Friday Five: Poe(ms)


Mirabelle Feng

An illustration representing various motifs in some of Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous poems. Many regard Poe as the greatest poet to ever live.

by Jonathan Xue, Humans of Harker Profiler

Edgar Allan Poe died of consumption. But even a century and a half later, his works continue to gnaw at me; their biting twists and subtle nuance are truly captivating. Each poem he writes is layered with a grief so authentically human, so heart-wrenchingly beautiful, that I can’t help but marvel at Poe’s literary genius. And sure, he may have been unhinged, but it’s that madness which seeps into every one of his poems that makes them uniquely Poe. His deliciously macabre interpretations of classical writings offer a reading experience which I have found to be unmatched by other authors. Deftly weaving between reality and insanity, Poe casts an illusory atmosphere over his compositions, complemented by crisp wit and cynical undertones. Alas, what more could be desired?

5. “The Sleeper”

A sleeper indeed, few critics rank “The Sleeper” as one of Poe’s better works. But there’s something about the vivid descriptions and the haunting imagery that is just so captivating. 

To begin, Poe rewrites the classically gothic cemetery as a place teeming with wildlife, juxtaposed to the death it represents. With the central premise being that the narrator conflates his dead lover with her sleeping, the poem is certainly much lighter than Poe’s other works, and that airiness gives the whole scene a lovely ephemeral quality. Near the end, the narrator becomes slightly disturbed, but the tone is rather cogent for the most part, unfortunate for a Poe poem. The imagery and vivid descriptions are what makes the poem work so well, but it just lacks that Poe-esque flair. Neither truly macabre nor manic, “The Sleeper” is certainly a well-written poem, just not that interesting of one. Nevertheless, it remains an amusing poem, nice as a recreational read. 

4. “Annabel Lee”

“Annabel Lee” – Poe’s take on the classic children’s poem. Of course, it wouldn’t really be a Poe poem without a reference to a lover’s death, so that’s thrown in there as well. Maintaining a steady tempo throughout, “Annabel Lee” reads like a nursery rhyme, but a dark, disturbing one that concludes with a man lying by the corpse of his wife on a nightly basis. That perfectly creepy take on the motif of children’s tales is done exquisitely, slowly getting more unsettling as the poem progresses. Truly scrumptious. Poe’s depictions of insanity and grief really shine here, accentuating the cliché love story with a tragic twist not many writers could pull off. While it still plays off a simplistic pattern, Poe’s rendition changes the mood entirely, a fascinating work of art indeed.

3. “A Dream Within A Dream”

In “A Dream Within A Dream,” Poe ponders the existential question of whether anything in life is truly real, swiftly sinking into insanity. The narrator’s desperation is palpable as he attempts to assure himself that his actions are indeed relevant, but his efforts prove futile. As he hopelessly seeks to grasp hold of reality, time itself eludes him, leaving the narrator in a state of pure despair. Despite the depressing depictions, the emotion Poe evokes in a mere two stanzas is absolutely stunning. The richness, the depth of the speaker’s internal struggle perfectly showcases Poe’s literary mastery, a testament to his talent. Simply beautiful and filled with intricate nuance, the only lament I have for “A Dream Within A Dream” is that it’s too brief, much like a dream in passing.

2. “Alone”

“And all I lov’d – I lov’d alone–” Poignant and introspective, “Alone” reflects back on Poe’s childhood and what influenced his uniquely dark style of poetry. He reveals that the source of his sorrows stems from the death of all his loved ones, catalyzing an infatuation with writing about death and the grief it produces. While not as dramatically insane as his other works, there’s something about Poe’s willingness to be so openly vulnerable that induces a sense of sympathy. For behind his grim, gaunt exterior, it seems he’s unable to escape the trauma that haunted him as a child. And the evocation of that hopelessness is more tragic than any of Poe’s fictional poems, a brutally agonizing confession. His genuine feeling of loss and heartache is palpable, and it’s what makes “Alone” so intensely personal as a poem. 

1. “The Raven”

Ah, distinctly I remember, it was in the bleak December when I first encountered “The Raven” by the esteemed figure Poe. Immediately, I was drawn to Poe’s eccentric style, the part of himself he infused in every line. And even after reading all his other poems, “The Raven” still holds a special place in my heart, the epitome of all that is Poe. Free-flowing lyricism, layered emotions, exquisite detail, all culminating with a man driven mad by grief. Absolutely perfect. And the titular raven’s instigation of the narrator’s insanity with only a singular word is a masterful metaphor, showing how unstable he has already become. Each verse transitions beautifully into the next in captivating fashion, grasping the reader’s attention and never letting go. Perhaps my soul was trapped in the shadow of “The Raven” that lies floating on the floor, since lifted nevermore. Throughout the wintry seasons, I find myself coming back to it again and again, since ingrained in my mind. Elegant and eloquent, “The Raven” remains a culmination of everything Poe, truly his magnum opus.