1st March 2014: Tryst With Edgar Allan Poe

Today, by chance, I happened to find myself in the college library, with quite a considerable amount of time on my hand. While browsing through the literature section for books to read, I came across a fat volume titled: The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. Now I had of course previously heard of Edgar Allan Poe, vaguely, as a writer of Gothic Romanticism, of macabre tales and dark poems. But this was the first time I had read (apart from a short story I had previously read for class – and which pretty much fell into the established and commonly accepted norm of his stories) any of his works. And was I fascinated!! Here are some of the poems I read and loved by Edgar Allan Poe:

To Octavia

5211782unrequited_love_by_captain_curly_d31j2u1When wit, and wine, and friends have met
And laughter crowns the festive hour
In vain I struggle to forget
Still does my heart confess thy power
And fondly turn to thee!

But Octavia, do not strive to rob
My heart of all that soothes its pain
The mournful hope that every throb
Will make it break for thee!

It took me a minute to understand the last two lines, but when I did I was kept marveling at the sheer beauty of them. The original poem was written to Octavia Walton, daughter of George Walton, Secretary of West Florida under Governor William P. Duval. The poem manages to convey despite its brevity, a deluge of emotions. The narrator says how even in the most lively company of friends, and no matter how entertaining the conversation, his thoughts only turn to her, to Octavia, the girl he loves. He is fighting a losing battle with his heart, as he struggles to forget his Lady Love (who though it is not explicitly stated in the poem, must have turned down his proposal). The only hope the poet has is someday his heart will break, as he will realize that she is unattainable. It is only after this realization – no matter how painful – that he can never have her, strikes him, that he will be able to continue with his life. Because till then, he hopes (though he knows it to be in vain) that she will someday return his love, and that keeps him tied to her and her memories.

Lost and/or unattainable Love is a common theme in many of his poems. Here are two more that struck my fancy. The first one is only of two lines, and yet the couplet is one of my personal favorites.

Deep In Earth

1328790080_Love GraveDeep in earth my love is lying
    And I must weep alone.

Poe wrote this poem, I later learnt, courtesy of Google, in 1847 – the year of his wife’s death. In the poem he talks about the loneliness and grief he feels at her death.

The other poem, is not autobiographical, but the theme it discusses is similar to the previous poem – the loss of a loved one. It is one of the few poems written by Poe in a woman’s voice.

Bridal Ballad

beautiful-chinese-bride-white-wedding-dressThe ring is on my hand,
 And the wreath is on my brow;
Satins and jewels grand
Are all at my command,
 And I am happy now.

And my lord he loves me well;
 But, when first he breathed his vow
I felt my bosom swell—
For the words rang as a knell,
And the voice seemed his who fell
In the battle down the dell,
 And who is happy now.

But he spoke to re-assure me,
 And he kissed my pallid brow
While a reverie came o’er me,
And to the church-yard bore me,
And I sighed to him before me,
Thinking him dead D’Elormie,
 “Oh, I am happy now!”

And thus the words were spoken,
 And this the plighted vow,
And, though my faith be broken,
And, though my heart be broken
Behold the golden token
 That proves me happy now!

Would God I could awaken!
 For I dream I know not now,
And my soul is sorely shaken
Lest an evil step be taken,—
Lest the dead who is forsaken
 May not be happy now.

The poem is narrated by a newly-married bride, whose first love died in a battle. Her husband loves him, but she is unable to forget her earlier lover. He is rich and showers her with jewels and silk garments. And she tries to be happy and grateful for these gifts, explicitly crying out And I am happy now. However the very fact that she has to clarify on this point, repeatedly state it shows that she is not. She is just trying to fool the readers, and herself, into believing that she is happy. She confesses, that the only reason she accepted her husband’s proposal is because his voice reminded her of ‘dead D’Elormie’ her first love. She manages to partly convince herself that D’Elormie is happy now, and at peace; and thus in a stupor she goes through the marriage rituals. But even when she is taking her wedding vows, it is dead D’Elormie whom she imagines to be standing in front of her, and in this way she gets married. After the marriage when she returns to reality her heart is broken. But that is not what bothers her. What bothers her is that she has broken her promise to both men. She broke her promise to D’Elormie to love him forever, and she broke her wedding vows to her husband. But again she points to her golden wedding ring, and declares herself to be evidence of her happiness, since newly-wed brides are happy on their marriage day. The poem ends with a dream (or nightmare) of the bride, which shakes her soul, as she is made to consider the possibility that her dead lover may be unhappy by her betrayal to him, and thus he cannot rest in peace. The guilt and inner turmoil of the bride’s conflicting emotions underline most of the poem.I will conclude this post with a stanza from Poe’s poem ‘Alone’:

Sunset_Alone_by_ibadurrahman1From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were — I have not seen
As others saw — I could not bring
My passions from a common spring —
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow — I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone —
And all I lov’d — I lov’d alone —

The poem simply describes the lonely childhood of the poet, as he was different from all his peers, in his thoughts, feelings and passions. Yet at the same time it celebrates his own individuality and uniqueness. And isn’t that what Life is all about – being one with the crowd, while maintaining our own uniqueness. We are just one strand of colour in the rainbow of society. Not alike to anyone around us, yet made beautiful by their presence.

Images taken from Google

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