Forwarding Martin's poems while he's away...
(Poem #141) 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 that 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.
This is one of Poe's typical, 'atmospheric' poems, gloomy, and with the mystical, almost eldritch atmosphere that hints at, but never quite reveals, the supernatural horrors lurking beneath the surface. This is the true darker side of the sea; not the violent and death-dealing aspect, but the 'hideously serene' waters that entomb a city ruled by Death. Compare the descriptions of the sea in Coleridge's 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner', and note that for a sailor, a still sea often could mean death - the world of difference between 'calm' and 'becalmed' - and 'hideously serene' becomes less of an oxymoron. Formwise, the verse seems to be a bit less regular than usual, with several breaks in the metre, most notably omitted unstressed syllables. Examining some of the latter, phrases like 'dim west' and 'dull tide' suggest that Poe's aim was to create a heavy, deadening effect. I won't go over the formal analysis in detail, except to note that the long line in the first verse ('where the good and the bad...) might be influenced by Coleridge's "the sky and the sea and the sea and the sky" (and then, again, it might not, but it's an interesting point.) m. Glossary: fane: A temple Poe-related stuff: See Poem #85