Text: Thomas Ollive Mabbott (and E. A. Poe), “The City in the Sea,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. I: Poems (1969), pp. 196-204 (This material is protected by copyright)


∞∞∞∞∞∞∞


­[page 196, continued:]

THE CITY IN THE SEA

This poem is a companion piece to “The Valley of Unrest.” Unsurpassed for power in its final form, it contains no line that ­[page 197:] one could wish away. It moves unfaltering from beginning to end. Poe’s contemporaries probably did not find the subject obscure for legends about the ruins of the cities sunken in the Dead Sea were a favorite theme with the poets of his time, although none of them, perhaps, treated it as well as he.

The poem is an amplification of the passage in the version of “Al Aaraaf” sent to John Neal, which was quoted in The Yankee and Boston Literary Gazette (December 1829, p. 296), thus:

. . . the stilly, clear abyss

Of beautiful Gomorrah! oh! the wave

Is now upon thee — but too late to save!

Far down within the crystal of the lake

Thy swollen pillars tremble — and so quake

The hearts of many wanderers who look in

Thy luridness of beauty — and of sin.

In the slightly later text of his volume of 1829, Poe shortened the passage but added a long footnote to line 38 (page 107, above).

Here, as in the case of “Al Aaraaf,” Poe used F. Shoberl’s version of Chateaubriand’s Itinéraire. It is most probable that of the sources given there Poe did look up Josephus, whose works were in every clergyman’s and many a layman’s library a century ago. Josephus says in The Wars of the Jews, IV, viii, 4, in the standard English version of William Whiston, first printed in 1737:

The nature of the lake Asphaltitis [the Dead Sea] is also worth describing . . . The change of the colour of this lake is wonderful, for it changes its appearance thrice every day; and as the rays of the sun fall differently upon it, the light is variously reflected . . . and the traces (or shadows) of the five cities are still to be seen.

Poe may also have used encyclopedias and Biblical commentaries on Genesis 19, the story of Lot. The legends, ancient and modern, are that the ruins of the Cities of the Plain are close to the surface at ordinary times, and in very dry weather the tops of walls and columns may be seen above the water. Everything in the poem fits this interpretation. The Dead Sea is in earthquake country, and the poem prophesies that some day an earthquake will tumble down the ruins still standing sunken within the sea. ­[page 198:]

Poe cannot have missed the passage in Edward Coote Pinkney’s Rodolph, II, 26-28:

Gleams, as of drowned antiquity

From cities underneath the sea

Which glooms in famous Galilee.

A volume called The Cities of the Plain had appeared in 1828 from the pen of the American poet, Sumner Lincoln Fairfield, now remembered (if at all) for his poem of the next year, The Last Night of Pompeii, which probably had some influence on Bulwer. Other contemporaries of Poe wrote on the subject: Spencer Wallace Cone has a poem on “The Dead Sea” in The Proud Ladye (1840); and in Vision I of Somnia (1848), Lambert A, Wilmer has a long passage on the legend. Instances could be multiplied.

Whitty (Complete Poems, 1911, p. 220) cited the lines of “Al Aaraaf” as printed in The Yankee as the earliest form of “The City in the Sea.” This obvious indication of the city Poe had in mind had been curiously disregarded.(1)

The original version of 1831 was reprinted with a change of title and a few other minor alterations in 1836. In 1841, in his tale “The Island of the Fay” (Graham’s for June), Poe quoted lines 40-41, changed to read:

So blended bank and shadow there

That each seemed pendulous in air.

In 1845 he revised the poem again for the American (Whig) Review and still again for the Broadway Journal and The Raven and Other Poems. These new versions he called “The City in the Sea.” ­[page 199:]

 

TEXTS

(A) Poems (1831), pp. 49-51; (B) Southern Literary Messenger, August 1836 (2:552); (C) American Review, April 1845 (1:393); (D) Broadway Journal, August 30, 1845 (2:123); (E) The Raven and Other Poems (1845), pp. 21-22; (F) J. Lorimer Graham copy of The Raven . . . ; (G) R. W. Griswold, The Poets and Poetry of America, 10th ed. (1850), p. 418; (H) Works (1850), II, 35-36.

A and H (the latter verbally like D, E, and F) are here given in full. In F the change is only the correction of a misprinted comma in line 51.

[[v]]

THE DOOMED CITY [A]

Lo! Death hath rear’d himself a throne

In a strange city, all alone,

[[n]]

Far down within the dim west —

[[v]]

[[n]]

And the good, and the bad, and the worst, and the best,

5

Have gone to their eternal rest.

 

There shrines, and palaces, and towers

Are — not like any thing of ours —

O! no — O! no — ours never loom

To heaven with that ungodly gloom!

10

Time-eaten towers that tremble not!

[[n]]

Around, by lifting winds forgot,

Resignedly beneath the sky

The melancholy waters lie.

 

[[v]]

A heaven that God doth not contemn

15

With stars is like a diadem —

We liken our ladies’ eyes to them —

But there! that everlasting pall!

It would be mockery to call

Such dreariness a heaven at all.

 

[[v]]

[[n]]

20

Yet tho’ no holy rays come down

On the long night-time of that town,

[[v]]

[[n]]

Light from the lurid, deep sea

Streams up the turrets silently — ­[page 200:]

Up thrones — up long-forgotten bowers

25

Of sculptured ivy and stone flowers —

Up domes — up spires — up kingly halls —

[[n]]

Up fanes — up Babylon-like walls —

Up many a melancholy shrine

Whose entablatures intertwine

30

The mask — the viol — and the vine.

 

[[n]]

There open temples — open graves

Are on a level with the waves —

[[n]]

But not the riches there that lie

In each idol’s diamond eye,

35

Not the gaily-jewell’d dead

Tempt the waters from their bed:

For no ripples curl, alas!

[[n]]

Along that wilderness of glass —

No swellings hint that winds may be

40

Upon a far-off happier sea:

So blend the turrets and shadows there

That all seem pendulous in air,

While from the high towers of the town

Death looks gigantically down.

 

[[n]]

45

But lo! a stir is in the air!

The wave! there is a ripple there!

As if the towers had thrown aside,

In slightly sinking, the dull tide —

As if the turret-tops had given

50

A vacuum in the filmy heaven:

[[n]]

The waves have now a redder glow —

The very hours are breathing low —

And when, amid no earthly moans,

Down, down that town shall settle hence,

[[v]]

[[n]]

55

Hell rising from a thousand thrones

Shall do it reverence,

[[n]]

And Death to some more happy clime

Shall give his undivided time.

[1831]

 


­[page 201, continued:]

[[v]]

THE CITY IN THE SEA [H]

[[v]]

Lo! Death has reared himself a throne

In a strange city lying alone

[[v]]

[[n]]

Far down within the dim West,

[[n]]

Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best

5

Have gone to their eternal rest.

There shrines and palaces and towers

(Time-eaten towers that tremble not!)

Resemble nothing that is ours.

[[n]]

Around, by lifting winds forgot,

10

Resignedly beneath the sky

The melancholy waters lie.

 

[[n]]

No rays from the holy heaven come down

On the long night-time of that town;

[[n]]

But light from out the lurid sea

15

Streams up the turrets silently —

Gleams up the pinnacles far and free

Up domes — up spires — up kingly halls —

[[n]]

Up fanes — up Babylon-like walls —

Up shadowy long-forgotten bowers

20

Of sculptured ivy and stone flowers —

[[n]]

Up many and many a marvellous shrine

Whose wreathéd friezes intertwine

[[n]]

The viol, the violet, and the vine.

 

Resignedly beneath the sky

[[v]]

25

The melancholy waters lie. ­[page 202:]

So blend the turrets and shadows there

That all seem pendulous in air,

[[v]]

[[n]]

While from a proud tower in the town

Death looks gigantically down.

 

[[n]]

30

There open fanes and gaping graves

Yawn level with the luminous waves;

But not the riches there that lie

[[n]]

In each idol’s diamond eye —

[[v]]

Not the gaily-jewelled dead

35

Tempt the waters from their bed;

[[v]]

For no ripples curl, alas!

[[n]]

Along that wilderness of glass —

No swellings tell that winds may be

[[v]]

Upon some far-off happier sea —

40

No heavings hint that winds have been

[[v]]

On seas less hideously serene.

 

But lo, a stir is in the air!

[[n]]

The wave — there is a movement there!

As if the towers had thrust aside,

45

In slightly sinking, the dull tide —

As if their tops had feebly given

A void within the filmy Heaven.

[[n]]

The waves have now a redder glow —

The hours are breathing faint and low —

50

And when, amid no earthly moans,

[[v]]

Down, down that town shall settle hence,

[[n]]

Hell, rising from a thousand thrones,

Shall do it reverence.

[1831-1845]

 


­[page 201:]

VARIANTS [[for version A]]

Title:  The City of Sin (B)

4  And / Where (B)

14-19  Not in B

20  Yet tho’ no holy rays / No holy rays from heaven (B)

22  But light from out the lurid sea (B)

55  Hell rising / All Hades (B)

 


­[page 202, continued:]

VARIANTS [[for version H]]

Title:  The City in the Sea. A Prophecy (C)

1  reared / rear’d (G)

3  Far off in a region unblest (C)

25  The melancholy / Around the mournful (C)

28-35  These lines do not appear in C

34  gaily-jewelled / gayly-jewell’d (G)

36  For no / No murmuring (C)

39  some / a (C)

41  On oceans not so sad-serene (C)

51  hence, / hence. (H) misprint, corrected in F

 


­[page 203:]

NOTES

(Keyed to H; parentheses enclose references to A or identification of the text if the line appears in only one of those reproduced.)

3  (3)  The Dead Sea is “far down” below sea level, and is thought of here as approached from the east. The west is the place of sunsets, and symbolizes finality.

4  (4)  The dead include people who died before the destruction of the Cities of the Plain. Birsha, King of Gomorrah, is not described as wicked in Genesis 14:2.

9  (11)  A. G. Newcomer, in Poems and Tales of Edgar Allan Poe (Chicago, 1902), p. 300, calls attention to lines near the opening of “Absalom,” by N. P. Willis (1827):

The willow leaves,

With a soft cheek upon the lulling tide,

Forgot the lifting winds.

12-29  (20-30)  Compare Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind,” lines 33-34: “and saw in sleep old palaces and towers / Quivering within the wave’s intenser day.”

14-15  (22-23)  The light is phosphorescence. Chateaubriand said that the cities were built of “combustible stones.” Henry M. Belden in American Literature, November 1935 (7:332-334), saw a parallel to Dante’s Inferno, VIII, 68ff., where the City of Dis is thus described in Henry Francis Cary’s translation:

“The minarets already, Sir!

There certes in the valley I descry,

Gleaming vermilion as if they from fire

Had issu’d.” He replied: “Eternal fire,

That inward burns, shows them with ruddy flame

Illum’d . . .”

Poe’s city is not otherwise much like Dis.

18  (27)  Babylon-like walls are “doomed to fall,” said William Lander Weber, in Selections from the Southern Poets (1901), p. 195. This simple and obviously right interpretation seems to have been overlooked by all other commentators.

21  (H)  The locution “many and many a” first appeared in Poe’s poem in 1845; He quoted it from an early version of Wordsworth’s “Guilt and Sorrow” in 1837, in reviewing William Cullen Bryant, and later used it in “Annabel Lee.”

23  (H)  This was Ernest Dowson’s favorite line of poetry. See Isaiah 14:11: “Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, and the noise of thy viols,” a passage Campbell (Poems, p. 210) thought to have been in Poe’s mind when Poe wrote this.

28  (H)  Compare Paradise Lost, V, 907: “those proud towers to swift destruction doom’d”; and “Tamerlane,” lines 140-141: “a high mountain which look’d down, / Afar from its proud natural towers.”

30-31  (31-32)  Campbell (Poems, p. 210) compares Byron’s “Darkness,” (see ­[page 204:] lines 73f., but Byron’s lines concern the end of the world, and only 78 and 80 are pertinent: “The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave . . . The winds were withered . . .”

32-33  (33-34)  In his notes on Lalla Rookh, Moore quotes Jean-Baptiste Tavernier’s Voyages: “The idol of juggernaut has two fine diamonds for eyes.” The idol referred to is an image of Jagganath which was carried in procession at Puri in Orissa.

37  (38)  Compare Revelation 4:6: “before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal,” and 15:2: “1 saw . . . a sea of glass mingled with fire.”

43-54  (45-56)  See Revelation 16:18-19: “And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake . . . and the cities of the nations fell”; and 20:14: “death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.”

48  (51)  See the quotation from Josephus in the introductory comment, above. The authorities consulted say nothing of the redness of the Dead Sea. However, Drummond’s Pond in the Dismal Swamp is said to have blood-red waters. Poe did not use this detail in “The Lake,” but perhaps he did recall it when he composed “The Doomed City.”

52-53  (55-56)  Compare Isaiah 14:9: “Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the dead for thee . . . it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations.” Poe pointed out in his unfinished story “A Reviewer Reviewed” (1849) the following from Mrs. Sigourney’s “Musing Thoughts,” lines 45-46, in The Token for 1829: “Earth slowly rising from her thousand thrones / Did homage to the Corsican.” There are stories that locate Hell directly under the Dead Sea, but I have not found one in the sources named by Chateaubriand. They are very old, however, and are mentioned by the Russian pilgrim, Daniel, Bishop of Surviev.

57  (A)  The poem, although echoing apocalyptic phrases in the Bible, does not concern the end of the whole world but the future inevitable destruction of the ruins of Gomorrah by an earthquake. Observe the final couplet of the first version; Death will lose this particular throne.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 198:]

1  R. M. Hogg (Phillips, I, 400) referred to Rocabi, the twilight city of the Highland Gaels, and to Ys in Brittany. There are many cities in history as well as legend that are sunk in the oceans, and one is the undeniably wicked pirate stronghold of Port Royal, Jamaica. Yet some commentators propose cities that are not in the sea at all (despite lines 31-32 of the first version)! Maxwell V. Z. W. Morton (A Builder of the Beautiful, 1928, p. 43) found an analogue in “The City of the Dead” (devastated by pestilence) in the London New Monthly Magazine of April 1826. Unexpectedly inept was Killis Campbell’s choice of Babylon as Poe’s city (Poems, p. 208). The ruins of Babylon are a mound far distant from any sea — and how could “Babylon-like walls” be at Babylon? Yet in American Literature (March 1934 and March 1936) I find that Louise Pound accepted Campbell’s strange notion.

 


∞∞∞∞∞∞∞


Notes:

Errata:

In his textual note, near the top of p. 199, Mabbott erroneous comments that “In H the change is only the correction of a misprinted comma in line 51.” The change is actually to version F. Mabbott does not include this change among the variant, although it has been added in the current presentation for the sake of consistency.


∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

[S:1 - TOM1P, 1969] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (T. O. Mabbott) (The City in the Sea)