History of Literature

Edgar Allan Poe

1. "Ligeia"

2. "The Raven" Illustrations by Gustave Dore

"The Fall of the House of Usher"

4. Illustrations from Edgar Poe by Edmund Dulac

5. Illustrations from Edgar Poe by Harry Clarke


Edgar Allan Poe



Edgar Allan Poe

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born Jan. 19, 1809, Boston, Mass., U.S.
died Oct. 7, 1849, Baltimore, Md.

American short-story writer, poet, critic, and editor who is famous for his cultivation of mystery and the macabre. His tale “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841) initiated the modern detective story, and the atmosphere in his tales of horror is unrivaled in American fiction. His “The Raven” (1845) numbers among the best-known poems in the national literature.


Poe was the son of the English-born actress Elizabeth ArnoldPoe and David Poe, Jr., an actor from Baltimore. After his mother died in Richmond, Va., in 1811, he was taken into the home of John Allan, a Richmond merchant (presumably his godfather), and of his childless wife. He was later taken to Scotland and England (1815–20), where he was given a classical education that was continued in Richmond. For 11 months in 1826 he attended the University of Virginia, but his gambling losses at the university so incensed his guardian that he refused to let him continue, and Poe returned to Richmond to find his sweetheart, (Sarah) Elmira Royster, engaged. He went to Boston, where in 1827 he published a pamphlet of youthful Byronic poems, Tamerlane, and Other Poems. Poverty forced him to join the army under the name of Edgar A. Perry, but on the death of Poe's foster mother, John Allan purchased his release from the army and helped in getting him an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Before going, Poe published a new volume at Baltimore, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems (1829). He successfully sought expulsion from the academy, where he was absent from all drills and classes for a week. He proceeded to New York City and brought out a volume of Poems, containing several masterpieces, some showing the influence of John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He then returned to Baltimore, where he began to write stories. In 1833 his “MS. Found in a Bottle” won $50 from a Baltimore weekly, and by 1835 he was in Richmond as editor of the Southern Literary Messenger. There he made a name as a critical reviewer and married his young cousin Virginia Clemm, who was only 13. Poe seems to have been an affectionate husband and son-in-law.

Poe was dismissed from his job in Richmond, apparently for drinking, and went to New York City. Drinking was in fact to be the bane of his life. To talk well in a large company he needed a slight stimulant, but a glass of sherry might start him on a spree; and, although he rarely succumbed to intoxication, he was often seen in public when he did. This gave rise to the conjecture that Poe was a drug addict, but according to medical testimony he had a brain lesion. While in New York City in 1838 he published a long prose narrative, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, combining (as so often in his tales) much factual material with the wildest fancies. Itis considered one inspiration of Herman Melville's Moby Dick. In 1839 he became coeditor of Burton's Gentleman's Magazine in Philadelphia. There a contract for a monthly feature stimulated him to write “William Wilson” and “The Fall of the House of Usher,” stories of supernatural horror. The latter contains a study of a neurotic now known to have been an acquaintance of Poe, not Poe himself.

Later in 1839 his Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque appeared (dated 1840). He resigned from Burton's about June 1840 but returned in 1841 to edit its successor, Graham's La dy's and Gentleman's Magazine, in which he printed the first detective story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” In 1843 his “The Gold Bug” won a prize of $100 from the Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper, which gave him great publicity. In 1844 he returned to New York, wrote the “Balloon Hoax” for the Sun, and became subeditor of the New York Mirror under N.P. Willis, thereafter a lifelong friend. In the New York Mirror of Jan. 29, 1845, appeared, from advance sheets of the American Review, his most famous poem, “The Raven,” which gave him national fame at once. Poe then became editor of the Broadway Journal, a short-lived weekly, in which he republished most of his short stories, in 1845. During this last year the now forgotten poet Frances Sargent Locke Osgood pursued Poe. Virginia did notobject, but “Fanny's” indiscreet writings about her literary love caused great scandal. His The Raven and Other Poems and a selection of his Tales came out in 1845, and in 1846 Poe moved to a cottage at Fordham (now part of New York City), where he wrote for Godey's Lady's Book (May–October 1846) “Literati of New York”—gossipy sketches on personalities of the day, which led to a libel suit.

His wife, Virginia, died in January 1847. The following year Poe went to Providence, R.I., to woo Sarah Helen Whitman, a poet. There was a brief engagement. Poe had close but platonic entanglements with Annie Richmond and with SarahAnna Lewis, who helped him financially. He composed poetic tributes to all of them. In 1848 he also published the lecture “Eureka,” a transcendental “explanation” of the universe, which has been hailed as a masterpiece by some critics and as nonsense by others. In 1849 he went south, hada wild spree in Philadelphia, but got safely to Richmond, where he finally became engaged to Elmira Royster, by then the widowed Mrs. Shelton, and spent a happy summer with only one or two relapses. He enjoyed the companionship of childhood friends and an unromantic friendship with a youngpoet, Susan Archer Talley.

Poe had some forebodings of death when he left Richmond for Baltimore late in September. There, after toasting a lady at her birthday party, he began to drink heavily. The indulgence proved fatal, for Poe had a weak heart. He was buried in Westminster Presbyterian churchyard in Baltimore.


Poe's work owes much to the concern of Romanticism with the occult and the satanic. It owes much also to his own feverish dreams, to which he applied a rare faculty of shaping plausible fabrics out of impalpable materials. With an air of objectivity and spontaneity, his productions are closely dependent on his own powers of imagination and an elaborate technique. His keen and sound judgment as appraiser of contemporary literature, his idealism and musical gift as a poet, his dramatic art as a storyteller, considerably appreciated in his lifetime, secured him a prominent place among universally known men of letters.

The outstanding fact in Poe's character is a strange duality. The wide divergence of contemporary judgments on the manseems almost to point to the coexistence of two persons in him. With those he loved he was gentle and devoted. Others, who were the butt of his sharp criticism, found him irritable and self-centred and went so far as to accuse him of lack of principle. Was it, it has been asked, a double of the man rising from harrowing nightmares or from the haggard inner vision of dark crimes or from appalling graveyard fantasies that loomed in Poe's unstable being?

Much of Poe's best work is concerned with terror and sadness, but in ordinary circumstances the poet was a pleasant companion. He talked brilliantly, chiefly of literature, and read his own poetry and that of others in a voice of surpassing beauty. He admired Shakespeare and Alexander Pope. He had a sense of humour, apologizing to a visitor for not keep ing a pet raven. If the mind of Poe is considered, the duality is still more striking. On one side, he was an idealist and a visionary. His yearning for the ideal was both of the heart and of the imagination. His sensitiveness to the beauty and sweetness of women inspired his most touching lyrics (“To Helen,” “Annabel Lee,”“Eulalie,” “To One in Paradise”) and the full-toned prose hymns to beauty and love in “Ligeia” and “Eleonora.” In “Israfel” his imagination carried him away from the material world into a dreamland. This Pythian mood was especially characteristic of the later years of his life.

More generally, in such verses as “The Valley of Unrest,” “Lenore,” “The Raven,” “For Annie,” and “Ulalume” and in his prose tales his familiar mode of evasion from the universe of common experience was through eerie thoughts,impulses, or fears. From these materials he drew the startling effects of his tales of death (“The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” “The Premature Burial,” “The Oval Portrait,” “Shadow”), his tales of wickedness and crime (“Berenice,” “The Black Cat,” “William Wilson,” “Imp of the Perverse,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Tell-Tale Heart”), his tales of survival after dissolution (“Ligeia,” “Morella,” “Metzengerstein”), and his tales of fatality (“The Assignation,” “The Man of the Crowd”). Even when he does not hurl his characters into the clutch of mysterious forces oronto the untrodden paths of the beyond, he uses the anguishof imminent death as the means of causing the nerves to quiver (“The Pit and the Pendulum”), and his grotesque invention deals with corpses and decay in an uncanny play with the aftermath of death.

On the other side, Poe is conspicuous for a close observation of minute details, as in the long narratives and in many of the descriptions that introduce the tales or constitute their settings. Closely connected with this is his power of ratiocination. He prided himself on his logic and carefully handled this real accomplishment so as to impress the public with his possessing still more of it than he had; hence the would-be feats of thought reading, problem unravelling, and cryptography that he attributed to his Legrand and Dupin. This suggested to him the analytical tales, which created the detective story, and his science fiction tales.

The same duality is evinced in his art. He was capable of writing angelic or weird poetry, with a supreme sense of rhythm and word appeal, or prose of sumptuous beauty and suggestiveness, with the apparent abandon of compelling inspiration; yet he would write down a problem of morbid psychology or the outlines of an unrelenting plot in a hard and dry style. In Poe's masterpieces the double contents of his temper, of his mind, and of his art are fused into a oneness of tone, structure, and movement, the more effective, perhaps, as it is compounded of various elements.

As a critic, Poe laid great stress upon correctness of language, metre, and structure. He formulated rules for the short story, in which he sought for the ancient unities: i.e., the short story should relate a complete action and take place within one day in one place. To these unities he added that of mood or effect. He was not extreme in these views, however. He praised longer works and sometimes thought allegories and morals admirable if not crudely presented. Poe admired originality, often in work very different from hisown, and was sometimes an unexpectedly generous critic of decidedly minor writers.

Poe's genius was early recognized abroad. No one did more to persuade the world and, in the long run, the United States, of Poe's greatness than the French poets Charles Baudelaire and Stéphane Mallarmé. Indeed his role in Frenchliterature was that of a poetic master model and guide to criticism. French Symbolism relied on his “Philosophy of Composition,” borrowed from his imagery, and used his examples to generate the modern theory of “pure poetry.”

Charles Cestre

Thomas Ollive Mabbott

Jacques Barzun



The Pit and the Pendulum

Edgar Allan Poe

This claustrophobic tale of horror and suspense has ensured Edgar Allan Poe a place at the forefront of the Romantic tradition. As one of America's first serious literary critics, he was dismissive of art and literature that was preoccupied with the mundane, himself preferring to deal with the unexpected and the puzzling—specifically, the supernatural.
Poe was highly regarded as a writer of poetry and prose, but his life was plagued by ill-health, money problems, and bouts of depression and mental illness that were aggravated by alcohol.Two years after the death of his wife, at the age of forty, he died after drinking himself into a coma.
It is therefore not surprising to find that so many of his stories feature the plight of desperate protagonists brought by terror to the brink of insanity. However, much of the criticism of Poe and his work, including attempts to seek out symbols for psychoanalytical interpretation, has confused the writer's own torment with that of his narrators. In The Pit and the Pendulum there is an overpowering atmosphere of dread—the dark chamber reeking of putrefaction and death, the frenzied rats, the immobilized victim's horror of the descending razor-edged pendulum—that has prompted much discussion about the writer's mental state. But this masterpiece, which draws on so many of the recurring motifs spawned by horror writers, should be read as the finely-wrought and compelling work of a gifted imagination.


The Purloined Letter

Edgar Allan Poe

At a mere twenty pages, The Purloined Letter may barely rank even as a novella, but its significance is indisputable as artworks so diverse as Borges's tales, The Name of the Rose, and The Usual Suspects are difficult to conceive of without it.
Set in Paris.the third of Poe's pioneering detective tales sees sleuth C.Auguste Dupin tackle a blackmail plot that threatens to compromise the entire Royal Family. His task is to recover a certain compromising letter which has been stolen by the Minister D—. Despite the fact that the police know who has it, they cannot find it in any search of the man's property. Thus it falls to Dupin to solve the puzzle. Poe's masterstroke is to make the solution depend on our very definition of what a puzzle is. As Dupin notes, the police "never once thought it probable, or possible, that the Minister had deposited the letter immediately beneath the nose of the whole world." In replacing the letter with an exact copy, Dupin not only reveals to the police how they were fooled, but also foils the thief himself with his own trick. Poe was fascinated by all kinds of tricks, codes, and cryptograms, and the startling thoughts that people might only find what they expect to find, that secrets might be hidden in plain sight, are The Purloined Letter's enduring literary legacies. Radically self-contradictory, Poe's enigmatic exploration at once invents a type of modern detective story, and strikes at the heart of the logical assumptions on which that genre is founded.



The Fall of the House of Usher

Edgar Allan Poe

It seems to be stretching the definition of the word to its very limits to describe The Fail of the House of Usher as a "novel." However, despite the characteristic brevity of the narrative, the work deserves inclusion here, because it is simply impossible to imagine the modern novel without considering Poe's masterful writing, and this seminal tale in particular. The story is imbued with an atmosphere of foreboding and terror, underpinned by an equally strong exploration of the human psyche.
Roderick and Madeline Usher are the last of their distinguished line, They are, therefore, the "House of Usher,"as is the strange, dark mansion in which they live.The narrator of Poe's tale is a childhood friend of Roderick's, summoned to the decaying country pile by a letter pleading for his help. He arrives to find his friend gravely altered, and through his eyes, we see strange and terrible events unfold. The reader is placed in the position of the narrator, and as such we identify strongly throughout with the "madman" watching incredulous as around him reality and fantasy merge to become indistinguishable. The unity of tone and the effortlessly engaging prose are mesmerizing, enveloping both subject matter and reader. For one who died so young, Poe left an incredible legacy, and it adds a resonance to this tale that his own house was to fall so soon.


Type of work: Short story
Author: Edgar Allan Рое (1809-1849)
Type of plot: Gothic romance
Time of plot: Nineteenth century
Locale: The House of Usher
First published: 1839


The twins Madeline and Roderick are the last of the Ushers and symbolic of two warring facets of the human character: sensuality and intellect. The story follows Roderick's descent into madness and culminates in his entombment of his still-living sister. As she fights her way from the premature grave, a final apocalypse occurs. Battered by an almost supernatural storm, the Usher Castle and its occupants literally crumble and sink into a miasmic swamp. Truly one of Poe's finest short stories, The Fall of the House of Usher ranks with the best in the genre.


Principal Characters

Roderick Usher, a madman. Excessively reserved in childhood and thereafter, Usher is the victim not only of his own introversion but also of the dry rot in his family, which because of inbreeding has long lacked the healthy infusion of vigorous blood from other families. His complexion is cadaverous, his eyes are lustrous, his nose is "of a delicate Hebrew model," his chin is small and weak though finely molded, his forehead broad, and his hair soft and weblike. (The detailed description of Usher's face and head in the story should be compared with the well-known portraits of Рое himself.) In manner Usher is inconsistent, shifting from excited or frantic vivacity to sullenness marked by dull, guttural talk like that of a drunkard or opium addict. It is evident to his visitor, both through his own observation and through what Usher tells him, that the wretched man is struggling desperately but vainly to conquer his fear of fear itself. His wide reading in his extensive library, his interest in many art objects, his playing the guitar and singing to its accompaniment, his attempts at conversation and friendly communication with his guest—all seem piteous efforts to hold on to his sanity. The battle is finally lost when Madeline, risen from her grave and entering through the doors of the guest's apartment, falls upon Usher and bears him to the floor "a corpse, and a victim to the terrors he has anticipated."
Madeline, his twin sister, a tall, white-robed, wraith-like woman who succumbs to catalepsy, is buried alive, escapes from her tomb, confronts her brother in her bloodstained cerements, and joins him in death.
The Narrator, Usher's visitor and only personal friend, who has been summoned to try to cheer up Usher but who himself is made fearful and nervously excited by the gloomy, portentous atmosphere of the Usher home. Having witnessed the double deaths of Usher and Madeline, the narrator flees in terror and, looking back, sees the broken mansion fall into the tarn below.


The Story

As the visitor approached the House of Usher, he was forewarned by the appearance of the old mansion. The fall weather was dull and dreary, the countryside shady and gloomy, and the old house seemed to fit perfectly into the desolate surroundings. The windows looked like vacant eyes staring out over the bleak landscape.
The visitor had come to the House of Usher in response to a written plea from his boyhood friend, Roderick Usher. The letter had told of an illness of body and mind suffered by the last heir in the ancient line of Usher, and although the letter had strangely filled him with dread, the visitor had felt that he must go to his former friend. The Usher family, unlike most, had left only a direct line of descent, and perhaps it was for this reason that the family itself and the house had become one—the House of Usher.
As he approached closer, the house appeared even more formidable to the visitor. The stone was discolored and covered with fungi. The building gave the impression of decay, yet the masonry had not fallen. A barely discernible crack extended in a zigzag line from the roof to the foundation, but otherwise there were no visible breaks in the structure.
The visitor entered the house, gave his things to a servant, and proceeded through several dark passages to the study of the master. There he was stunned at the appearance of his old friend. Usher's face looked cadaverous, his eyes were liquid and lips pallid. His weblike hair was untrimmed and floated over his brow. All in all,
he was a depressing figure. In manner, he was even more morbid. He was afflicted with great sensitivity and strange fear. There were only a few sounds, a few odors, a few foods, and a few textures in clothing that did not fill him with terror. In fact, he was haunted incessantly by unnamed fears.
Even more strangely, he was imbued with the thought that the house itself exerted great influence over his morale and that it had obtained influence over his spirit. Usher's moodiness was heightened by the approaching death of his sister, Lady Madeline. His only living relative, she was wasting away from a strange malady that baffled the doctors. Often the disease revealed its cataleptic nature. The visitor saw her only once, on the night of his arrival. Then she passed through the room without speaking, and her appearance filled him with awe and foreboding.
For several days, the visitor attempted to cheer the sick master of Usher and restore him to health, but it seemed, rather, that the hypochrondria suffered by Usher affected his friend. More and more, the morbid surroundings and the ramblings of Usher's sick mind preyed upon his visitor. More and more, Usher held that the house itself had molded his spirit and that of his ancestors. The visitor was helpless to dispel this morbid fear and was in danger of subscribing to it himself, so powerful was the influence of the gloomy old mansion.
One day. Usher informed his friend that Madeline was dead. It was his intention to bury her in one of the vaults under the house for a period of two weeks. The strangeness of her malady, he said, demanded the precaution of not placing her immediately in the exposed family burial plot. The two men took the encoffined body into the burial vault beneath the house and deposited it upon a trestle. Turning back the lid of the coffin, they took one last look at the lady, and the visitor remarked on the similarity of appearance between her and her brother. Then Usher told him that they were twins and that their natures had been singularly alike. The man then closed the lid, screwed it down securely, and ascended to the upper room.
A noticeable change now took possession of Usher. He paced the floors with unusual vigor. He became more pallid, while his eyes glowed with even greater wildness.
His voice was little more than a quaver, and his words were utterances of extreme fear. He seemed to have a ghastly secret that he could not share. More and more, the visitor felt that Usher's superstitious beliefs about the malignant influence of the house were true. He could not sleep, and his body began to tremble almost as unreasonably as Usher's.
One night, during a severe storm, the visitor heard low and unrecognizable sounds that filled him with terror. Dressing, he had begun to pace the floor of his apartment when he heard a soft knock at his door. Usher entered, carrying a lamp. His manner was hysterical and his eyes those of a madman. When he threw the window open to the storm, they were lifted almost off their feet by the intensity of the wind. Usher seemed to see something horrible in the night, and the visitor picked up the first book that came to hand and tried to calm his friend by reading. The story was that of Ethelred and Sir Laun-celot, and as he read, the visitor seemed to hear the echo of a cracking and ripping sound described in the story. Later, he heard a rasping and grating, of what he knew not. Usher sat facing the door, as if in a trance. His head and his body rocked from side to side in a gentle motion. He murmured some sort of gibberish, as if he were not aware of his friend's presence.
At last, his ravings became intelligible. He muttered at first but spoke louder and louder until he reached a scream. Madeline was alive. He had buried Madeline alive. For days, he had heard her feebly trying to lift the coffin lid. Now she had escaped her tomb and was coming in search of him. At that pronouncement, the door of the room swung back and on the threshold stood the shrouded Lady Madeline of Usher. There was blood on her clothing and evidence of superhuman struggle. She ran to her terrified brother, and the two fell to the floor in death.
The visitor fled from the house in terror. He gazed back as he ran and saw the house of horror split asunder in a zigzag manner, down the line of the crack he had seen as he first looked upon the old mansion. There was a loud noise, like the sound of many waters, and the pond at its base received all that was left of the ruined House of Usher.


Critical Evaluation

More than a century after his death, Edgar Allan Рое probably remains—both in his life and his work—America's most controversial writer. Numerous biographical and critical studies have not succeeded in dispelling the myth of Рое promulgated by his hostile first biographer, who portrayed him as a self-destructive, alcoholic, almost demonic creature. Even today, after much serious research and analysis, the "true" Рое remains enigmatic and elusive—the same can be said of his works. Fellow writers such as D. H. Lawrence, Henry James, T. S. Eliot, Charles Baudelaire, and Aldous Huxley have differed greatly in assessing the merits of Poe's works, with opinions ranging from extravagant eulogy to total dismissal. And no work of his has excited more diverse opinion or been given more conflicting analyses than his short story "The Fall of the House of Usher."
The problem is that there are many completely different, yet seemingly valid, interpretations of the tale; contradictory readings that can "explain" all of the story's numerous ambiguities. And yet, obviously, as one prominent Рое critic has lamented, "they cannot all be right." Is there any way of choosing between these views or of synthesizing the best of them into a single one? Perhaps the task is not impossible if two important facts about the author are remembered: He was an adroit, conscious craftsman and critic who worked out his ideas with mathematical precision, and yet he was essentially a lyric poet.
These diverse readings can be divided roughly into three primary types: natural or psychological, supernatural, and symbolic. In the first approach, the analysis has usually focused on the unreliable narrator as he chronicles Roderick Usher's descent into madness. As an artist, intellectual, and introvert, Usher has become so reclusive that his prolonged isolation, coupled with the sickness of his sister, has driven him to the edge of madness; along with the narrator, the reader sees him go over the edge. Or perhaps the tale is simply a detective story minus a detective; Usher manipulates the narrator into helping him murder Madeline and then goes insane from the emotional strain. The crucial fantastic elements in the story—Madeline's return from the tomb and the collapse of the house into the tarn—are logically explained in terms of the narrator's mounting hysteria, the resulting hallucination, and the natural destructiveness of the storm.
According to the second general view, the actions of the characters can be explained only by postulating a supernatural agency: The Usher curse is working itself out; the house is possessed and is destroying the occupants; Roderick is a demon drawing vitality from his sister until, as a Nemesis figure, she returns to punish him; Madeline is a vampire claiming her victim.
In the third view, the story is seen as an allegory: Roderick as intellect is suppressing sensuality (Madeline) until it revolts; Madeline is a Mother figure who returns from the grave to punish Usher-Рое for deserting her and for having incest desires; Roderick is the artist who must destroy himself in order to create; the entire story is a symbolic enactment of the Apocalypse according to Рое.
As a critic and a writer, Рое was thoroughly aware of the machinery of the Gothic romance, and "The Fall of the House of Usher" is a veritable catalog of devices from the genre—the haunted mansion, the artistic hero-villain, the twins motif, suggestions of vampirism—and all of the physical paraphernalia—dank crypts, violent electrical storms. It does not follow, however, that because Рое utilizes the conventions of the form, he is also holding himself to the substance of them. It is precisely because he does not commit himself exclusively to either a rational, supernatural, or symbolic reading of the tale that he is able to provoke emotional reactions by indirection and implication that would be impossible if he fixed his meaning more precisely. The technique is essentially that of the lyric poet who uses the power of image, atmosphere, and suggestion to evoke emotions and to produce the desired single effect on the reader—which was Poe's stated aim as a short-story writer.
"I feel that the period will sooner or later arrive," says Roderick Usher, "when I must abandon life and reason together, in some struggle with the grim phantasm, FEAR." Thus, Рое underscores "fear" as the central emotion he wishes to provoke, and the story can best be discussed in terms of how he develops this response.
The tale divides into five distinct parts: first, the description of the house and the background of the narrator's relationship to Usher; second, his meeting with Roderick Usher that ends with his glimpse of Lady Madeline; third, the survey of Usher's art, that is, music, painting, the recitation of the poem "The Haunted Palace," Roderick's theory of "sentience," and the description of the library; fourth, Madeline's "death" and entombment; and fifth, her return from the crypt coun-terpointed against the narrator's reading of "The Mad Trist" story which culminates in the death of the twins, the narrator's flight, and the collapse of the house into the tarn. Each of these phases not only furthers the plot line but also intensifies the emotions provoked in the reader by means of the narrator's progressive hysteria and the growing distortion of the atmosphere.
The narrator is quickly characterized as a skeptic, who attempts to explain everything rationally, but who is, at the same time, quite susceptible to unexplained anxieties and undefined premonitions. His first glimpse of the Usher mansion provokes "a sense of unsufferable gloom." As he describes it, the house resembles a giant face or skull with "eye-like windows" and hairlike "minute fungi" that almost seem to hold the decayed building together, as well as a "barely perceptible fissure" that threatens to rip it apart. He is even more horrified when he looks into the tarn (a small, stagnant lake in front of the house) and sees the house's inverted reflection in the black water. Thus, in the first paragraph of the tale, readers are introduced to three crucial elements: the subjective reactions of the narrator, which begin with this furtive, general uneasiness and will end in complete hysteria; the central image of a huge, dead, decaying object that is, paradoxically, very alive; and the first of many reflections or doubles that reinforce and intensify the atmosphere and implications of the story.
When the narrator meets his old friend Roderick Usher, the other side of the death-life paradox is suggested. Whereas the dead objects seem "alive," the "live" things seem dead. All the peripheral characters—the two servants, the doctor, the "living" Madeline—are shadows. Roderick, with his "cadaverous" complexion, "large, liquid and luminous eyes," "thin and very pallid" lips, and "hair of more than web-like softness," seems more zombie than human. Moreover, his description mirrors that of the house's exterior: his eyes are like the windows, his hair resembles the fungi.
Roderick does, however, have a definable personality. For all of the spectral hints, Рое never abandons the possibility that Roderick's character and fate can be explained naturally. Although Usher's behavior is violent and erratic, perhaps manic-depressive by modern clinical standards, tenuous rationalizations are provided for everything he does.
Nor does Roderick's role as an artist resolve the questions about his character. The extended catalogue of his artistic activities may seem digressive in terms of Poe's strict single-effect theory, but it is, in fact, the necessary preparation for the story's harrowing finale. Each of Roderick's artistic ventures conforms to both his realistic personality and the otherworldliness of the situation; they can either signal his descent into psychosis or his ineffectual attempts to understand and withstand the incursion of supernatural forces. His dirges suggest death; his abstract painting of a vaultlike structure previews Madeline's interment. When he recites "The Haunted Palace" poem, he is either metaphorically recounting his own fall into madness, or he is, literally, talking about "haunting." Roderick's statements about the sentience of all vegetable things—that is, the conscious life in all inanimate matter—brings a notion that has previously been latent in the reader's mind to the surface. Finally, Roderick's exotic library, made up almost entirely of books about supernatural journeys, suggests either a perversely narrow and bizarre taste or an attempt to acquire the knowledge needed to defend against demonic intruders.
Nevertheless, for all of the mounting intensity of suggestion and atmosphere, the actual story does not begin until almost two-thirds of the narrative has been completed. When Roderick announces that Lady Madeline "is no more," the pace quickens. It is at this point that the narrator notices the "striking similitude between the brother and sister" and so emphasizes the "twin theme," the most important reflection or double in the tale. As they entomb her, the narrator takes note of the "mockery of a faint blush upon the bosom and the face." Does this suggest a trace of life and implicate Roderick, consciously or unconsciously, in her murder? Or, does it hint at an "undead" specter who, knowing that she will return from the grave, mocks the attempt to inter her?
Nowhere is the value of indirection in the maximizing of suspense more evident than in the last sequence of the story. Having established the literary context of the narrative, Рое then counterpoints the reading of a rather trite medieval romance against Madeline's actual return from the crypt. At the simplest level, "The Mad Trist" tale is a suspense-building device that magnifies the reader's excitement as he awaits Madeline's certain reappearance. Thematically, it suggests a parallel—either straight or ironic, depending on the reader's interpretation—between the knight Ethelred's quest and Madeline's return from the tomb. Reinforced by the violent storm, the narrator's frenzy, and Usher's violence, Madeline's return, her mutually fatal embrace of her brother, the narrator's flight, and the disintegration of the house itself, all fuse into a shattering final effect, which is all that Рое claimed he wanted, and a provocative insight into—what? The collapse of a sick mind? The inevitable self-destruction of the hyperintroverted artistic temperament? The final end of aristocratic inbreeding? Or incest? Or vampirism? Or the end of the world?
Although the meaning of "The Fall of the House of Usher" remains elusive, the experience of the story is powerful, disturbing, and lasting. And that, in the final analysis, is where its greatness lies and why it must be considered one of the finest short stories of its kind ever written.





Type of work: Short story
Author: Edgar Allan Рое (1809-1849)
Type of plot: Gothic romance
Time of plot: Early nineteenth century
Locale: Germany and England
First published: 1838


Рое considered this tale of terror combined with fantasy his best story. Ligeia embodies perfectly the author's belief that in a perfect piece of writing, all elements—plot, setting, and characterization—must be fused and subordinated to a single effect.


Principal Characters

The Narrator, a learned man enslaved by the memory of a woman whose powerful will once triumphed over death itself to return to him whom she so passionately loved. Half insane through grief after Ligeia's death and addicted to opium, he nevertheless remarries. Forgetful of Ligeia for a month, he abandons himself to Lady Ro-wena; but memory returns, and love turns to hatred and loathing. He witnesses (or so he believes) the dropping of poison into some wine he gives Rowena when she is ill. After Rowena's death he is awed by the rising of her corpse which he recognizes not as that of Rowena but of his lost Ligeia.
Ligeia, his first wife, a beautiful woman of rare learning and musically eloquent voice. Tall and slender, she is quietly majestic whether in repose or walking with "incomprehensible lightness and elasticity." Her features are "strange" rather than classically regular: the skin pale, forehead broad, luxuriously curly hair glossy and black. Her nose is slightly aquiline; and when her short upper lip and her voluptuous under one part in a radiant smile, her teeth gleam brilliantly. Her eyes are most notable: unusually large and luminously black, with long and jetty lashes and slightly irregular black brows. Though Ligeia is outwardly calm and speaks in a low, distinct, and melodious voice, she has a passionately intense will which shows in the fierce energy of her wild words. Her knowledge of classical and modern European languages leads her (and her worshipping husband) into extensive metaphysical investigations. When Ligeia falls ill her wild eyes blaze, her skin turns waxen, and the veins in her forehead swell and sink. Though her voice drops lower, she struggles fiercely against the Shadow. Moments before her death, she shrieks and fiercely protests against the Conquering Worm in the poem which her husband has read to her. With her dying breath, she murmurs that man submits to death only through feebleness of will. When Lady Rowena later dies, Ligeia, through the power of her will, returns from death and enters the body of her successor.
Lady Rowena Trevanion, the second wife, fair-haired and blue-eyed. She falls ill and slowly dies, wasting away while she becomes increasingly irritable and fearful, her fear being increased by mysterious sounds and sights she is aware of. (Her illness may be compared to that which for five years tortured and finally killed Virginia Рое. the author's young wife.)


The Story

He could not remember when he had first met Ligeia, and he knew nothing of her family except that it was old. Ligeia herself, once his wife, he could remember in every detail. She was tall and slender. Ethereal as a shadow, her face was faultless in its beauty, her skin like ivory, her features classic. Crowning the perfect face and body was raven-black, luxuriant hair. Her eyes, above all else, held the key to Ligeia's mystery. Larger than ordinary, those black eyes held an expression unfathomable even to her husband. It became his all-consuming passion to unravel the secret of that expression.
In character, Ligeia possessed a stern will that never failed to astound him. Outwardly she was placid and calm, but she habitually uttered words of such wildness that he was stunned by their intensity. Her learning was immense. She spoke many languages, and in metaphysical investigations, she was never wrong. Her husband was engrossed in a study of metaphysics, but it was she who guided him, she who unraveled the secrets of his research. With Ligeia, he knew that he would one day reach a goal of wisdom undreamed of by others.
Then Ligeia fell ill. Her skin became transparent and waxen, her eyes wild. Knowing that she must die, he watched her struggles against the grisly reaper, a conflict frightening in its passion. Words could not express the intense resistance with which she fought death. He had always known she loved him, but in those last days she abandoned herself completely to love. From her heart, she poured forth phrases of idolatry. And on the last day of her life, she bade him repeat to her a poem she had composed not long before. It was a morbid thing about death, about the conquering of Man by the Worm. As he finished repeating the melancholy lines, Ligeia leaped to her feet with a shriek, then sank onto her deathbed. In a scarcely audible whisper, she repeated a proverb that had haunted her before: that man did not yield to death save through the weakness of his own will. So Ligeia died.
Crushed with sorrow, her husband left his desolate home by the Rhine and retired to an old and decayed abbey in a deserted region in England. He left the exterior of the building in its sagging state, but inside he furnished the rooms lavishly and weirdly. He had become the slave of opium, and the furnishings took on the shapes and colors of his fantastic dreams. One bedchamber received the most bizarre treatment of all, and it was to this chamber that he led his new bride, the blue-eyed Lady Rowena Trevanion, of Tremaine.
The room was in a high turret of the abbey. It was of immense proportions, lighted by a single huge window. The pane had a leaden hue, giving a ghastly luster to all objects within the room. The walls, the floors, the furniture were all covered with a heavy, arabesque tapestry, black figures on pure gold. The figures changed as one looked at them from different angles, their appearance being changed by an artificial current of air that constantly stirred the draperies.
In rooms such as this, he spent a bridal month with Lady Rowena. It was easy to perceive that she loved him but little, and he hated her with a passion more demoniac than human. In his opium dreams, he called aloud for Ligeia, as if he could restore her to the earthly life she had abandoned. He reveled in memories of her purity and her love.
In the second month of her marriage, Rowena grew ill, and in her fever she spoke of sounds and movements in the chamber, fantasies unheard and unseen by her husband. Although she recovered, she had recurring attacks of the fever, and it became evident that she would soon succumb. Her imaginings became stronger, and she grew more insistent about the sounds and movements in the tapestries.
One night in September, she became visibly weaker and unusually agitated. Seeking to calm her, her husband stepped across the room to get some wine, but he was arrested midway by the sense of something passing lightly by him. Then he was startled to see on the gold carpet a shadow of angelic aspect. Saying nothing to Rowena, he poured the wine into a goblet. As she took the vessel, he distinctly heard a light footstep upon the carpet and saw, or thought he saw, three or four drops of a ruby-colored liquid fall into the goblet from an invisible source.
Immediately Rowena grew worse, and on the third night, she died. As he sat by her shrouded body in that bridal chamber, he thought of his lost Ligeia. Suddenly, he heard a sound from the bed upon which the corpse of his wife lay. Going closer, he perceived that Rowena had a faint color. It was unmistakable; Rowena lived. Unable to summon aid, he watched her with mounting terror. Then a relapse came, and she sank into a death pallor more rigid than before. All night this phenomenon recurred. Rowena returned briefly from the dead, only to sink once more into oblivion. Each time he saw again a vision of Ligeia.
Toward morning of that fearful night, the enshrouded figure rose from the bed and tottered to the center of the chamber. Terrified, he fell at her feet. She unwound the burial cerements from her head and there streamed down raven-black hair unknown to the living Rowena. Then the spectral figure slowly opened her eyes. He screamed in one last mad shout. He could not be mistaken. Staring at him were the full black eyes of his lost love, the Lady Ligeia.


Critical Evaluation

First published in the Baltimore American Museum in September, 1838, "Ligeia" was included in Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1839-1840). The final text appeared in the Broadway Journal in 1845. "Ligeia" is one of Poe's most famous tales, and it is also among his most brilliantly written—he himself once declared it his best. He apparently considered it an "arabesque," a term Рое seems to have used to refer to tales which, though incredible, or scarcely credible on the realistic level of meaning, are told "seriously" or without the tone of mockery or satire that Рое used in his "grotesques," such as "King Pest," with its fantastic group of characters, "every one of whom seemed to possess a monopoly of some particular portion of physiognomy," or "A Predicament," in which a lady writer tells in shuddering detail how she felt when the minute hand of a giant clock cut off her head. Critics since Рое have called "Ligeia" a tale of terror, since the narrator is frightened and horrified by what he sees, or thinks he sees, at the story's end. Similar terror is experienced by Roderick Usher in "The Fall of the House of Usher." Readers see it also in a number of Poe's narrators during the harrowing experiences they undergo in other tales.
The narrator of "Ligeia" should not be directly identified in any way with Рое. Не is simply the nameless husband of Ligeia (and later of Rowena). Рое often employs a first-person narrator whose name is not given to the reader; he uses such narrators in "The Pit and the Pendulum," "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Black Cat," and many other tales. Telling the story from a first-person point of view increases the final dramatic "effect," a predetermined element which, Рое declared in his famous review of Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales, should always be the aim of a serious artist in short fiction.
Two themes in "Ligeia" appear elsewhere in Poe's tales. Psychic survival through reincarnation is the theme in an early tale, "Morella," in which a bereaved husband learns that his dead wife has taken over the body and the character of the daughter who was born just before the mother died. In the climactic closing scene of "Ligeia," the supposedly dead first wife, Ligeia, has (or seems to have) appropriated the body of the second wife, Rowena. A second theme, that of premature burial, appears in the early tale, "Berenice," and in such later tales as "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "The Premature Burial."
In fictional technique, "Ligeia" well illustrates Poe's skill in achieving the unity of impression which, like his "predetermined effect," he regarded as of primary importance in telling a tale. Throughout, the tone of the narrator is intensely serious as he tells of his two marriages. He dwells on his love for and passionate adoration of the beautiful, mysterious, intellectual Ligeia. There is foreshadowing when he speaks of his suffering and of the loss "of her who is no more." The final scene is prepared for in several ways. The description of Ligeia at the beginning emphasizes "the raven-black, the glossy, the luxuriant, and naturally-curling tresses," and her eyes are repeatedly mentioned: "Those eyes! those large, those shining, those divine orbs!" The brief, hectic excitement of the second marriage, to the "fair-haired and blue-eyed Lady Rowena Trevanion, of Tremaine," is quickly followed by the husband's obsessed memories of "the beloved, the august, the beautiful, the entombed" Ligeia. In the second paragraph of the tale, Ligeia's beauty of face is described as "the radiance of an opium dream." This anticipates the actual opium dreams which result from the husband's addiction following his loss of Ligeia and which accompany his loathing and hatred of Rowena. These dreams are filled with Ligeia, and the intensity of the husband's longing for his lost love is climaxed by her return as the story ends. When she opens her eyes, he is sure of her identity, and he shrieks "... these are the full, and the black, and the wild eyes—of my lost love—. . . of the LADY LIGEIA."
The theme of psychic survival is suggested first in the epigraph from Joseph Glanvill, with its final sentence, "Man doth not yield himself to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will." This theme first appears in the story itself when the narrator recalls having read the passage from Glanvill, which he quotes. He connects Glanvill's words with Ligeia when he speaks of her "intensity in thought, action, or speech" as "a result, or at least an index" of her "gigantic volition." After she fell ill, he was struck by "the fierceness of resistance with which she wrestled with the Shadow." He recalls that just before she died, she asked him to repeat a poem she had written some days before, a symbolic poem portraying life as a tragic drama with "its hero, the conqueror Worm," which finally devours each actor. As he concluded the poem, Ligeia shrieked and pleaded, "O God! О Divine Father! . . . shall this conqueror be not once conquered?" Her last murmured words were Glanvill's: "Man doth not yield him to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will." Yet her own fierce will to live did not save her from death—or so her husband thought. He left Germany, moved to England, purchased a decaying abbey, extravagantly refurnished its interior, and led to its high turret bedroom his new bride, the fair-haired and blue-eyed Rowena. Though entombed, Ligeia continued to "wrestle with the Shadow." She filled her husband's memories and in final triumph replaced her blonde successor. Or did she?
"Ligeia" has achieved considerable twentieth century fame as the subject of many widely divergent interpretations. It has been argued that Ligeia is not a real woman but symbolically "the very incarnation of German idealism, German Transcendentalism provided with an allegorical form." One critic has suggested that Ligeia never existed at all but was merely imagined by a madman. Another has called her a witch and still another a "re\ en-ant—a spirit who has spent immemorial lifetimes on earth ' As for the husband, he has been termed a liar and even a murderer, who killed Rowena, his second wife, by poisoning her with the "ruby drops" which fall into her wine glass.
Perhaps the most acceptable interpretation of the story is a literal one. The narrator marries the beautiful, brilliant Ligeia, and they live happily in Germany until she dies of a mysterious disease. He then marries Rowena in England but soon turns against her. Rowena suffers spells of illness, and her husband endlessly dreams of his lost Ligeia for whom he longs deeply. His increasing use of opium causes his dreams to become so confused with reality that in a final frightening hallucination, he believes he sees standing before him the beloved dark-haired and large-eyed Ligeia who has taken over the body of her fair-haired successor. By the strength of her intense will, Ligeia has defeated Death, the Conquering Worm.
Dramatically, the scene achieves the effect for which the Glanvill quotation prepared readers. That the return of Ligeia is only imagined is also prepared for by the narrator's repeated references to his drug addiction:

I had become a bounden slave in the trammels of opium. . . .
I was habitually fettered in the shackles of the drug. . . .
I was wild with the excitement of an immoderate dose of
opium. . . . Wild visions, opium-engendered, flitted,
shadowlike, before me ... passionate waking visions of
Ligeia ... a crowd of unutterable fancies. . . had
chilled me into stone.

In his numbed state he has regained his intensely desired Ligeia, but surely it is a drug-induced "fancy" that shocks him into shrieking the words which end the story.



Illustration for Edgar Allan Poe's story "Ligeia" by Harry Clarke



And the will therein lieth, which dieth not. Who knoweth the mysteries of the will, with its vigor? For God is but a great will pervading all things by nature of its intentness. Man doth not yield himself to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will.

Joseph Glanvill


I cannot, for my soul, remember how, when, or even precisely where, I first became acquainted with the lady Ligeia. Long years have since elapsed, and my memory is feeble through much suffering. Or, perhaps, I cannot now bring these points to mind, because, in truth, the character of my beloved, her rare learning, her singular yet placid cast of beauty, and the thrilling and enthralling eloquence of her low musical language, made their way into my heart by paces so steadily and stealthily progressive that they have been unnoticed and unknown. Yet I believe that I met her first and most frequently in some large, old, decaying city near the Rhine. Of her family --I have surely heard her speak. That it is of a remotely ancient date cannot be doubted. Ligeia! Ligeia! in studies of a nature more than all else adapted to deaden impressions of the outward world, it is by that sweet word alone --by Ligeia --that I bring before mine eyes in fancy the image of her who is no more. And now, while I write, a recollection flashes upon me that I have never known the paternal name of her who was my friend and my betrothed, and who became the partner of my studies, and finally the wife of my bosom. Was it a playful charge on the part of my Ligeia? or was it a test of my strength of affection, that I should institute no inquiries upon this point? or was it rather a caprice of my own --a wildly romantic offering on the shrine of the most passionate devotion? I but indistinctly recall the fact itself --what wonder that I have utterly forgotten the circumstances which originated or attended it? And, indeed, if ever she, the wan and the misty-winged Ashtophet of idolatrous Egypt, presided, as they tell, over marriages ill-omened, then most surely she presided over mine.

There is one dear topic, however, on which my memory fails me not. It is the person of Ligeia. In stature she was tall, somewhat slender, and, in her latter days, even emaciated. I would in vain attempt to portray the majesty, the quiet ease, of her demeanor, or the incomprehensible lightness and elasticity of her footfall. She came and departed as a shadow. I was never made aware of her entrance into my closed study save by the dear music of her low sweet voice, as she placed her marble hand upon my shoulder. In beauty of face no maiden ever equalled her. It was the radiance of an opium-dream --an airy and spirit-lifting vision more wildly divine than the phantasies which hovered vision about the slumbering souls of the daughters of Delos. Yet her features were not of that regular mould which we have been falsely taught to worship in the classical labors of the heathen. "There is no exquisite beauty," says Bacon, Lord Verulam, speaking truly of all the forms and genera of beauty, without some strangeness in the proportion." Yet, although I saw that the features of Ligeia were not of a classic regularity --although I perceived that her loveliness was indeed "exquisite," and felt that there was much of "strangeness" pervading it, yet I have tried in vain to detect the irregularity and to trace home my own perception of "the strange." I examined the contour of the lofty and pale forehead --it was faultless --how cold indeed that word when applied to a majesty so divine! --the skin rivalling the purest ivory, the commanding extent and repose, the gentle prominence of the regions above the temples; and then the raven-black, the glossy, the luxuriant and naturally-curling tresses, setting forth the full force of the Homeric epithet, "hyacinthine!" I looked at the delicate outlines of the nose --and nowhere but in the graceful medallions of the Hebrews had I beheld a similar perfection. There were the same luxurious smoothness of surface, the same scarcely perceptible tendency to the aquiline, the same harmoniously curved nostrils speaking the free spirit. I regarded the sweet mouth. Here was indeed the triumph of all things heavenly --the magnificent turn of the short upper lip --the soft, voluptuous slumber of the under --the dimples which sported, and the color which spoke --the teeth glancing back, with a brilliancy almost startling, every ray of the holy light which fell upon them in her serene and placid, yet most exultingly radiant of all smiles. I scrutinized the formation of the chin --and here, too, I found the gentleness of breadth, the softness and the majesty, the fullness and the spirituality, of the Greek --the contour which the god Apollo revealed but in a dream, to Cleomenes, the son of the Athenian. And then I peered into the large eyes of Ligeia.

For eyes we have no models in the remotely antique. It might have been, too, that in these eves of my beloved lay the secret to which Lord Verulam alludes. They were, I must believe, far larger than the ordinary eyes of our own race. They were even fuller than the fullest of the gazelle eyes of the tribe of the valley of Nourjahad. Yet it was only at intervals --in moments of intense excitement --that this peculiarity became more than slightly noticeable in Ligeia. And at such moments was her beauty --in my heated fancy thus it appeared perhaps --the beauty of beings either above or apart from the earth --the beauty of the fabulous Houri of the Turk. The hue of the orbs was the most brilliant of black, and, far over them, hung jetty lashes of great length. The brows, slightly irregular in outline, had the same tint. The "strangeness," however, which I found in the eyes, was of a nature distinct from the formation, or the color, or the brilliancy of the features, and must, after all, be referred to the expression. Ah, word of no meaning! behind whose vast latitude of mere sound we intrench our ignorance of so much of the spiritual. The expression of the eyes of Ligeia! How for long hours have I pondered upon it! How have I, through the whole of a midsummer night, struggled to fathom it! What was it --that something more profound than the well of Democritus --which lay far within the pupils of my beloved? What was it? I was possessed with a passion to discover. Those eyes! those large, those shining, those divine orbs! they became to me twin stars of Leda, and I to them devoutest of astrologers.

There is no point, among the many incomprehensible anomalies of the science of mind, more thrillingly exciting than the fact --never, I believe, noticed in the schools --that, in our endeavors to recall to memory something long forgotten, we often find ourselves upon the very verge of remembrance, without being able, in the end, to remember. And thus how frequently, in my intense scrutiny of Ligeia's eyes, have I felt approaching the full knowledge of their expression --felt it approaching --yet not quite be mine --and so at length entirely depart! And (strange, oh strangest mystery of all!) I found, in the commonest objects of the universe, a circle of analogies to theat expression. I mean to say that, subsequently to the period when Ligeia's beauty passed into my spirit, there dwelling as in a shrine, I derived, from many existences in the material world, a sentiment such as I felt always aroused within me by her large and luminous orbs. Yet not the more could I define that sentiment, or analyze, or even steadily view it. I recognized it, let me repeat, sometimes in the survey of a rapidly-growing vine --in the contemplation of a moth, a butterfly, a chrysalis, a stream of running water. I have felt it in the ocean; in the falling of a meteor. I have felt it in the glances of unusually aged people. And there are one or two stars in heaven --(one especially, a star of the sixth magnitude, double and changeable, to be found near the large star in Lyra) in a telescopic scrutiny of which I have been made aware of the feeling. I have been filled with it by certain sounds from stringed instruments, and not unfrequently by passages from books. Among innumerable other instances, I well remember something in a volume of Joseph Glanvill, which (perhaps merely from its quaintness --who shall say?) never failed to inspire me with the sentiment; --"And the will therein lieth, which dieth not. Who knoweth the mysteries of the will, with its vigor? For God is but a great will pervading all things by nature of its intentness. Man doth not yield him to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will."

Length of years, and subsequent reflection, have enabled me to trace, indeed, some remote connection between this passage in the English moralist and a portion of the character of Ligeia. An intensity in thought, action, or speech, was possibly, in her, a result, or at least an index, of that gigantic volition which, during our long intercourse, failed to give other and more immediate evidence of its existence. Of all the women whom I have ever known, she, the outwardly calm, the ever-placid Ligeia, was the most violently a prey to the tumultuous vultures of stern passion. And of such passion I could form no estimate, save by the miraculous expansion of those eyes which at once so delighted and appalled me --by the almost magical melody, modulation, distinctness and placidity of her very low voice --and by the fierce energy (rendered doubly effective by contrast with her manner of utterance) of the wild words which she habitually uttered.

I have spoken of the learning of Ligeia: it was immense --such as I have never known in woman. In the classical tongues was she deeply proficient, and as far as my own acquaintance extended in regard to the modern dialects of Europe, I have never known her at fault. Indeed upon any theme of the most admired, because simply the most abstruse of the boasted erudition of the academy, have I ever found Ligeia at fault? How singularly --how thrillingly, this one point in the nature of my wife has forced itself, at this late period only, upon my attention! I said her knowledge was such as I have never known in woman --but where breathes the man who has traversed, and successfully, all the wide areas of moral, physical, and mathematical science? I saw not then what I now clearly perceive, that the acquisitions of Ligeia were gigantic, were astounding; yet I was sufficiently aware of her infinite supremacy to resign myself, with a child-like confidence, to her guidance through the chaotic world of metaphysical investigation at which I was most busily occupied during the earlier years of our marriage. With how vast a triumph --with how vivid a delight --with how much of all that is ethereal in hope --did I feel, as she bent over me in studies but little sought --but less known --that delicious vista by slow degrees expanding before me, down whose long, gorgeous, and all untrodden path, I might at length pass onward to the goal of a wisdom too divinely precious not to be forbidden!

How poignant, then, must have been the grief with which, after some years, I beheld my well-grounded expectations take wings to themselves and fly away! Without Ligeia I was but as a child groping benighted. Her presence, her readings alone, rendered vividly luminous the many mysteries of the transcendentalism in which we were immersed. Wanting the radiant lustre of her eyes, letters, lambent and golden, grew duller than Saturnian lead. And now those eyes shone less and less frequently upon the pages over which I pored. Ligeia grew ill. The wild eyes blazed with a too --too glorious effulgence; the pale fingers became of the transparent waxen hue of the grave, and the blue veins upon the lofty forehead swelled and sank impetuously with the tides of the gentle emotion. I saw that she must die --and I struggled desperately in spirit with the grim Azrael. And the struggles of the passionate wife were, to my astonishment, even more energetic than my own. There had been much in her stern nature to impress me with the belief that, to her, death would have come without its terrors; --but not so. Words are impotent to convey any just idea of the fierceness of resistance with which she wrestled with the Shadow. I groaned in anguish at the pitiable spectacle. would have soothed --I would have reasoned; but, in the intensity of her wild desire for life, --for life --but for life --solace and reason were the uttermost folly. Yet not until the last instance, amid the most convulsive writhings of her fierce spirit, was shaken the external placidity of her demeanor. Her voice grew more gentle --grew more low --yet I would not wish to dwell upon the wild meaning of the quietly uttered words. My brain reeled as I hearkened entranced, to a melody more than mortal --to assumptions and aspirations which mortality had never before known.

That she loved me I should not have doubted; and I might have been easily aware that, in a bosom such as hers, love would have reigned no ordinary passion. But in death only, was I fully impressed with the strength of her affection. For long hours, detaining my hand, would she pour out before me the overflowing of a heart whose more than passionate devotion amounted to idolatry. How had I deserved to be so blessed by such confessions? --how had I deserved to be so cursed with the removal of my beloved in the hour of her making them, But upon this subject I cannot bear to dilate. Let me say only, that in Ligeia's more than womanly abandonment to a love, alas! all unmerited, all unworthily bestowed, I at length recognized the principle of her longing with so wildly earnest a desire for the life which was now fleeing so rapidly away. It is this wild longing --it is this eager vehemence of desire for life --but for life --that I have no power to portray --no utterance capable of expressing.

At high noon of the night in which she departed, beckoning me, peremptorily, to her side, she bade me repeat certain verses composed by herself not many days before. I obeyed her. --They were these:

Lo! 'tis a gala night
Within the lonesome latter years!
An angel throng, bewinged, bedight
In veils, and drowned in tears,
Sit in a theatre, to see
A play of hopes and fears,
While the orchestra breathes fitfully
The music of the spheres.

Mimes, in the form of God on high,
Mutter and mumble low,
And hither and thither fly --
Mere puppets they, who come and go
At bidding of vast formless things
That shift the scenery to and fro,
Flapping from out their Condor wings
Invisible Wo!

That motley drama! --oh, be sure
It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased forever more,
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.

But see, amid the mimic rout,
A crawling shape intrude!
A blood-red thing that writhes from out
The scenic solitude!
It writhes! --it writhes! --with mortal pangs
The mimes become its food,
And the seraphs sob at vermin fangs
In human gore imbued.

Out --out are the lights --out all!
And over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
And the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, "Man,"
And its hero the Conqueror Worm.

"O God!" half shrieked Ligeia, leaping to her feet and extending her arms aloft with a spasmodic movement, as I made an end of these lines --"O God! O Divine Father! --shall these things be undeviatingly so? --shall this Conqueror be not once conquered? Are we not part and parcel in Thee? Who --who knoweth the mysteries of the will with its vigor? Man doth not yield him to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will."

And now, as if exhausted with emotion, she suffered her white arms to fall, and returned solemnly to her bed of death. And as she breathed her last sighs, there came mingled with them a low murmur from her lips. I bent to them my ear and distinguished, again, the concluding words of the passage in Glanvill --"Man doth not yield him to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will."

She died; --and I, crushed into the very dust with sorrow, could no longer endure the lonely desolation of my dwelling in the dim and decaying city by the Rhine. I had no lack of what the world calls wealth. Ligeia had brought me far more, very far more than ordinarily falls to the lot of mortals. After a few months, therefore, of weary and aimless wandering, I purchased, and put in some repair, an abbey, which I shall not name, in one of the wildest and least frequented portions of fair England. The gloomy and dreary grandeur of the building, the almost savage aspect of the domain, the many melancholy and time-honored memories connected with both, had much in unison with the feelings of utter abandonment which had driven me into that remote and unsocial region of the country. Yet although the external abbey, with its verdant decay hanging about it, suffered but little alteration, I gave way, with a child-like perversity, and perchance with a faint hope of alleviating my sorrows, to a display of more than regal magnificence within. --For such follies, even in childhood, I had imbibed a taste and now they came back to me as if in the dotage of grief. Alas, I feel how much even of incipient madness might have been discovered in the gorgeous and fantastic draperies, in the solemn carvings of Egypt, in the wild cornices and furniture, in the Bedlam patterns of the carpets of tufted gold! I had become a bounden slave in the trammels of opium, and my labors and my orders had taken a coloring from my dreams. But these absurdities must not pause to detail. Let me speak only of that one chamber, ever accursed, whither in a moment of mental alienation, I led from the altar as my bride --as the successor of the unforgotten Ligeia --the fair-haired and blue-eyed Lady Rowena Trevanion, of Tremaine.

There is no individual portion of the architecture and decoration of that bridal chamber which is not now visibly before me. Where were the souls of the haughty family of the bride, when, through thirst of gold, they permitted to pass the threshold of an apartment so bedecked, a maiden and a daughter so beloved? I have said that I minutely remember the details of the chamber --yet I am sadly forgetful on topics of deep moment --and here there was no system, no keeping, in the fantastic display, to take hold upon the memory. The room lay in a high turret of the castellated abbey, was pentagonal in shape, and of capacious size. Occupying the whole southern face of the pentagon was the sole window --an immense sheet of unbroken glass from Venice --a single pane, and tinted of a leaden hue, so that the rays of either the sun or moon, passing through it, fell with a ghastly lustre on the objects within. Over the upper portion of this huge window, extended the trellice-work of an aged vine, which clambered up the massy walls of the turret. The ceiling, of gloomy-looking oak, was excessively lofty, vaulted, and elaborately fretted with the wildest and most grotesque specimens of a semi-Gothic, semi-Druidical device. From out the most central recess of this melancholy vaulting, depended, by a single chain of gold with long links, a huge censer of the same metal, Saracenic in pattern, and with many perforations so contrived that there writhed in and out of them, as if endued with a serpent vitality, a continual succession of parti-colored fires.

Some few ottomans and golden candelabra, of Eastern figure, were in various stations about --and there was the couch, too --bridal couch --of an Indian model, and low, and sculptured of solid ebony, with a pall-like canopy above. In each of the angles of the chamber stood on end a gigantic sarcophagus of black granite, from the tombs of the kings over against Luxor, with their aged lids full of immemorial sculpture. But in the draping of the apartment lay, alas! the chief phantasy of all. The lofty walls, gigantic in height --even unproportionably so --were hung from summit to foot, in vast folds, with a heavy and massive-looking tapestry --tapestry of a material which was found alike as a carpet on the floor, as a covering for the ottomans and the ebony bed, as a canopy for the bed, and as the gorgeous volutes of the curtains which partially shaded the window. The material was the richest cloth of gold. It was spotted all over, at irregular intervals, with arabesque figures, about a foot in diameter, and wrought upon the cloth in patterns of the most jetty black. But these figures partook of the true character of the arabesque only when regarded from a single point of view. By a contrivance now common, and indeed traceable to a very remote period of antiquity, they were made changeable in aspect. To one entering the room, they bore the appearance of simple monstrosities; but upon a farther advance, this appearance gradually departed; and step by step, as the visitor moved his station in the chamber, he saw himself surrounded by an endless succession of the ghastly forms which belong to the superstition of the Norman, or arise in the guilty slumbers of the monk. The phantasmagoric effect was vastly heightened by the artificial introduction of a strong continual current of wind behind the draperies --giving a hideous and uneasy animation to the whole.

In halls such as these --in a bridal chamber such as this --I passed, with the Lady of Tremaine, the unhallowed hours of the first month of our marriage --passed them with but little disquietude. That my wife dreaded the fierce moodiness of my temper --that she shunned me and loved me but little --I could not help perceiving; but it gave me rather pleasure than otherwise. I loathed her with a hatred belonging more to demon than to man. My memory flew back, (oh, with what intensity of regret!) to Ligeia, the beloved, the august, the beautiful, the entombed. I revelled in recollections of her purity, of her wisdom, of her lofty, her ethereal nature, of her passionate, her idolatrous love. Now, then, did my spirit fully and freely burn with more than all the fires of her own. In the excitement of my opium dreams (for I was habitually fettered in the shackles of the drug) I would call aloud upon her name, during the silence of the night, or among the sheltered recesses of the glens by day, as if, through the wild eagerness, the solemn passion, the consuming ardor of my longing for the departed, I could restore her to the pathway she had abandoned --ah, could it be forever? --upon the earth.

About the commencement of the second month of the marriage, the Lady Rowena was attacked with sudden illness, from which her recovery was slow. The fever which consumed her rendered her nights uneasy; and in her perturbed state of half-slumber, she spoke of sounds, and of motions, in and about the chamber of the turret, which I concluded had no origin save in the distemper of her fancy, or perhaps in the phantasmagoric influences of the chamber itself. She became at length convalescent --finally well. Yet but a brief period elapsed, ere a second more violent disorder again threw her upon a bed of suffering; and from this attack her frame, at all times feeble, never altogether recovered. Her illnesses were, after this epoch, of alarming character, and of more alarming recurrence, defying alike the knowledge and the great exertions of her physicians. With the increase of the chronic disease which had thus, apparently, taken too sure hold upon her constitution to be eradicated by human means, I could not fail to observe a similar increase in the nervous irritation of her temperament, and in her excitability by trivial causes of fear. She spoke again, and now more frequently and pertinaciously, of the sounds --of the slight sounds --and of the unusual motions among the tapestries, to which she had formerly alluded.

One night, near the closing in of September, she pressed this distressing subject with more than usual emphasis upon my attention. She had just awakened from an unquiet slumber, and I had been watching, with feelings half of anxiety, half of vague terror, the workings of her emaciated countenance. I sat by the side of her ebony bed, upon one of the ottomans of India. She partly arose, and spoke, in an earnest low whisper, of sounds which she then heard, but which I could not hear --of motions which she then saw, but which I could not perceive. The wind was rushing hurriedly behind the tapestries, and I wished to show her (what, let me confess it, I could not all believe) that those almost inarticulate breathings, and those very gentle variations of the figures upon the wall, were but the natural effects of that customary rushing of the wind. But a deadly pallor, overspreading her face, had proved to me that my exertions to reassure her would be fruitless. She appeared to be fainting, and no attendants were within call. I remembered where was deposited a decanter of light wine which had been ordered by her physicians, and hastened across the chamber to procure it. But, as I stepped beneath the light of the censer, two circumstances of a startling nature attracted my attention. I had felt that some palpable although invisible object had passed lightly by my person; and I saw that there lay upon the golden carpet, in the very middle of the rich lustre thrown from the censer, a shadow --a faint, indefinite shadow of angelic aspect --such as might be fancied for the shadow of a shade. But I was wild with the excitement of an immoderate dose of opium, and heeded these things but little, nor spoke of them to Rowena. Having found the wine, I recrossed the chamber, and poured out a gobletful, which I held to the lips of the fainting lady. She had now partially recovered, however, and took the vessel herself, while I sank upon an ottoman near me, with my eyes fastened upon her person. It was then that I became distinctly aware of a gentle footfall upon the carpet, and near the couch; and in a second thereafter, as Rowena was in the act of raising the wine to her lips, I saw, or may have dreamed that I saw, fall within the goblet, as if from some invisible spring in the atmosphere of the room, three or four large drops of a brilliant and ruby colored fluid. If this I saw --not so Rowena. She swallowed the wine unhesitatingly, and I forbore to speak to her of a circumstance which must, after all, I considered, have been but the suggestion of a vivid imagination, rendered morbidly active by the terror of the lady, by the opium, and by the hour.

Yet I cannot conceal it from my own perception that, immediately subsequent to the fall of the ruby-drops, a rapid change for the worse took place in the disorder of my wife; so that, on the third subsequent night, the hands of her menials prepared her for the tomb, and on the fourth, I sat alone, with her shrouded body, in that fantastic chamber which had received her as my bride. --Wild visions, opium-engendered, flitted, shadow-like, before me. I gazed with unquiet eye upon the sarcophagi in the angles of the room, upon the varying figures of the drapery, and upon the writhing of the parti-colored fires in the censer overhead. My eyes then fell, as I called to mind the circumstances of a former night, to the spot beneath the glare of the censer where I had seen the faint traces of the shadow. It was there, however, no longer; and breathing with greater freedom, I turned my glances to the pallid and rigid figure upon the bed. Then rushed upon me a thousand memories of Ligeia --and then came back upon my heart, with the turbulent violence of a flood, the whole of that unutterable wo with which I had regarded her thus enshrouded. The night waned; and still, with a bosom full of bitter thoughts of the one only and supremely beloved, I remained gazing upon the body of Rowena.

It might have been midnight, or perhaps earlier, or later, for I had taken no note of time, when a sob, low, gentle, but very distinct, startled me from my revery. --I felt that it came from the bed of ebony --the bed of death. I listened in an agony of superstitious terror --but there was no repetition of the sound. I strained my vision to detect any motion in the corpse --but there was not the slightest perceptible. Yet I could not have been deceived. I had heard the noise, however faint, and my soul was awakened within me. I resolutely and perseveringly kept my attention riveted upon the body. Many minutes elapsed before any circumstance occurred tending to throw light upon the mystery. At length it became evident that a slight, a very feeble, and barely noticeable tinge of color had flushed up within the cheeks, and along the sunken small veins of the eyelids. Through a species of unutterable horror and awe, for which the language of mortality has no sufficiently energetic expression, I felt my heart cease to beat, my limbs grow rigid where I sat. Yet a sense of duty finally operated to restore my self-possession. I could no longer doubt that we had been precipitate in our preparations --that Rowena still lived. It was necessary that some immediate exertion be made; yet the turret was altogether apart from the portion of the abbey tenanted by the servants --there were none within call --I had no means of summoning them to my aid without leaving the room for many minutes --and this I could not venture to do. I therefore struggled alone in my endeavors to call back the spirit ill hovering. In a short period it was certain, however, that a relapse had taken place; the color disappeared from both eyelid and cheek, leaving a wanness even more than that of marble; the lips became doubly shrivelled and pinched up in the ghastly expression of death; a repulsive clamminess and coldness overspread rapidly the surface of the body; and all the usual rigorous illness immediately supervened. I fell back with a shudder upon the couch from which I had been so startlingly aroused, and again gave myself up to passionate waking visions of Ligeia.

An hour thus elapsed when (could it be possible?) I was a second time aware of some vague sound issuing from the region of the bed. I listened --in extremity of horror. The sound came again --it was a sigh. Rushing to the corpse, I saw --distinctly saw --a tremor upon the lips. In a minute afterward they relaxed, disclosing a bright line of the pearly teeth. Amazement now struggled in my bosom with the profound awe which had hitherto reigned there alone. I felt that my vision grew dim, that my reason wandered; and it was only by a violent effort that I at length succeeded in nerving myself to the task which duty thus once more had pointed out. There was now a partial glow upon the forehead and upon the cheek and throat; a perceptible warmth pervaded the whole frame; there was even a slight pulsation at the heart. The lady lived; and with redoubled ardor I betook myself to the task of restoration. I chafed and bathed the temples and the hands, and used every exertion which experience, and no little medical reading, could suggest. But in vain. Suddenly, the color fled, the pulsation ceased, the lips resumed the expression of the dead, and, in an instant afterward, the whole body took upon itself the icy chilliness, the livid hue, the intense rigidity, the sunken outline, and all the loathsome peculiarities of that which has been, for many days, a tenant of the tomb.

And again I sunk into visions of Ligeia --and again, (what marvel that I shudder while I write,) again there reached my ears a low sob from the region of the ebony bed. But why shall I minutely detail the unspeakable horrors of that night? Why shall I pause to relate how, time after time, until near the period of the gray dawn, this hideous drama of revivification was repeated; how each terrific relapse was only into a sterner and apparently more irredeemable death; how each agony wore the aspect of a struggle with some invisible foe; and how each struggle was succeeded by I know not what of wild change in the personal appearance of the corpse? Let me hurry to a conclusion.

The greater part of the fearful night had worn away, and she who had been dead, once again stirred --and now more vigorously than hitherto, although arousing from a dissolution more appalling in its utter hopelessness than any. I had long ceased to struggle or to move, and remained sitting rigidly upon the ottoman, a helpless prey to a whirl of violent emotions, of which extreme awe was perhaps the least terrible, the least consuming. The corpse, I repeat, stirred, and now more vigorously than before. The hues of life flushed up with unwonted energy into the countenance --the limbs relaxed --and, save that the eyelids were yet pressed heavily together, and that the bandages and draperies of the grave still imparted their charnel character to the figure, I might have dreamed that Rowena had indeed shaken off, utterly, the fetters of Death. But if this idea was not, even then, altogether adopted, I could at least doubt no longer, when, arising from the bed, tottering, with feeble steps, with closed eyes, and with the manner of one bewildered in a dream, the thing that was enshrouded advanced boldly and palpably into the middle of the apartment.

I trembled not --I stirred not --for a crowd of unutterable fancies connected with the air, the stature, the demeanor of the figure, rushing hurriedly through my brain, had paralyzed --had chilled me into stone. I stirred not --but gazed upon the apparition. There was a mad disorder in my thoughts --a tumult unappeasable. Could it, indeed, be the living Rowena who confronted me? Could it indeed be Rowena at all --the fair-haired, the blue-eyed Lady Rowena Trevanion of Tremaine? Why, why should I doubt it? The bandage lay heavily about the mouth --but then might it not be the mouth of the breathing Lady of Tremaine? And the cheeks-there were the roses as in her noon of life --yes, these might indeed be the fair cheeks of the living Lady of Tremaine. And the chin, with its dimples, as in health, might it not be hers? --but had she then grown taller since her malady? What inexpressible madness seized me with that thought? One bound, and I had reached her feet! Shrinking from my touch, she let fall from her head, unloosened, the ghastly cerements which had confined it, and there streamed forth, into the rushing atmosphere of the chamber, huge masses of long and dishevelled hair; it was blacker than the raven wings of the midnight! And now slowly opened the eyes of the figure which stood before me. "Here then, at least," I shrieked aloud, "can I never --can I never be mistaken --these are the full, and the black, and the wild eyes --of my lost love --of the lady --of the LADY LIGEIA."



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