Tag Archives: dark poetry

“Spirits of the Dead” by Edgar Allan Poe

Source:Wikipedia

Source:Wikipedia

This is a poem that Poe wrote in his youth. Although he was young when he wrote it (the poem was composed in 1827, which means he would have been 18 at the time), it still demonstrates his maturity as a poet.

Thy soul shall find itself alone
‘Mid dark thoughts of the grey tombstone;
Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy.

Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness- for then
The spirits of the dead, who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee, and their will
Shall overshadow thee; be still.

The night, though clear, shall frown,
And the stars shall not look down
From their high thrones in the Heaven
With light like hope to mortals given,
But their red orbs, without beam,
To thy weariness shall seem
As a burning and a fever
Which would cling to thee for ever.

Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish,
Now are visions ne’er to vanish;
From thy spirit shall they pass
No more, like dew-drop from the grass.

The breeze, the breath of God, is still,
And the mist upon the hill
Shadowy, shadowy, yet unbroken,
Is a symbol and a token.
How it hangs upon the trees,
A mystery of mysteries!

Immediately, in the first stanza, we find ourselves alone in a cemetery. I see two interpretations for the soul mentioned here. Obviously, it could be taken literally as the spirit of one recently deceased, in that transitional period between worlds, awaiting the moment when the soul will pierce the veil and enter the next realm. But the phrase “dark thoughts” also implies that the soul is symbolic of a person’s psyche, one who is obsessed with his own mortality or the death of someone close.

In the second stanza, we see the spirits of the dead joining the lonely soul. This also has two interpretations, each associated with how you choose to interpret the soul. When taken literally, the soul of the newly departed is greeted by the spirits of those who have previously died. It appears that the spirits will serve as guides, ushering the soul to the next dimension. The second possibility, of the soul as psyche, implies that in his quiet hour, his mind is filled with memories of friends and family who have died and that those memories will overshadow his sanity.

The third stanza I find very interesting. Hope is described as something terrible, the cause of an eternal “burning and a fever.” Hope is one of those double-edged swords. While a life filled with hopelessness is certainly not desirable, we must concede that hope is also the reason people cling to their sorrows, in the hope that they may see their loved ones again in the afterlife. Hope also makes people sacrifice their happiness in this life, all because of the hope that there may be some reward in the next life. But of course, none of this is guaranteed.

In the fourth stanza, we see thoughts and visions that will never leave. For the literal soul of the departed, it has become pure consciousness. Nothing remains but thoughts and visions of the past life. For the soul as psyche, it is the mind giving way to madness and despair, unable to free itself from painful memories.

In the final stanza, the mist is presented as a symbol for the veil between life and death, that which separates us from the ultimate mystery. But the mist is also a symbol for the veil between the two realms of consciousness: waking consciousness and the subconscious. In the shadowy realm of the subconscious lie our hidden memories, which bubble to the surface as symbols in our dreams and fantasies. As hard as we try to explore our subconscious minds, we can never know all that exists in that part of the psyche.

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“Beacons” by Charles Baudelaire

Francisco Goya

Francisco Goya

This is a great poem that pays homage to the painters who inspired Baudelaire. It’s fairly long, so I am going to include a link to the poem rather than include it in this post.

http://fleursdumal.org/poem/105

Each of the first eight stanzas is dedicated to an artist and describes their artistic styles and works. The eight artists are Rubens, da Vinci, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Puget, Watteau, Goya, and Delacroix. All of these artists are described as drawing inspiration from darker sources, or “Deducing beauty from crime, vice and terror.” Just as Baudelaire was able to use the sick, evil, and decayed as fertilizer to grow his Flowers of Evil, so these artists managed to take the grotesque and perverse and create stunning works of beauty.

After acknowledging these artists, Baudelaire addresses the divine, and in a way, offers thanks for the pain, suffering, insanity, and decadence that sparked the artistic flame, igniting the beacons to shine through the darkness which is the human condition.

These curses, blasphemies, and lamentations,
These ecstasies, tears, cries and soaring psalms —
Through endless mazes, their reverberations
Bring, to our mortal hearts, divinest balms.

A thousand sentinels repeat the cry.
A thousand trumpets echo. Beacon-tossed
A thousand summits flare it through the sky,
A call of hunters in the jungle lost.

And certainly this is the most sublime
Proof of our worth and value, Oh Divinity,
That this great sob rolls on through ageless time
To die upon the shores of your infinity.

In these final stanzas, the hunter is a symbol for the artist, who is pursuing the muse. The jumgle is like the wilderness. It represents the darker and primal aspect of the artist’s subconscious mind. It is here where one must venture in order to find the most powerful sources of creative inspiration. The artist must then share the vision, acting as a beacon and a source of inspiration to other artists and humanity as a whole.

Baudelaire’s work never ceases to amaze and inspire me. He is truly one of the most original and stirring poets that I have encountered. I hope you enjoyed the post. Have an inspired day!

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“The Blessing” by Charles Baudelaire

Baudelaire

Whenever I read Baudelaire, I’m reminded about why I am so fascinated by his poetry. His poems are dark and light, beautiful and hideous, spiritual and earthly, all at the same time.

This morning I read “The Blessing,” which is the opening poem in Bile and the Ideal. It’s a fairly long poem so I am only including sections of it in this post. There are several good translations available online. The translation I read is by David Paul and is included in the print version of The Flowers of Evil edited by Marthiel and Jackson Mathews.

The poem opens with the poet’s birth into a world of ennui. He is immediately rejected and cursed by his mother, who directs her anger at God for bringing this child into the world. She sees his birth as punishment for giving in to her sexual desires.

When, by decree of the sovereign power,
The poet makes his appearance in a bored world,
With fists clenched at the horror, his outraged mother
Call on a pitying God, at whom these curses are hurled:

“Why was I not made to litter a brood of vipers
Rather than conceive this human mockery?
My curses on that night whose ephemeral pleasures
Filled my womb with this avenging treachery!

She resolves herself to taking out her anger on the child poet, punishing him for what she sees as a curse from God.

I will torture this stunted growth until its bent
Branches let fall every blighted bud to the ground!

What is most interesting about this image is that the blighted buds may fall to the ground, but it is implied that from them new growth will spring, and this new growth is Baudelaire’s poetry. His poems are the beautiful which rise from the sick and the suffering.

As the poet grows, he finds himself the focus of people’s disdain. He sees beauty in the sickness of the world around him, and as a result, those with whom he associates try to poison his mind and drag him down to the place of despair where they are trapped.

They mix ashes or unspeakable filth with the bread
And the wine of his daily communion, drop
Whatever he may have touched with affected dread,
And studiously avoid wherever he may step.

The poet then discovers his muse, which is essentially his soul, his subconscious, and his anima. He refers to her as his mistress, implying that there is a sexual passion associated with the act of creating art. But as is the case with most artists and poets, the real demons and the torture are all internal. For Baudelaire, he is tortured by his inner self. Like a harpy, his mistress threatens to rend his heart and rip out whatever joy remains.

And when I am sick to death of trying not to laugh
At the farce of my black masses, I try the force
Of the hand he calls ‘frail,’ my nails will dig a path
Like harpies’, to the heart that beats for me, of course!

Like a nestling trembling and palpitating
I will pull that red heart out of his breast
And throw it down for my favourite dog’s eating
–Let him do whatever he likes with the rest!

The poet, realizing that his soul is as corrupt as the world around him, turns his gaze from within and looks to Heaven for inspiration. He envisions a realm of intense beauty and ecstasy, which he can only reach through his poetic genius. He sees that only through art can one express and grasp the true beauty and essence of life and of the Divine.

A serene piety, lifting the poet’s gaze,
Reveals heaven opening on a shining throne,
And the lower vision of the world’s ravening rage
Is shut off by the sheet lightnings of his brain.

“Be blessed, oh my God, who givest suffering
As the only divine remedy for our folly,
As the highest and purest essence preparing
The strong in spirit for ecstasies most holy.

I know that among the uplifted legions
Of saints, a place awaits the Poet’s arrival,
And that among the Powers, Virtues, Dominations
He too is summoned to Heaven’s festival.

I know that sorrow is the one human strength
On which neither earth nor hell can impose,
And that all the universe and all time’s length
Must be wound into the mystic crown for my brows.

While I concede that suffering is not the only source of artistic inspiration, it is certainly a powerful one. For me, poetry is one of the best ways to convey deep emotions that are difficult to express through other means. Baudelaire explored his emotions, which were associated with sickness, decay, and suffering, and used those feelings as inspiration to create something beautiful and inspiring. This poem gives us insight into his creative process, which provided us with a wealth of amazing poetry.

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“The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe: A Hidden Anagram?

RavenLast night I volunteered to work at the Scholastic Book Fair at my daughter’s school. While I was there, I had a discussion with Laura, the school librarian, about why it’s important to re-read books and poems that you have not read in a while, how your perspective changes and you notice nuances that you missed previously. After that discussion, I knew it was high time for me to read “The Raven” again, even though I had read it so many times before. It was no surprise that I discovered things about the poem I had never noticed before.

This is the quintessential work by Poe. Whenever someone mentions Edgar Allan Poe, the image that usually is conjured is that of the raven. In fact, I would argue that “The Raven” is probably the most recognizable American poem ever written.

The first thing that struck me on this reading is the fact that the protagonist suffers from insomnia. He is up at midnight, deep in thought, and he does not mention that he almost falls asleep. He clearly says that he nearly napped, implying that he no longer sleeps at night, but only catches brief moments of napping during his long nights of obsession.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

The long, sleepless nights and the obsessive thoughts begin to take their toll on the person’s mind. Fantasy and imagination begin to flood the psyche and affect his sense of reality. At first, it is exciting. One almost gets a sense of an adrenaline rush as the speaker succumbs to his imagination.

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—

He then becomes trapped within his own mind. In the fifth stanza, he describes staring into the darkness. This darkness represents the shadow part of his consciousness, where his dark thoughts lie hidden from himself.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared dream before;

By this point in the poem, Poe has already begun using alliteration in conjunction with his rhyming, which works very well. But as the poem begins to climax near the end, the alliteration becomes more pronounced, adding to the frenzy that the protagonist is experiencing as he loses himself in the fear and obsession which he creates within his own mind.

“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.”

So this seems like the appropriate place to unveil what I think is the coolest discovery I made regarding this poem. As I was looking at images of covers and trying to pick one for the post, something about the word “Raven” was gnawing at me, and I kept looking at the word, trying to figure out what it was. Then it struck me—Raven spelled backwards (nevar) is phonetic for “never.” It is not a perfect anagram, but I would consider it a phonetic anagram. I have no idea whether this was intentional on the part of Poe, but it does seem more than a coincidence to me. It is like the Raven is the physical manifestation of the word Never. I feel like I have stumbled upon an aspect of this poem that has gone unnoticed. I for one have never heard a mention of this before, even when we studied this poem in my American Literature class in college.

I admit feeling ambivalent about covering this poem on my blog, since I feel it has been analyzed to death, but I am glad that I did. I feel like my understanding of this poem has reached a new level. So to conclude, I will once again quote the Raven, “Nevarmore.”

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“The Haunted Palace” by Edgar Allan Poe

EdgarAllanPoeI had never read this poem before, but the title seemed like it would be appropriate for one of my October posts. I found it to be excellent. The poem is not very long, but too long to include in this post, so if needed, click here to read it online before continuing.

I interpret the haunted palace as a metaphor for the mind of a depressed individual slipping into insanity. In the first stanza, Poe makes the connection between the palace and the mind of a person when he refers to the palace as “Thought’s dominion.”

Once a fair and stately palace—
Radiant palace—reader its head.
In the monarch Thought’s dominion—
It stood there!

A series of events occur which cause intense sorrow. One can only assume that they are connected to the death of a loved one. These sorrows take their toll on the individual’s psyche, resulting in overwhelming despair.

But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch’s high estate.

Poe uses the symbol of windows to represent the eyes of the individual. He also ties in the idea of the eyes as windows to the psyche, whereby looking into the eyes of the person, you can see into their being. Poe contrasts the way the eyes appear. The first reference to the “windows” is before the plunge into depression.

Wanderers in that happy valley,
Through two luminous windows, saw
Spirits moving musically,
To a lute’s well-tuned law,

In the next reference, after the person has sunk into despair, the eyes become bloodshot and reflect the painful memories that crowd the brain.

And travellers now, within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms, that move fantastically
To a discordant melody,

The last four lines of the poem are what lead me to believe that the person is moving from depression to insanity. It is the laughter, described as hideous and void of mirth, that conjures an image of a madman laughing as the last remnants of sanity are washed away.

While, like a ghastly rapid river,
Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever
And laugh—but smile no more.

I find the idea of slipping into insanity to be incredibly scary. It can happen to anyone. The mind is fragile and a series of events beyond one’s control can send even the soundest of minds spiraling into the abyss. The fact that this can happen to anyone is what makes it a truly terrifying work of horror.

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“To The Reader” by Charles Baudelaire

BaudelaireWhen I first discovered Baudelaire, he immediately became my favorite poet. He was about as twisted and disturbing as they come. So this morning, as I tried to clear my brain of the media onslaught regarding Miley Cyrus, I thought of Baudelaire’s great poem that addresses ennui, or boredom, which he sees as the most insidious root of human evil.

It had been a while since I read this poem and as I opened my copy of The Flowers of Evil I remembered that the text has two translations of the poem, both good but different. I read them both and decided to focus this post on Robert Lowell’s translation, mainly because I find it a more visceral rendering of the poem, using words that I suspect more accurately reflect what Baudelaire was conveying. I’m including Lowell’s translation here so that we all are thinking about the same version.

Infatuation, sadism, lust, avarice
possess our souls and drain the body’s force;
we spoonfeed our adorable remorse,
like whores or beggars nourishing their lice.

Our sins are mulish, our confessions lies;
we play to the grandstand with our promises,
we pray for tears to wash our filthiness;
importantly pissing hogwash through our sties.

The devil, watching by our sickbeds, hissed
old smut and folk-songs to our soul, until
the soft and precious metal of our will
boiled off in vapor for this scientist.

Each day his flattery makes us eat a toad,
and each step forward is a step to hell,
unmoved, through previous corpses and their smell
asphyxiate our progress on this road.

Like the poor lush who cannot satisfy,
we try to force our sex with counterfeits,
die drooling on the deliquescent tits,
mouthing the rotten orange we suck dry.

Gangs of demons are boozing in our brain —
ranked, swarming, like a million warrior-ants,
they drown and choke the cistern of our wants;
each time we breathe, we tear our lungs with pain.

If poison, arson, sex, narcotics, knives
have not yet ruined us and stitched their quick,
loud patterns on the canvas of our lives,
it is because our souls are still too sick.

Among the vermin, jackals, panthers, lice,
gorillas and tarantulas that suck
and snatch and scratch and defecate and fuck
in the disorderly circus of our vice,

there’s one more ugly and abortive birth.
It makes no gestures, never beats its breast,
yet it would murder for a moment’s rest,
and willingly annihilate the earth.

It’s BOREDOM. Tears have glued its eyes together.
You know it well, my Reader. This obscene
beast chain-smokes yawning for the guillotine —
you — hypocrite Reader — my double — my brother!

Ennui is the word which Lowell translates as BOREDOM. Baudelaire sees ennui as the root of all decadence and decay, and the structure of the poem reflects this idea. Consider the title of the book: The Flowers of Evil. The visible blossoms are what break through the surface, but they stem from an evil root, which is boredom. The poem’s structure symbolizes this, with the beginning stanzas being the flower, the various forms of decadence being the petals. The middle stanzas are the stem, which feed and nourish our sickness. Finally, the closing stanzas are the root, the hidden part of ourselves from which all our vices originate.

I find the closing line to be the most interesting. Baudelaire essentially points his finger at us, his readers, in a very accusatory manner. He accuses us of being hypocrites, and I suspect this is because erudite readers would probably consider themselves above this vice and decadence. But the truth is, many of us have turned to literature and drowned ourselves in books as a way to quench the boredom that wells within us, and while it is still a better way to deal with our ennui than drugs or sadism, it is still an escape. We all have the same evil root within us. We’re all Baudelaire’s doubles, eagerly seeking distractions from the boredom which threatens to devour our souls.

We’ve all heard the phrase: money is the root of all evil. I disagree, and I think Baudelaire would concur. Money just allows one to explore more elaborate forms of vice and sin as a way of dealing with boredom. You provide a bored person with unlimited funds and it is just a matter of time before that person discovers some creatively exquisite forms of decadence.

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“Silence” by Edgar Allan Poe

EdgarAllanPoeI opened my Complete Tales & Poems of Edgar Allan Poe today and looked for a short poem to read, particularly one I had not read before. I came upon the following sonnet.

There are some qualities–some incorporate things,
That have a double life, which thus is made
A type of that twin entity which springs
From matter and light, evinced in solid and shade.
There is a two-fold Silence–sea and shore–
Body and soul. One dwells in lonely places,
Newly with grass o’ergrown; some solemn graces,
Some human memories and tearful lore,
Render him terrorless: his name’s “No More.”
He is the corporate Silence: dread him not!
No power hath he of evil in himself;
But should some urgent fate (untimely lot!)
Bring thee to meet his shadow (nameless elf,
That haunteth the lone regions where hath trod
No foot of man) commend thyself to God!

The poem addresses the duality of humans: the physical and the spiritual aspects of a person. These are encompassed in the metaphors of matter and light, solid and shade, sea and shore. I also interpret the duality as the two states of consciousness: our normal state and that of the subconscious.

Silence comes into play because the two aspects of consciousness, or the two aspects of being, cannot be experienced at the same time. One must be silenced in order to perceive the other. For example, if you wanted to access your subconscious mind, you would have to silence your conscious mind through meditation or such. Additionally, if you wanted to become fully aware of your soul, your body must be silenced; in other words, you would have to die.

Poe expresses that death is not to be feared. The silence of one’s life opens that person to the infinite regions of the soul and allows that person to meet God.

Overall, I really liked this poem. It’s well-written and I like the subject matter. I think I will spend some time this weekend silencing my mind and getting in touch with the hidden part of my psyche.

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Ourosboros Symbol in “The Conqueror Worm” by Edgar Allan Poe

OurosborosThis is a poem that fascinated me when I was young. I read it many times in my early teenage years. There is a strange blending of the macabre and refinement that gives this poem a truly unique feel.

The structure of the poem is quatrain that employs the ballad stanza form: A-B-A-B rhyme scheme with iambic tetrameter. I think it is this structure, combined with the imagery of a theater, that creates the sense of refinement for me.

The poem is a dark allegory of human life. Basically, Poe sees our existence as a tragic play acted out for the amusement of divine beings who refuse to intervene in our suffering. The Conqueror Worm, on a basic level, represents death, which is the finale of all our individual scenes upon the great stage of life. The Worm always triumphs in the end, feasting upon the remains of our mortal flesh.

When I read the poem this morning, though, the third stanza stood out for me and I discovered symbolism I had never noticed before.

That motley drama—oh, be sure   
   It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased for evermore   
   By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth in   
   To the self-same spot,
And much of Madness, and more of Sin,   
   And Horror the soul of the plot.

Structurally, this marks the very center of the poem, being the third of five stanzas, which made me think that this symbolizes the heart of what Poe was expressing. The Phantom for me represents the elusive meaning of life, which no one seems to be able to grasp. But what struck me as the most interesting, and I had never made this connection before, is the image of the “circle that ever returneth in / To the self-same spot.” I see now that this is the image of the ourosboros, the snake devouring its own tail. The Conqueror Worm is, then, the ourosboros. It symbolizes the cyclical aspect of existence. Poe sees this as a dark and disturbing cycle. Instead of a spiritual renewal, which is often associated with the ourosboros symbol, Poe sees it as a cycle of madness, horror, and decay. Mankind is trapped in an eternal loop of sin and death from which there is no escape.

I love it when I read a poem that I am familiar with and discover new symbolism. For me, that is one of the greatest thrills about reading poetry and literature. Your interpretations and what you get out of reading something is dependent upon what you bring to the reading — your life experiences and the knowledge you’ve gained from your other readings.

Click here to read the poem online.

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“Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats

KeatsNightingale“Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats is a pretty dark poem, in my opinion. Keats seems to express a longing to escape reality, either through drugs, death, or poetry. Reality is nothing but suffering and he wants nothing more than to leave the real world and lose himself forever in fantasy and imagination.

The poem opens with Keats expressing pain and his desire to numb himself to everything around him.

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
         My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
         One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:

He continues to portray a depressing view of life, which fuels his desire to escape. He wants to become like the nightingale, hidden from the harsh light of reality and existing only in forests of darkness, singing (or creating poetry) in a realm removed from life’s suffering.

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
         What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
         Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
         Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
                Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
                        And leaden-eyed despairs,
         Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
                Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

At the end of the poem, Keats realizes that he cannot escape reality. He discovers that the realm of imagination created through his poetry is nothing but a lie. His words, rather than transporting him to another place, only bring him jarringly back to reality like the tolling of a bell.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
         To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
         As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.
When I studied English Romanticism in college, I appreciated Keats, but he was not my favorite by any stretch. I confess, though, that I find myself enjoying his works more now. Maybe my head is in a different place. Anyway, if you want to read the poem online, click here.

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“To My Mother” by Edgar Allan Poe

EdgarAllanPoeThis was not the poem I intended to read this morning. I wanted to read something by Poe and was planning to read “The Conqueror Worm,” but as I was flipping through my volume of The Complete Tales and Poems, I came across this sonnet. The title caught my eye, particularly since it was Mother’s Day recently. I decided to read this one instead.

The rhyming scheme of the poem is that of a Shakespearean sonnet: a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g; with the last two lines forming a rhyming couplet. Since it is short, I figured I would include the poem in the blog post rather than link to it.

Because I feel that, in the Heavens above,
The angels, whispering to one another,
Can find, among their burning terms of love,
None so devotional as that of “Mother,”
Therefore by that dear name I long have called you—
You who are more than mother unto me,
And fill my heart of hearts, where Death installed you
In setting my Virginia’s spirit free.
My mother—my own mother, who died early,
Was but the mother of myself; but you
Are mother to the one I loved so dearly,
And thus are dearer than the mother I knew
By that infinity with which my wife
Was dearer to my soul than its soul-life.

This sonnet is directed toward Poe’s mother-in-law, the mother of his wife Virginia. Poe’s birth mother died early and it seems that he viewed his mother-in-law as the one who filled that maternal void in his life. He also expresses gratitude for the fact that she brought Virginia into the world, the person who is dearest to his soul.

I can relate to this poem. My mother died young and her passing left an empty space in my being. Anyone who has experienced the death of a mother knows that this loss is not something that heals quickly, nor can it be immediately filled. But it seems that Poe found someone who was caring and nurturing enough to fill that void. I guess that it was no coincidence that I discovered this poem today.

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