Tag Archives: volcano

“Ulalume” by Edgar Allan Poe

Illustration by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Illustration by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crisped 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,
Ah, 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,
This ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”

(excerpt from poem)

This is a fairly long poem, and I debated whether to include the entire text here. I decided to include some excerpts and a link to the entire text. Click here to read the poem on the Edgar Allan Poe Society website.

This is a poem about being haunted by the loss of a loved one, not unlike “Annabel Lee” or “The Raven.” It is set in October and incorporates seasonal metaphors symbolizing death, such as withering leaves, ashen skies, and cypress trees. But for me, the most intriguing aspect of this dark poem is the exploration of the subconscious mind.

The protagonist describes travelling with his Psyche, or Soul, through the boreal regions of the north.

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.

As I read this, I envision the frozen northlands, the Aurora Borealis, and vast expanses of wilderness coated with ice and frost. These represent the speaker’s subconscious mind, where memories and dreams lie frozen in an area that is difficult to reach. He enters this realm with his Psyche, the part of his consciousness connected with the realm of dreams, imagination, and memory. There is also an active volcano, which symbolizes fiery and painful passion and emotion surging up to the surface from deep within. It’s an incredibly powerful image and captures the deep sorrow that the protagonist feels.

While in the deepest recesses of the subconscious, Poe describes the appearance of the goddess Astarte.

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.

Astarte is a goddess of fertility and sexuality, often associated with Venus. I interpret this as the protagonist envisioning the soul of his departed love having merged and become a part of the divine feminine. It’s an interesting idea, that male souls emanate and return to the masculine aspect of the godhead, while the female souls emanate and return to the feminine aspect of the divine. It is almost like a dualistic version of Plotinus’s theory of divine emanation. I suspect this is something I will be meditating on for a while.

Overall, this is a beautifully crafted and evocative poem that works on many levels for me. While I don’t think it’s as popular as some of Poe’s other poems, I feel it is as good if not better.

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature

“To Winter” by William Blake

WilliamBlake

O winter! bar thine adamantine doors:
The north is thine; there hast thou built thy dark
Deep-founded habitation. Shake not thy roofs
Nor bend thy pillars with thine iron car.

He hears me not, but o’er the yawning deep
Rides heavy; his storms are unchain’d, sheathed
In ribbed steel; I dare not lift mine eyes;
For he hath rear’d his sceptre o’er the world.

Lo! now the direful monster, whose skin clings
To his strong bones, strides o’er the groaning rocks:
He withers all in silence, and in his hand
Unclothes the earth, and freezes up frail life.

He takes his seat upon the cliffs, the mariner
Cries in vain. Poor little wretch! that deal’st
With storms, till heaven smiles, and the monster
Is driven yelling to his caves beneath Mount Hecla.

This poem is one of Blake’s earlier poetical sketches and was written sometime between 1769 and 1777. I decided to read it because it seemed appropriate, now that we are in December.

I had to do a little research to grasp the deeper meaning of this poem. For me, the key to understanding the poem is in understanding the symbolism of Mount Hecla (or Mount Hekla). Hecla is Iceland’s most active volcano and, according to the article I read on Wikipedia, it was considered to be the gateway to Hell during the time when Blake was writing.

After the eruption of 1104, stories (which were probably spread deliberately through Europe by Cistercian monks) told that Hekla was the gateway to Hell… The Flatey Book Annal wrote of the 1341 eruption that people saw large and small birds flying in the mountain’s fire which were taken to be souls. In the 16th century Caspar Peucer wrote that the Gates of Hell could be found in “the bottomless abyss of Hekla Fell”. The belief that Hekla was the gate to Hell persisted until the 1800s. There is still a legend that witches gather on Hekla for Easter.

Once I understood the mythology surrounding Hecla, the poem made sense. Winter is the dark, cold, desolate time of the year, associated with death. Below the frozen wasteland is the fiery pit, pressing against the unbreakable doors, until the moment when it can burst through with explosive power, raining down fire and brimstone. But in the end, the beast is driven back down into the caves of sulfur, where is will wait until the next time it can break through the adamantine doors.

Mount Hekla: Source - Wikipedia

Mount Hekla: Source – Wikipedia

Maybe it is my anticipation for the release of the second Hobbit film, “The Desolation of Smaug,” but this poem also conjures an image of a dragon living below the volcano in the frozen north. I can picture the monster sleeping in its cave, but at any moment, it can awaken and burst forth in a cloud of fire, smoke, and ash.

This was not what I expected when I opened to the poem. I expected something dealing more with the season and the spiritual aspect of winter. Still, I loved this poem. Blake’s poetry never ceases to inspire me.

4 Comments

Filed under Literature