Thursday, October 1, 2015

October Begins With Poe

Edgar Allan Poe, by Aubrey Beardsley

 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?"
      She replied—"Ulalume—Ulalume—
      '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?" 
Because, it is the first day of October, and October needs to start with Poe. 
Image: Art by Gustave Doré (French, 1832–1883). Illustration for "Donkey-Skin [Peau d’Âne]", a fairytale by Charles Perrault that appeared in his "Histoires ou contes du temps passé," 1697.


  1. The first poetry book I ever had was Poe. It was actually all his works, and I still have the book. The second was Morrison, ironically. He establishes such a haunting rhythm in his end rhymes. When I read him I can really hear him speaking. Delicious start to the month Joy.

  2. Hey Joy--this has an incredibly authentic feel- - what with all its Seres and wolds--that repeated line is especially effective for the mood and the 19th century feel. I especially love the fact that the character does not know where and when she is until it is too late! But the psyche and Poe are both like that. Thanks. K.

    1. Hey joy, just circling back to say that Auber felt like dawn to me, and Weir like were (the past) and that is all kind of cool. k.

    2. There is a lot of associative language in this, k, I agree. It all adds layers and layers of darkness and mood, I think. Poe works within the conventions of his time's poetic, yet he always breaks them in little subtle ways, too. He is to me one of the first really modern poets.

  3. You obviously know your October... Thank you for the Poe. ♥

  4. You make me want to write goth poetry.. strangely enough I was sitting listening to the last album by Nightwish, and it was an exceptional illustration to the words of Poe.. and October. I imagine that so many have read Poe's poetry in school.. but being brought up in Sweden, there where just very little poetry in English taught at school, so this was a real treasure (and so much better than the Raven)

    1. Nightwish and Poe go together like mornings and coffee. I agree that this is in so many ways a more personal and real poem than the over-exposed Raven. Glad you liked.

  5. Amen, Sister of the Adjacent Coven ... I don't read Poe often and was really plussed then jacked by his flagrant use of repeated words to achieve rhyme; each couplet splitting between them, the sense of one use (perhaps our days side one) and the other (dream, sidhe, myth, death, etc. etc ad inferno) use, as if this world and that were along a sonorous. devil veil ... but we knew that. The effect rolls the dices for a toss and serves as proper invitation to the dance macabre so ... boogie town in October's charnel house! Flame on!

    1. So mote it be. ;_) (To borrow a phrase.) Will do my possible to brew up the most harrowed and hallowed of Octobers I can.

    2. btw, he has really tweaked the ballad form here(normally ballads are of course written in quatrains and iambic pentameter, not ten line stanzas with three beats per line)--also he goes crazy with slant rhyme, internal rhyme, macabre imagery spicing the classical, and that repetition that he loved to toll like death knells in everything--imo he was a modernist working in a pre-modern strata of Romanticism. ;_)

  6. as the sun wheels into the darkened quarter, it's as though the long-cast shadows offer up to you a deeper vein from which to mine. do you channel M. Poe, perchance? perhaps so, perhaps so... ~

  7. Poe & October....what more perfect match could there be? Oh yes; Poe, October, and Verse Escape!


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats

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