I was very conflicted about choosing a poem, though. I have a LOT of favourite poems, and favourite poets as well. I almost went with the ultimate poet's poet and a strong influence of mine, Wallace Stevens and his fine and evocative 'Farewell to Florida,' but I thought that as this feature continues we might want to look at our favourites chronologically, to see how we have built up our inner libraries over time, how our tastes have changed, expanded or developed, so I went with my first love, Edgar Allan Poe. (Thank you Susie, for not going with him last week, so I could!)
By Oscar Halling [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I have probably at least twenty favourites by Poe, so this didn't exactly narrow things down as much as I'd hoped. I considered some of his well known pieces first. Here are some adaptations of them on you tube--the Alan Parsons Project with their take on 'The Raven,' and a rather tongue in cheek film clip by Tom Hanks reciting 'To Helen,' but I decided everyone had probably read those a zillion times in school or in the Poe years of adolescence. 'The Conqueror Worm' read here in its full deliciousness to Chopin's Funeral March by Vincent Price, also severely tempted me, but in the end, I went with the poem that is my absolute Poe favourite, though it is extremely long and complex, not just because I love it, but because it really illustrates the genius of Poe.
Like much of his best work, it concerns the death of a beautiful woman, which Poe maintained was the most poetic subject that exists. It is both an erudite and very human piece which deals eloquently with grief, love, hope and fate, and the precarious psychic balance of a mind disturbed by death. It's a true pleasure to read out loud, full of riotous imagery, rich, delicious language, perfect rhyme and meter that rolls off the tongue, and an incredible mastery of form.
It is called 'Ulalume: A Ballad.'
I include both the text, in the public domain, of course, and a recording which I thought might be preferred by those who get into poetry auditorially. There are innumerable versions of this on you tube, among them (Tim Buckley's son) Jeff Buckley's, who does a workmanlike and clear, clean job, or for those who want to sample something more....dramatic, there is Nico's, of Velvet Underground fame, who gives it a bit of stagy Sixties flavor with her totally out there Ancient Egyptian motif, and her exotic accent.
So without further ado, here is the poem [Note that like Emily Dickinson, Poe had no problem with the liberal use of the dash..]:
Ulalume: A Ballad
By Edgar Allan Poe
The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crispéd 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.
These 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)—
We 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 till 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?"
'Tis the vault of thy lost Ulalume!"
Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crispèd 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,
Oh, 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—
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir."
Said we, then—the two, then—"Ah, can it
Have been that the woodlandish ghouls—
The pitiful, the merciful ghouls—
To bar up our way and to ban it
From the secret that lies in these wolds—
From the thing that lies hidden in these wolds—
Had drawn up the spectre of a planet
From the limbo of lunary souls—
This sinfully scintillant planet
From the Hell of the planetary souls?"
And the reading:
Thanks all, for indulging me by reading this long beauty. I hope you will come to enjoy it as much as I do. I'm curious to hear everyone's favorite passage--mine is the lovely bit about the senescent night, and the cheeks where the worm never dies, but really I love it all.