Thursday, April 06, 2006


Edgar Allan Poe


In Heaven a spirit doth dwell
"Whose heart-strings are a lute";
None sing so wildly well
As the angel Israfel,
And the giddy stars (so legends tell),
Ceasing their hymns, attend the spell
Of his voice, all mute.

Tottering above
In her highest noon,
The enamored moon
Blushes with love,
While, to listen, the red levin
(With the rapid Pleiads, even,
Which were seven,)
Pauses in Heaven.

And they say (the starry choir
And the other listening things)
That Israfeli's fire
Is owing to that lyre
By which he sits and sings-
The trembling living wire
Of those unusual strings.

But the skies that angel trod,
Where deep thoughts are a duty-
Where Love's a grown-up God-
Where the Houri glances are
Imbued with all the beauty
Which we worship in a star.

Therefore thou art not wrong,
Israfeli, who despisest
An unimpassioned song;
To thee the laurels belong,
Best bard, because the wisest!
Merrily live, and long!

The ecstasies above
With thy burning measures suit-
Thy grief, thy joy, thy hate, thy love,
With the fervor of thy lute-
Well may the stars be mute!

Yes, Heaven is thine; but this
Is a world of sweets and sours;
Our flowers are merely- flowers,
And the shadow of thy perfect bliss
Is the sunshine of ours.

If I could dwell
Where Israfel
Hath dwelt, and he where I,
He might not sing so wildly well
A mortal melody,
While a bolder note than this might swell
From my lyre within the sky.

No, it's not that I'm that crazy about Poe. It's just that the 'To One in Paradise' post made me think of this relatively obscure little poem that I'd read about the same time as I read "To One in Paradise' and so I thought I'd just go ahead and post it.

I'm strangely fond of Israfel. Not that I'm making any extravagant claims for it - I see its many shortcomings (in particular, that second stanza always makes me wince) but I like the rhythm of it, the almost rap like beat (which is strange, seeing as I don't really like rap that much). And I love the little sting in the tail that Poe puts in. All that long, yawning praise, and then somewhere around the middle things start to sour and before you know it the poem has broken out in explicit rebellion. It's not the person, it's the context, Poe cries, anticipating decades of behavioural research to follow a century later. But what an unexpected, almost startling ending to a poem that started off seeming so unpromising.



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