Saturday, June 14, 2014

Know your Poe: Fairy Land




Blogger's note. I think this is going to be my last entry in Know your Poe. And while I haven't covered every single work he wrote in his scant 40 years on earth, you must admit I have bitten off a good chunk. 

I am hardly a Poe scholar, and my mucking around in his work is merely an exploration, but it has been compelling (for me, anyway). What I have noticed, especially in his dense, difficult poetry, is that he often starts off on a positive, even exalted note: but at a certain point, there is a "turn". By the end of the poem the mood is extremely dire, terror-stricken, even hopeless. What happens here, and why?

It is as if Poe does not trust happiness. It will all fall out from underneath him eventually (and here we see why I feel a certain kinship with him and his work). He knows it will end, as surely as life ends. And he does not trust women. They are exalted to the point of appearing supernatural, or at least supernaturally beautiful. He sits beside them and woos them. He does not have sex with them. Now surely, he must have had sex with someone, because it's the rare person who doesn't. A lot of these types who exalted women went to prostitutes for fulfillment (Beethoven comes to mind: and it gave me a thrill of shock to realize that Poe was born while Beethoven was in his heyday. They walked the earth at the same time, though Beethoven managed his self-pity much better.)





I wasn't sure whether to post this only with illustrations (subconscious images, in case anyone wonders why I don't do "line about a rose" (picture of rose); "line about eyes" (picture of eyes). This sort of approach makes me yip and scream with its unimaginitiveness.) But I have things to say about this, and I need to interject. So I will have to run it twice. Hoo-ha. 


FAIRY LAND.

————


Sit down beside me, Isabel,
Here, dearest, where the moonbeam fell
Just now so fairy-like and well.
Now thou art dress’d for paradise!
I am star-stricken with thine eyes!
My soul is lolling on thy sighs!
Thy hair is lifted by the moon
Like flowers by the low breath of June!
Sit down, sit down — how came we here?
Or is it all but a dream, my dear?




You know that most enormous flower —
That rose — that what d’ye call it — that hung
Up like a dog-star in this bower —
To-day (the wind blew, and) it swung
So impudently in my face,
So like a thing alive you know,
I tore it from its pride of place
And shook it into pieces — so
Be all ingratitude requited.
The winds ran off with it delighted,
And, thro’ the opening left, as soon
As she threw off her cloak, yon moon
Has sent a ray down with a tune.




And this ray is a fairy ray —
Did you not say so, Isabel?
How fantastically it fell
With a spiral twist and a swell,
And over the wet grass rippled away
With a tinkling like a bell!
In my own country all the way
We can discover a moon ray
Which thro’ some tatter’d curtain pries
Into the darkness of a room,
Is by (the very source of gloom)
The motes, and dust, and flies,
On which it trembles and lies
Like joy upon sorrow! ­
O, when will come the morrow?
Isabel! do you not fear
The night and the wonders here?
Dim vales! and shadowy floods!
And cloudy-looking woods
Whose forms we can’t discover
For the tears that drip all over!


Huge moons — see! wax and wane
Again — again — again —
Every moment of the night —
Forever changing places!
How they put out the starlight
With the breath from their pale faces!




Lo! one is coming down
With its centre on the crown
Of a mountain’s eminence!
Down — still down — and down —
Now deep shall be — O deep!
The passion of our sleep!
For that wide circumference
In easy drapery falls
Drowsily over halls — ­
Over ruin’d walls —
Over waterfalls,
(Silent waterfalls!)
O’re the strange woods — o’er the sea —
Alas! over the sea!




FAIRY LAND.

————


Sit down beside me, Isabel,
Here, dearest, where the moonbeam fell
Just now so fairy-like and well.

So what's the mood here? Warm, inviting, certainly comfortable, with a romantic mention of moonbeams - in fact, she's sitting on the moonbeam, an odd thing. 

Now thou art dress’d for paradise!
I am star-stricken with thine eyes!
My soul is lolling on thy sighs!




Poe uses words like "lolling" and "gloating" as a sort of onomatopoeia (though I am not sure how gloating works - and yet, it does). This is sensuous, even sexual language, as if he's swooning at her feet. Almost.

Thy hair is lifted by the moon
Like flowers by the low breath of June!
Sit down, sit down — how came we here?
Or is it all but a dream, my dear?

Oh-oh, we have our first indication that all this pleasure isn't real.

You know that most enormous flower —
That rose — that what d’ye call it — that hung
Up like a dog-star in this bower —
To-day (the wind blew, and) it swung ­
So impudently in my face,
So like a thing alive you know,
I tore it from its pride of place
And shook it into pieces — so
Be all ingratitude requited.
The winds ran off with it delighted,
And, thro’ the opening left, as soon
As she threw off her cloak, yon moon
Has sent a ray down with a tune.




I just don't know where to begin here, it's so brilliant and strange. The "what d'ye call it" shouldn't work at all, but does, in establishing a sort of naturalness. The dog-star is the strangest thing I've ever heard - a rose that looks like a star? Now the rose is in his face, literally, and he grabs it "from its pride of place" (Poe had a thing about status) and tears it to pieces, not exactly a romantic or friendly gesture. Why does he do this? "Be all ingratitude requited" - what's that all about? The rose is ungrateful, is it - or is he? Or is Isabal? (I could stay here all day, especially in light of the symbolism of rose as female genitalia.)

And this ray is a fairy ray —
Did you not say so, Isabel?
How fantastically it fell
With a spiral twist and a swell,
And over the wet grass rippled away
With a tinkling like a bell!

Be prepared for the "turn". Fairyland lasts but a moment. And let's not ask about that "swell".




In my own country all the way
We can discover a moon ray
Which thro’ some tatter’d curtain pries
Into the darkness of a room,
Is by (the very source of gloom)
The motes, and dust, and flies,
On which it trembles and lies
Like joy upon sorrow! ­
O, when will come the morrow?

Eddy, don't go there! But he has already gone. "In my own country" surely refers to more than the United States of Poetry. He means HIS psychic landscape, his place of doom. The moonbeam has exposed all the ugliness that lurks in his soul, darkness and crawling things. He already wants it to be tomorrow, so where has gone the joy?




Isabel! do you not fear
The night and the wonders here?
Dim vales! and shadowy floods!
And cloudy-looking woods
Whose forms we can’t discover
For the tears that drip all over!

Genius is something that makes us smack ourselves on the forehead and exclaim, "Why didn't *I* think of that? " (Because you're not a genius, is why, but that's the form it takes.) It's also something so deceptively simple, it's as if anyone COULD think if it, but somehow didn't. Moreover, it is as if it has always been there. "Dim vales! and shadowy floods!/And cloudy-looking woods" - not "cloudy", but "cloudy-LOOKING", as if seen through a fogged-up windowpane, fogged up by, perhaps, someone's desperate breath. "For the tears that drip all over" is candlewax (a candle that sheds light only for a brief while, then consumes itself with flame and dies?), the melting of hope, uncontainable sorrow, pitiless rain and its drippy aftermath - I could go on and on, but he does it in a few words. Damn.

Huge moons — see! wax and wane
Again — again — again —
Every moment of the night —
Forever changing places!
How they put out the starlight
With the breath from their pale faces!

Poe knows how to use repetition, sometimes to an outrageous degree. From the raven's relentless "nevermore" to the "bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells," he not only gets away with it, he haunts us, grabs us, shakes us with it. This moon is, to say the least, not the lovely shining silver thing we see every night, but some inexplicaby multiple, ghastly phantom that changes shape and location, waxing and waning bizarrely as if in time-lapse photography. These "huge moons" even have the capacity to blow out and extinguish the stars like so many birthday candles.




Lo! one is coming down
With its centre on the crown
Of a mountain’s eminence!
Down — still down — and down —
Now deep shall be — O deep!
The passion of our sleep!
For that wide circumference
In easy drapery falls
Drowsily over halls — ­[page 58:]
Over ruin’d walls —
Over waterfalls,
(Silent waterfalls!)
O’re the strange woods — o’er the sea —
Alas! over the sea!

Why does it end this way, on a note of terror, even hysteria? This horrible moon, personified into some creepy animate being (and just "one" is coming down, so what about all the rest?) is settling over everything like a suffocating blanket. Thus everything is ruined, waterfalls dried up, the "strange" woods stilled, and - at last - the sea itself conquered. And those eerily erotic, narcotic lines about sleep: "Down - still down - and down - /Now deep shall be - O deep! The passion of our sleep!"




You could spend a month squeezing this, and not get it all. Was Poe as afraid of sleep as death itself? Was he just a scaredy-cat, having strange visions in the woods? Had he gotten into the laudanum again (though the Poe Society site keeps insisting he didn't use it)? It has a hallucinogenic, almost insane quality, describing not just a menacing moon but mutiples of ghastly, ghostly, animated phantoms, sending a lunar ambassador down to expose his inner ugliness as well as suffocate and conquer everything.

Was Poe writing about "lunacy" then? And what about poor Isabel? Whatever happened to her? She must have run screaming at some point. Talk about a lousy date.

OK, the moon. . . women's sexuality. . . waxing and waning. . .the menstrual cycle (which he may have barely known about). . .something you howl at. . . something lovers stroll under. . .something that makes you insane (oh-oh, it's a full moon tonight) - OK, I give up, Poe, you've thrown us a good one this time, and beautiful as it is, I have to confess I don't understand it at all.




ADDENDA.

A little more information about the "dog-star", verse 2, line 3:

Sir·i·us  [sir-ee-uhs] noun

1. Astronomy . the Dog Star, the brightest-appearing star in the heavens, located in the constellation Canis Major.

2. Also, Seirios. Classical Mythology  a)  the dog of Orion.

    b) Icarus' faithful dog, who was changed into a star.

Origin: 1325–75; Middle English, Latin Sīrius; Greek Seírios

It is a binary star whose companion, Sirius B, is a very faint white dwarf. 





So now we are off again! Faithful dog; that which "dogs" you and won't let you go; Icarus, whose wings melted when he flew too close to the sun (the tears that drip all over!). . . and on and on. . .and of course, the obvious play on "serious'. . . Interesting that the dog-star has a twin, so that its brightness is something of a cheat.

The name Isabel,a variation of Elizabeth, means "God is my oath".

And I can't resist this - I took another look at that title and thought, "Fairy Land - Sirius-ly?"

Badda-boom.




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