#20

As I mentioned previously, Edgar Allen Poe was my first fascination in poetry at a young age. There was something so inviting in his dark conjurings — dangerous, scary, but enticing. The rhythm and flow of his verse is hypnotic, like waves cresting the shore, while you don’t realize you are slowly being pulled out to sea. It was difficult to choose just one of his works, as there are many, I think, people have not been exposed to as much as the recognized “classics”.

I settled on “The City in the Sea”, which was published in 1831, almost 100 years before Lovecraft would write about Cthulhu. I have always found existential horror far more terrifying than more traditional scary stories. If you didn’t know any better, you might think that this poem was written by Lovecraft himself, a testament to Poe’s influence on the horror genre.

This was another poem that I memorized in my youth, simply out of repeated reading and its naturally infectious verse. It is a detailed and reverential description of a mysterious subaquatic city of death. The hauntingly beautiful language paints a vivid picture in the reader’s mind of a wholly unearthly scene. It’s poetry, plain and simple. But instead of being about a blackbird, a Grecian urn, or a summer’s day, it is about a ghostly, underwater kingdom. That is the genius, and/or madness, of Poe, and it chills my blood… everytime.

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The City in the Sea

Lo! Death has reared himself a throne
In a strange city lying alone
Far down within the dim West,
Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best
Have gone to their eternal rest.
There shrines and palaces and towers
(Time—eaten towers and tremble not!)
Resemble nothing that is ours.
Around, by lifting winds forgot,
Resignedly beneath the sky
The melancholy waters lie.

No rays from the holy Heaven come down
On the long night—time of that town;
But light from out the lurid sea
Streams up the turrets silently–
Gleams up the pinnacles far and free–
Up domes–up spires–up kingly halls–
Up fanes–up Babylon–like walls–
Up shadowy long–forgotten bowers
Of sculptured ivy and stone flowers–
Up many and many a marvellous shrine
Whose wreathed friezes intertwine
The viol, the violet, and the vine.

Resignedly beneath the sky
The melancholy waters lie.
So blend the turrets and shadows there
That all seem pendulous in air,
While from a proud tower in the town
Death looks gigantically down.

There open fanes and gaping graves
Yawn level with the luminous waves;
But not the riches there that lie
In each idol’s diamond eye–
Not the gaily–jewelled dead
Tempt the waters from their bed;
For no ripples curl, alas!
Along that wilderness of glass–
No swellings tell that winds may be
Upon some far–off happier sea–
No heavings hint that winds have been
On seas less hideously serene.

But lo, a stir is in the air!
The wave–there is a movement there!
As if the towers had thrust aside,
In slightly sinking, the dull tide–
As if their tops had feebly given
A void within the filmy Heaven.
The waves have now a redder glow–
The hours are breathing faint and low–
And when, amid no earthly moans,
Down, down that town shall settle hence,
Hell, rising from a thousand thrones,
Shall do it reverence.

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