The following poems by Edgar Allan Poe are included in Robert Michael Oliver’s performance piece: Embodying Poe: Poetry in Performance. The piece opens at 4:30 pm, at Fort Fringe – The Shop, on Saturday, July 9, 607 New York Avenue, Washington, DC 20001. For tickets and for more dates and other information click here.
The skies they were ashen and sober; The leaves they were crispèd 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. There 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 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 Sybillic 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, And 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?"
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door –
Only this, and nothing more.”
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; – vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow – sorrow for the lost Lenore –
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore –
Nameless here for evermore.
And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me – filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
“‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door –
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; –
This it is, and nothing more.”
Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”- here I opened wide the door; –
Darkness there, and nothing more.
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!” –
Merely this, and nothing more.
Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice:
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore –
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; –
‘Tis the wind and nothing more.”
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door –
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door –
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore –
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning- little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door –
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”
But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered- not a feather then he fluttered –
Till I scarcely more than muttered, “other friends have flown before –
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said, “Nevermore.”
Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore –
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of ‘Never – nevermore’.”
But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore –
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”
This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!
Then methought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee – by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite – respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore:
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil! –
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted –
On this home by horror haunted- tell me truly, I implore –
Is there – is there balm in Gilead? – tell me – tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil – prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us – by that God we both adore –
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore –
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
“Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend,” I shrieked, upstarting –
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!- quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamplight o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!
Eureka: a prose poem is long, but the selections that I’ll be performing are as follows:
Movement A (2:08)
IT is with humility really unassumed—it is with a sentiment even of awe—that I pen the opening sentence of this work: for of all conceivable subjects I approach the reader with the most solemn—the most comprehensive—the most difficult—the most august. What terms shall I find sufficiently simple in their sublimity—sufficiently sublime in their simplicity—for the mere enunciation of my theme?
I design to speak of the Physical, Metaphysical and Mathematical—of the Material and Spiritual Universe: of its Essence, its Origin, its Creation, its Present Condition and its Destiny. I shall be so rash, moreover, as to challenge the conclusions, and thus, in effect, to question the sagacity, of many of the greatest and most justly reverenced of men….
My general proposition, then, is this: In the Original Unity of the First Thing lies the Secondary Cause of All Things, with the Germ of their Inevitable Annihilation….
He who from the top of AEtna casts his eyes leisurely around, is affected chiefly by the extent and diversity of the scene. Only by a rapid whirling on his heel could he hope to comprehend the panorama in the sublimity of its oneness….
(Page 2) …we require something like a mental gyration on the heel. We need so rapid a revolution of all things about the central point of sight that, while the minutiae vanish altogether, even the more conspicuous objects become blended into one. Among the vanishing minutiae, in a survey of this kind, would be all exclusively terrestrial matters. The Earth would be considered in its planetary relations alone. A man, in this view, becomes mankind; mankind a member of the cosmical family of Intelligences.
Movement B (1:58)
(Page 5) Let us begin, then, at once, with that merest of words, “Infinity” … [which] is by no means the expression of an idea—but of an effort at one. It stands for the possible attempt at an impossible conception… [and] is thus the representative but of the thought of a thought….
…. A task may be more or less difficult; but it is either possible or not possible: there are no gradations… A man may jump ten feet with less difficulty than he can jump twenty, but the impossibility of his leaping to the moon is not a whit less than that of his leaping to the dog-star….
(page 8) … only Intuition can aid us…. With this understanding, I now assert—that an intuition altogether irresistible, although inexpressible, forces me to the conclusion that what God originally created—that that Matter which, by dint of his Volition, he first made from his Spirit, or from Nihility, could have been nothing but Matter in its utmost conceivable state of—what?—of Simplicity?
….Let us now endeavor to conceive what Matter must be … in its absolute extreme of Simplicity. Here the Reason flies at once to Imparticularity—to a particle—to one particle—a particle of one kind—of one character—of one nature—of one size—of one form—a particle, therefore, “without form and void”—a particle positively a particle at all points—a particle absolutely unique, individual, undivided, and not indivisible only because He who created it, by dint of his Will, can by an infinitely less energetic exercise of the same Will…. divide it.
Movement C1 (2:02)
(page 12) … pause with me, for a moment, in contemplation of the miraculous … of the altogether unimaginable complexity of relation involved in the fact that each atom attracts every other atom…. in a wilderness of atoms so numerous that those which go to the composition of a cannon-ball, exceed, probably … all the stars which go to the constitution of the Universe.…
(page 26) Let us now, expanding our conceptions, look upon each of these system as in itself an atom …. Regarding all, then, as but colossal atoms…. The smaller systems, in the vicinity of a larger one, would, inevitably, be drawn into still closer vicinity. …. I am but pausing, for a moment, on the awful threshold of the Future… we see them in the incipient stages of their consolidation. Their absolute consolidation is to come.
(page 33) …Moons have been seen revolving about planets; planets about stars; and the poetical instinct of humanity—its instinct of the symmetrical…. a revolution of all the orbs of the Galaxy about some gigantic globe…. Each cluster in the great cluster of clusters… revolving about some yet more magnificent series of agglomerations, gyrating about yet another orb central to them—some orb still more unspeakably sublime—some orb… of infinite sublimity endlessly multiplied by the infinitely sublime.…
Movement C2 (1:35)
(page 35) It is the poetical essence of the Universe—of the Universe which, in the supremeness of its symmetry, is but the most sublime of poems. Now symmetry and consistency are convertible terms: thus Poetry and Truth are one. A thing is consistent in the ratio of its truth—true in the ratio of its consistency. A perfect consistency … can be nothing but an absolute truth.
(page 36) Of the still more awful future a not irrational analogy may help us in the framing of an hypothesis. There must occur, at once, a chaotic or seemingly chaotic precipitation, of the moons upon the planets, of the planets upon the suns, and of the suns upon the nuclei…. the clusters… rushing towards their own general centre—and now, with a thousand-fold electric velocity, commensurate only with their material grandeur and with the spiritual passion of their appetite for oneness, the majestic remnants of the tribe of Stars flash, at length, into a common embrace. The inevitable catastrophe is at hand.
Movement E (2:00)
(page 38) No thinking being lives who, at some luminous point of his life of thought, has not felt himself lost amid the surges of futile efforts at understanding, or believing, that anything exists greater than his own soul. The utter impossibility of any one’s soul feeling itself inferior to another…. nothing is, or can be, superior to any one soul—that each soul is, in part, its own God—its own Creator: in a word, that God—the material and spiritual God—now exists solely in the diffused Matter and Spirit of the Universe; and that the regathering of this diffused Matter and Spirit will be but the re-constitution of the purely Spiritual and Individual God….
…The Universe is but his present expansive existence. He now feels his life through an infinity of imperfect pleasures… which are really but infinite individualizations of Himself…. These creatures are all too, more or less conscious Intelligences; conscious, first, of a proper identity; conscious, secondly and by faint indeterminate glimpses, of an identity with the Divine Being of whom we speak…. Think that the sense of individual identity will be gradually merged in the general consciousness—that Man, for example, ceasing imperceptibly to feel himself Man, will at length attain that awfully triumphant epoch when he shall recognize his existence as that of Jehovah. In the meantime bear in mind that all is Life—Life—Life within Life—the less within the greater, and all within the Spirit Divine.