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Friday, June 4, 2010

To One Lost in Paradise

(Portrait of an Unknown Woman by an early
nineteenth-century French artist)

Grief can whisper, but often it wails.

It’s a delicate line that separates the emotional from the overwrought. The poet, searching for ways to draw an image of his beloved, has to take care not to go to extremes. Edgar Allan Poe almost crosses the boundaries in this love poem. The metaphors he uses at first glance seem confusing and in a whirl. But then, it becomes clear he has entered the fanciful world between the real and the unreal, between trance and dream, between the Past and the Future. The metaphors reflect the maelstrom that has descended on him.


Thou wast that all to me, love,
For which my soul did pine ─
A green isle in the sea, love,
A fountain and a shrine,
All wreathed with fairy fruits and flowers,
And all the flowers were mine.

Ah, dream too bright to last!
Ah, starry Hope! that didst arise
But to be overcast!
A voice from out the Future cries,
“On! On!” ─ but o’er the Past
(Dim gulf!) my spirit hovering lies
Mute, motionless, aghast!

For, alas! alas! with me
The light of Life is o’er!
“No more ─ no more ─ no more ─”
(Such language holds the solemn sea
To the sands upon the shore)
Shall bloom the thunder-blasted tree,
Or the stricken eagle soar!

And all my days are trances,
And all my nightly dreams
Are where thy dark eye glances,
And where thy footstep gleams ─
In what ethereal dances,
By what eternal streams.

~ Edgar Allan Poe (1801-1849), American poet, writer and father of the detective story

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