Happy April Fool’s from Edgar A. Poe! – 01 April 2016


Poe was a renowned liar, bluffer and tale-teller, and loved mysteries, conundrums, contraptions and ciphers. On more than one occasion his stories shocked readers not just because their content broke nineteenth century social or literary taboos, but because the audience mistook his fiction for fact. Sometimes this was intentional on the author’s part. Take what Poe published in The New York Sun in 1844 under a headline that read ASTOUNDING NEWS! By Express Via Norfolk.  

‘The Balloon Hoax’ recounts what appears to be an actual crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. From our modern perspective, note that no one would manage to make an real balloon crossing until the twentieth century, over sixty years later. But Poe, like all good liars, weaved a bit of truth into his grand joke, cribbing the names of an actual European balloonists into his narrative, creating a false ‘journal’ and stuffing the yarn with plenty of technical jargon and mechanical descriptions. Even a fake illustration.

The actual article, or story, is pretty dry and standard stuff for Poe, and from a modern reader’s perspective a bit too padded. It’s available almost everywhere to read if you want to. If you don’t, allow me to point you to the most delicious part–its closing lines. In this final paragraph, Poe seems to be slyly mocking his readers and the paper that agreed to publish it:

This is unquestionably the most stupendous, the most interesting, and the most important undertaking, ever accomplished or even attempted by man. What magnificent events may ensue, it would be useless now to think of determining.

The follow-up to this hoax is where the real fun lies (pun intended). Not long after this story ran, Poe published a recollection of the events on the morning of the hoax’s publication. Poe stood on the steps of The New York Sun, supposedly trying to tell people it was a joke. But he encountered pandemonium. If we’re to believe Poe (which we might not), there were riots as citizens fought to get copies of the amazing news of an Atlantic crossing by air. Poe’s own words:  

On the morning (Saturday) of its announcement, the whole square surrounding the ‘Sun’ building was literally besieged, blocked up—ingress and egress being alike impossible, from a period soon after sunrise until about two o’clock P.M…. I never witnessed more intense excitement to get possession of a newspaper. As soon as the few first copies made their way into the streets, they were bought up, at almost any price, from the news-boys, who made a profitable speculation beyond doubt. I saw a half-dollar given, in one instance, for a single paper, and a shilling was a frequent price. I tried, in vain, during the whole day, to get possession of a copy.

Finally, Poe not only fooled the public, he fooled The New York Sun, who also thought the story was an actual report. Two days later they had to print a retraction.

The image is a hand-drawn copy of a balloon contraption Poe found; reputedly this drawing is in Poe’s own hand. The Raven had many talents.

Friday’s Poe Poem – 26 February 2016

valley of unrest

In today’s world, trying to read a poem scribed in rhymed couplets (or triplets) can sound cloying. But give this little verse from Edgar A. Poe a try; don’t pause on the rhymed words, follow the punctuation. If you can do that, a mournful lyricism comes to life.

The Valley of Unrest

Once it smiled a silent dell

Where the people did not dwell;

They had gone unto the wars,

Trusting to the mild-eyed stars,

Nightly, from their azure towers,

To keep watch above the flowers,

In the midst of which all day

The red sun-light lazily lay.

Now each visitor shall confess

The sad valley’s restlessness.

Nothing there is motionless—

Nothing save the airs that brood

Over the magic solitude.

Ah, by no wind are stirred those trees

That palpitate like the chill seas

Around the misty Hebrides!

Ah, by no wind those clouds are driven

That rustle through the unquiet Heaven

Uneasily, from morn till even,

Over the violets there that lie

In myriad types of the human eye—

Over the lilies there that wave

And weep above a nameless grave!

They wave:—from out their fragrant tops

External dews come down in drops.

They weep:—from off their delicate stems

Perennial tears descend in gems.

      –Edgar A. Poe (1831, revised 1845)

This poem may not be overtly profound, but like the best examples of Dark Romanticism, a subgenre which Poe helped perpetuate, this verse stirs up the favorite indulgences of Dark Romantics: I’m a social outcast, my torments are both external and internal, and the very nature of man certainly dooms me. Oh–and these curses might just be supernatural…

The poem was originally longer and published under a different name, ‘The Valley Nis’. It’s a verse Poe obviously thought of through the years, until he published its revision in 1845, just four years before his death. We don’t think of it often today, but I believe it opens a window into Poe’s melancholic heart.  

The image is one of many surviving examples of Poe’s signature.

Friday Poe Poem – 05 February 2016


Today’s poem by Edgar A. Poe is an achingly beautiful verse about love lost, and the interminable forces of the world that inevitably wash away everything we hold dear.

‘A Dream Within a Dream’

Take this kiss upon the brow!

And, in parting from you now,

Thus much let me avow —

You are not wrong, who deem

That my days have been a dream;

Yet if hope has flown away

In a night, or in a day,

In a vision, or in none,

Is it therefore the less gone

All that we see or seem

Is but a dream within a dream.


I stand amid the roar

Of a surf-tormented shore,

And I hold within my hand

Grains of the golden sand —

How few! yet how they creep

Through my fingers to the deep,

While I weep — while I weep!

O God! Can I not grasp

Them with a tighter clasp?

O God! can I not save

One from the pitiless wave?

Is all that we see or seem

But a dream within a dream?

The metaphor is lovely: the pitiless reality of how everything sifts away, so that you can’t even hold on to a grain of sand.

Through the course of his short life, Poe lost everything he loved: His mother, his siblings to either alcohol or madness, his young wife to consumption, and–from his perspective–his chance at literary greatness. The last was the greatest of all, and on that count he was wrong. Alas, that recognition came only after his death.

This was published in 1849, the year of Poe’s death. The poem almost seems an epitaph.

Poe Quote – Saturday 30 January 2016


This atmospheric and dreary poem, ‘The Haunted Palace’ was originally published in 1839, but eventually made its way into Poe’s masterpiece ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’ as a read-aloud verse attributed to the fictional character of Roderick Usher.

In the greenest of our valleys

   By good angels tenanted,

Once a fair and stately palace—

   Radiant palace—reared its head.

In the monarch Thought’s dominion,

   It stood there!

Never seraph spread a pinion

   Over fabric half so fair!


Banners yellow, glorious, golden,

   On its roof did float and flow

(This—all this—was in the olden

   Time long ago)

And every gentle air that dallied,

   In that sweet day,

Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,

   A wingèd odor went away.


Wanderers in that happy valley,

   Through two luminous windows, saw

Spirits moving musically

   To a lute’s well-tunèd law,

Round about a throne where, sitting,


In state his glory well befitting,

   The ruler of the realm was seen.


And all with pearl and ruby glowing

   Was the fair palace door,

Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing

   And sparkling evermore,

A troop of Echoes, whose sweet duty

   Was but to sing,

In voices of surpassing beauty,

   The wit and wisdom of their king.


But evil things, in robes of sorrow,

   Assailed the monarch’s high estate;

(Ah, let us mourn!—for never morrow

   Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)

And round about his home the glory

   That blushed and bloomed

Is but a dim-remembered story

   Of the old time entombed.


And travellers, now, within that valley,

   Through the red-litten windows see

Vast forms that move fantastically

   To a discordant melody;

While, like a ghastly rapid river,

   Through the pale door

A hideous throng rush out forever,

   And laugh—but smile no more.

The story here is simple and not unusual for Poe: The glorious past has decayed. All things beautiful eventually fade. Porphyrogene was a Latin emperor of Constantinople who eventually fell to ruin. As is so often the case with Poe, past tragedies warn of the future, and this poem is a warning that life will eventually steal everything from us: disease, circumstances, any number of evils, weaken us, subvert us, destroy us. However, in the meantime, enjoy the lyrical beauty of this verse.

‘The Haunted Palace’ has enjoyed a lot of success on its own through the years, whether it was Roger Corman stealing the title for a Lovecraftian film adaptation that had nothing to do with Poe, or a European rock band translating it into Bulgarian for lyrics.

The image comes from a poster for the 1963 film of that name which, as we said above, had very little to do with Poe. It did star Vincent Price, who made many other Poe adaptations that actually had something do with the poet.

Friday’s Poe Quote – 08 January 2016


Here in Wisconsin a dim shroud of chilling fog hangs over the January day–too warm to actually snow, but cold enough to chill the bones. A perfect time to read aloud one of Poe’s most atmospheric verses, a great example of Dark Romanticism.


By a route obscure and lonely,   

Haunted by ill angels only,

Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT,   

On a black throne reigns upright,

I have reached these lands but newly   

From an ultimate dim Thule—

From a wild weird clime that lieth, sublime,

       Out of SPACE—Out of TIME.


Bottomless vales and boundless floods,   

And chasms, and caves, and Titan woods,   

With forms that no man can discover   

For the tears that drip all over;   

Mountains toppling evermore   

Into seas without a shore;   

Seas that restlessly aspire,   

Surging, unto skies of fire;   

Lakes that endlessly outspread   

Their lone waters—lone and dead,—   

Their still waters—still and chilly   

With the snows of the lolling lily.


By the lakes that thus outspread

Their lone waters, lone and dead,—

Their sad waters, sad and chilly

With the snows of the lolling lily,—

By the mountains—near the river   

Murmuring lowly, murmuring ever,—   

By the grey woods,—by the swamp   

Where the toad and the newt encamp,—   

By the dismal tarns and pools

   Where dwell the Ghouls,—   

By each spot the most unholy—   

In each nook most melancholy,—   

There the traveller meets, aghast,   

Sheeted Memories of the Past—   

Shrouded forms that start and sigh   

As they pass the wanderer by—   

White-robed forms of friends long given,   

In agony, to the Earth—and Heaven.


For the heart whose woes are legion   

’T is a peaceful, soothing region—   

For the spirit that walks in shadow   

’T is—oh, ’t is an Eldorado!

But the traveller, travelling through it,   

May not—dare not openly view it;   

Never its mysteries are exposed   

To the weak human eye unclosed;   

So wills its King, who hath forbid   

The uplifting of the fring’d lid;   

And thus the sad Soul that here passes   

Beholds it but through darkened glasses.


By a route obscure and lonely,   

Haunted by ill angels only,

Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT,

On a black throne reigns upright,   

I have wandered home but newly   

From this ultimate dim Thule.

–Edgar A. Poe (1844)

Read aloud, this lush and lovely verse is hypnotic. Poetically speaking, Poe pulls out all the stops: he employs rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, assonance (repeated vowel sounds within words) and a trove of literary and mythological allusions, such names as Eldorado, Titan, Thule and Eidolon, to wonderful effect. This truly is a verse to be read aloud. Granted, all verse should be read aloud, but if you just read this 19th century poem silently off the page, it’ll seem stilted. But if you take the time to speak it aloud–preferably while holding a glass of wine or brandy–it blooms into life.    

I’m not going to bore with you by trying to analyze this poem. There isn’t universal agreement on what it’s about. Very briefly, it strikes me as being about imagination, and how an artist’s dream life–that is, their imagination and subconscious–can be their salvation from the miseries and travails of reality. Poe’s reality was terrible: tragedies, losses, suffering, rejection, poverty, depression. What are many of the strange horrors described in this poem? Are they the stuff of fancy, or of real life?

Read it aloud and decide for yourself. What do you think?

The image comes from the front of my house, a photograph I took moments ago: it could be a photograph stolen from Poe’s own ‘Dream-Land.’

Merry Christmas from Edgar A. Poe! 25 December 2015

Poe xmas - 1

With this year’s rare instance of a full moon on Christmas, I thought this the perfect time to enjoy this little gem from Poe. Of course, remember it’s Poe, and so in this case the moon is malevolent; it’s the evening star that brings hope of a better future:


‘Twas noontide of summer,

And mid-time of night;

And stars, in their orbits,

Shone pale, thro’ the light

Of the brighter, cold moon,

‘Mid planets her slaves,

Herself in the Heavens,

Her beam on the waves.

I gazed awhile

On her cold smile;

Too cold–too cold for me-

There pass’d, as a shroud,

A fleecy cloud,

And I turned away to thee,

Proud Evening Star,

In thy glory afar,

And dearer thy beam shall be;

For joy to my heart

Is the proud part

Thou bearest in Heaven at night,

And more I admire

Thy distant fire,

Than that colder, lowly light.

–Edgar A. Poe, 1827

Poe published this in 1827, and by that time had already suffered many of the privations of his hard life. So this evening star provides some kind of hope, a focus away from the pallor of the moon that seems to shine over the Poet’s life. And if Mr. Poe hadn’t been a grand dreamer, full of hope, he never would’ve managed to create many of his masterpieces we still enjoy today.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Happy Friday the Thirteenth from Edgar A. Poe!

Poe Mad - 1

Today’s the day when those of with triskaidekaphobia fear the worst. There’s no evidence Poe suffered from this bizarre malady, but suffer he did in his short life. One of the few pleasures Poe enjoyed was scaring the hell out of the rest of us. In celebration of Friday the Thirteenth, I’d like to share some of my favorite Poe horrors.

Note, if some of these now might make you laugh, it’s good to remember that Poe was writing this stuff in the first half of the 1800’s, a time much more straight-laced than our own. He shocked readers, amazed them, and on several occasions publishers even refused to print some of the madness Mr. Poe dreamt up.

The insane narrator maims his beloved pet cat in ‘The Black Cat’:

The fury of a demon instantly possessed me. I knew myself no longer. My original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my body and a more than fiendish malevolence, gin-nurtured, thrilled every fibre of my frame. I took from my waistcoat-pocket a pen-knife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket! I blush, I burn, I shudder, while I pen the damnable atrocity.

The insane narrator rips out the teeth of his beloved while she’s still alive in ‘Berenice’:

He pointed to garments;—they were muddy and clotted with gore. I spoke not, and he took me gently by the hand: it was indented with the impress of human nails. He directed my attention to some object against the wall. I looked at it for some minutes: it was a spade. With a shriek I bounded to the table, and grasped the box that lay upon it. But I could not force it open; and in my tremor, it slipped from my hands, and fell heavily, and burst into pieces; and from it, with a rattling sound, there rolled out some instruments of dental surgery, intermingled with thirty-two small, white and ivory-looking substances that were scattered to and fro about the floor.

The insane narrator murders his landlord, then realizes, in a passing fit of sanity, that he has a body to dispose of in ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’:

If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.

The quite sane (sorry), August Dupin, detective extraordinaire, investigates a gruesome murder in ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’:

Of Madame L’Espanaye no traces were here seen; but an unusual quantity of soot being observed in the fire-place, a search was made in the chimney, and (horrible to relate!) the corpse of the daughter, head downward, was dragged therefrom; it having been thus forced up the narrow aperture for a considerable distance. The body was quite warm. Upon examining it, many excoriations were perceived, no doubt occasioned by the violence with which it had been thrust up and disengaged. Upon the face were many severe scratches, and, upon the throat, dark bruises, and deep indentations of finger nails, as if the deceased had been throttled to death.

The insane narrator wreaks revenge on Fortunato by walling him up in a catacomb so his victim can slowly starve to death in ‘The Cask of Amontillado’:

“For the love of God, Montressor!”

“Yes,” I said, “for the love of God!”

But to these words I hearkened in vain for a reply. I grew impatient. I called aloud—


No answer. I called again—


No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and let it fall within. There came forth in return only a jingling of the bells. My heart grew sick—on account of the dampness of the catacombs. I hastened to make an end of my labor. I forced the last stone into its position; I plastered it up. Against the new masonry I re-erected the old rampart of bones. For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them. In pace requiescat! 

And finally, the pathologically neurotic narrator obsesses on his greatest fear–to be buried alive–in ‘The Premature Burial’. Of course, by story’s end, he is buried alive.

It may be asserted, without hesitation, that no event is so terribly well adapted to inspire the supremeness of bodily and of mental distress, as is burial before death. The unendurable oppression of the lungs—the stifling fumes from the damp earth—the clinging to the death garments—the rigid embrace of the narrow house—the blackness of the absolute Night—the silence like a sea that overwhelms—the unseen but palpable presence of the Conqueror Worm—these things, with the thoughts of the air and grass above, with memory of dear friends who would fly to save us if but informed of our fate, and with consciousness that of this fate they can never be informed—that our hopeless portion is that of the really dead—these considerations, I say, carry into the heart, which still palpitates, a degree of appalling and intolerable horror from which the most daring imagination must recoil. We know of nothing so agonizing upon Earth—we can dream of nothing half so hideous in the realms of the nethermost Hell.

A Halloween of Mournful Remembrance from Edgar A. Poe – 2015

Poe Halloween - 1

‘The Raven.’ Poe’s masterpiece has become a mainstay of popular American literature.   Written in 1845, only four years before Poe’s death, it drew its inspiration from many of the tragedies of Poe’s short life: lost love, rumination, failed scholarship and a predisposition toward the gothic and supernatural. It survives today as one of the most popular poems in America. I can still remember my father, decades ago, quoting this poem; my father was not a literary man.

Some interesting facts about ‘The Raven’:

  • The idea of a talking raven was probably borrowed from Dickens.
  • The rhythm and meter was probably borrowed from Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
  • It made Poe famous and popular, but it sure didn’t make him wealthy.
  • It influenced successive artists and entities such as Nabokov, Bernard Malamud, Ravel, Ray Bradbury, the Allan Parsons Project, the National Football League and the Simpson’s ‘Tree House of Horror.’

Here are some links to celebrities reading ‘The Raven’:

James Earl Jones:


Christopher Walken:


Vincent Price:


Christopher Lee:


Basil Rathbone:


And finally, here’s the original.   Happy Halloween!

‘The Raven’ by Edgar A. Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—

Only this and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;

And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.

Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow

From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—

For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—

Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;

So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating

“’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—

Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—

This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,

“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;

But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,

And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,

That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—

Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,

Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;

But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,

And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”

This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—

Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,

Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.

“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;

Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—

Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—

’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,

In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;

Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;

But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—

Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—

Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,

By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,

“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,

Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—

Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,

Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;

For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being

Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—

Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,

With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only

That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.

Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—

Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—

On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”

Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,

“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store

Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster

Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—

Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore

Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,

Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;

Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking

Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—

What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore

Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing

To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;

This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining

On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,

But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,

She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer

Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.

“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee

Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;

Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—

Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,

Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—

On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—

Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!

By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—

Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,

It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—

Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—

“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!

Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!

Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!

Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting

On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,

And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor

Shall be lifted—nevermore!

Wednesday’s Inspirational Quote – 28 October 2015

Poe for novel excerpt

“Am I able to describe her? Do I possess the words for it? Even now, she is reposed in angelic slumber, behind me. If I turn, rise and carry my candle, I might gaze on her dozing visage, in all its sublimity: her luscious lips, pursed, poised; her ivory cheeks; those dark lashes, as soft and subtle as feathers on white down; above, her alabaster brow in rest, faintly crinkled with those great, great worries of her home realm, awhirl in her girlish brain. Atop such troubles, her tresses are gold, spun into silk. Yet for all that I espy in this inky light, it is her shuttered eyes that have caught my Mind’s Eye, eyes black, as black as a Raven’s. She has become the Raven I dreaded–the Raven I knew would visit me–only to find her not a harbinger of death, but a herald of heaven, a heaven I had not the heart to imagine.”

–from The Tell-Tale Art by Rich Novotney

Today, please forgive a moment of self-promotion. Who wrote the above? Does it sound at all like Edgar A. Poe? Hopefully it does just a smidge. This morning I was working on edits for my novel on Edgar A. Poe (at the behest of an excellent agent whom I hope will like what I’m doing), and came across this passage. It’s from one of the ersatz Poe journal entries I’ve created for the book. Here Poe waxes poetic about the love of his life, an amazing woman born three hundred years in the future.  

Friday’s Poe Quote – 23 October 2015


One of the last poems Poe ever wrote, published the year he died, 1849, is a lyrical rumination on humanity’s futile search for happiness. The knight in the poem fails to find happiness; and in his own life, Poe failed too.


Gaily bedight,

A gallant knight,

In sunshine and in shadow,

Had journeyed long,

Singing a song,

In search of Eldorado.

But he grew old—

This knight so bold—

And o’er his heart a shadow

Fell as he found

No spot of ground

That looked like Eldorado.

And, as his strength

Failed him at length,

He met a pilgrim shadow—

“Shadow,” said he,

“Where can it be—

This land of Eldorado?”

“Over the Mountains

Of the Moon,

Down the Valley of the Shadow,

Ride, boldly ride,”

The shade replied—

“If you seek for Eldorado!”

So lovely how ‘shadow’ occurs in every sestet (a stanza with six lines), and how its meaning changes. The simplicity of this poem, its elegance and beauty bely its grim message.  

This poem has enjoyed enduring popularity: Classical composers have put it to music as well as pop (including one of my favorite pop artists of the 60’s, Donovan). Movies have found its lyrics irresistible, and you can find snippets of this verse being quoted by the likes of James Caan and Kiefer Sutherland.  

Read it aloud, it’s October, the perfect month for Poe; he died this month 166 years ago.

The image is from the 1966 film El Dorado, where John Wayne shoots people, and James Caan quotes Edgar A. Poe.