And all my days are trances,
And all my nightly dreams
Are where thy gray eye glances,
And where thy footstep gleams—
In what ethereal dances,
By what eternal streams.

What better antidote to all that Larkin and Stevens than this sort of overblown romanticism?

At one level, this is an almost grotesquely over the top poem – to the point where it's hard to read the 'fairy fruits and flowers' line without wincing a little. What rescues it, I think, is the rhythm of it, the verbal music, the way the sound ebbs and flows, falls and rises. Those two central stanzas are pregnant with a sense of struggle, products of a mind torn and tortured into repetition and digression. So that the easy flow of the last stanza feels more authentically like peace, like consolation, like transcendence.

2 notes on the text:

1. If you listened carefully to my fairly awkward rendition of the poem, you would have noticed that it doesn't quite match the text. That's because when I recorded the poem it was from memory, and I only accessed the text later. And because I'm too lazy to go back and re-record.

2. In searching for a version of this text online (the one here comes from Bartleby) I came upon this alternate version of the poem which contrasts with both my memory and the Bartleby version and anyway doesn't scan as well.

Finally, fun fact: There's an episode of the original 1966 Batman Series where Batman quotes the last stanza of this poem to Catwoman (scroll down to the bottom of the page for the allusions section). Holy Poetry Batman!

March 20, 2006 at 8:05 pm 1 comment


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