Text: Charles D. Gardette, “The Fire Fiend,” Southern Literary Messenger, Vol. XXXVII, no. 7, July 1863, 37:397-398


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[page 397, continued:]

THE FIRE LEGEND — A NIGHTMARE.

FROM AN UNPUBLISHED MS. OF THE LATE EDGAR A. POE.

I.

In the deepest dearth of midnight, while the sad and solemn swell

Still was floating, faintly echoed from the forest chapel bell —

Faintly, falteringly floating o‘er the sable waves of air

That were thro’ the midnight rolling, chafed and billowy with the tolling —

In my chamber I lay dreaming, by the firelight’s fitful gleaming,

And my dreams were dreams foreshadowed on a heart foredoomed to care! [column 2:]

II.

As the last, long, lingering echo of the midnight’s mystic chime,

Lifting through the sable billows of the thither shore of Time —

Leaving on the starless silence not a token nor a trace —

In a quivering sigh departed; from my couch in fear I started —

Started to my feet in terror, for my dream’s phantasmal error

Painted in the fitful fire a frightful, fiendish, flaming face!

III.

On the red hearth’s reddest centre, from a blazing knot of oak,

Seemed to gibe and grin this phantom when in terror I awoke;

And my slumberous eyelids straining as I staggered, to the floor,

Still in that dread vision seeming, turned my gaze toward the gleaming

Hearth and there! — oh, God! I saw it; and from its flaming jaw it

Spat a ceaseless, seething, hissing, bubbling, gurgling stream of gore!

IV.

Speechless struck with stony silence, frozen to the floor I stood,

Till methought my brain was hissing with that hissing, bubbling blood;

Till I felt my life stream oozing, oozing from those lambent lips;

Till the demon seemed to name me — then a wondrous calm o‘ercame me,

And my brow grew cold and dewy, with at death damp stiff and gluey,

And I fell back on my pillow, in apparent soul eclipse.

V.

Then as in death’s seeming shadow, in the icy fall of fear

I lay stricken, came a hoarse and hideous murmur to my ear;

Came a murmur like the murmur of assassins in their sleep —

Muttering: “Higher! higher! Higher! I am demon of the Fire!’ [page 398:]

I am Arch-Fiend of the Fire! and each blazing roof’s my pyre,

And my sweetest incense is the blood and tears my victims weep!’

VI.

“How I revel on the prairie‘! how I roar among the pines!

How I laugh when from the village o‘er the snow the red flame shines,

And I hear the shrieks of terror with a life in every breath!

How I scream with lambent laughter, as I hurl each crackling rafter

Down the fell abyss of fire — until higher! higher! higher!

Leap the high priests of my altar, in their merry dance of death!

VII.

“I am Monarch of the Fire! I am Vassal King of Death!

World enriching, with the shadow of its doom upon my breath!

With the symbol of Hereafter flaming from my fatal face!

I command the Eternal Fire! Higher! higher! higher! higher!

Leap my ministering demons, like the phantasmagoric lemans

Hugging Universal Nature in their hideous embrace!”

VIII.

Then a sombre silence shut me in a solemn, shrouded sleep,

And I slumbered like an infant in the “cradle of the deep;”

Till the belfry in the forest quivered with the matin stroke.

And the martins from the edges of its lichen-lidded ledges,

Skimmered through the russet arches, where, the light in torn files marches,

Like a routed army struggling through the serried ranks of oak.

IX.

Thro’ my ivy-fretted casements, filtered in a tremulous note,

From the tall and stately linden where the robin swelled his throat — [column 2:]

Querulous, quaker-breasted robin, calling quaintly for his mate!

Then I started up unbidden from my slumber, nightmare ridden,

With the memory of that dire demon in my central fire,

On my eye’s interior mirror like the shadow of a fate!

X.

Ah! the fiendish fire had smoldered to a white and formless heap,

And no knot of oak was flaming as it flamed upon my sleep;

But around its very centre, where the demon face had shone,

Forked shadows seemed to linger, pointing, as with spectral finger,

To a Bible, massive, golden, on a table carved and olden;

And I bowed and said, “All power is of God — God alone!”

 


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Notes:

By the time the poem appeared in the Southern Literary Messenger, it had already been printed by Russell’s Magazine (Charleston, NC) for January 1860 (vol. VI, no. IV, pp. 372-373). That printing follows the brief editorial comment that “Considered partly as parody, and partly as a professed imitation, we have seldom read a more successful performance than the following,” which seems to acknowledge that the hoax was already revealed. In collecting the poem in The Fire-Fiend, and Other Poems (New York: Bunce and Huntingon, 1866), the actual author, Charles D. Gardette prefaced the edition with the following remarks:

The “FIRE-FIEND” was written some six years ago, in consequence of a literary discussion wherein it was asserted, that the marked originality of style, both as to conception and expression, in the poems of the late Edgar Allen [[ALLAN]] Poe, rendered a successful imitation difficult even to impossibility. The author was challenged to produce a poem, in the manner of “The Raven” which should be accepted by the general critic as a genuine composition of Mr. Poe’s, and the “Fire-fiend” was the result.

This poem was printed as ” from an unpublished MS. of the late Edgar A. Poe,” and the hoax proved sufficiently successful to deceive a number of critics in this country, and also in England where it was afterward republished (by Mr. MACREADY, the tragedian), in the London Star, as an undoubted production of its soi-disant author.

The comments upon it, by the various critics, professional and other, who accepted it as Mr. Poe’s, were too flattering to be quoted here, the more especially, since, had the poem appeared simply as the composition of its real author, these gentlemen would probably have been slow to discover in it the same merits.

The true history of the poem and its actual authorship being thus succinctly given, there seems nothing further to be said, than to remain, very respectfully, the Reader’s humble servant . . .

The author is not quite to be taken at face value. He is understandably boasting about the degree of his “success,” and is mistaken in a few notable details. Mr. Macready of the Morning Star (London, September 1, 1864), for example, was apparently Mrs. Macready, an American elocutionist on a tour of England, and not the famous tragedian. The poem was sent to the newspaper in the form of a letter, signed “M. M‘Cready,” and dated “London, August 31.” Her identity is revealed in the National Quarterly Review (New York), June 1866 (in an article that strongly decries Mr. Gardette’s role in the whole affair and declares the poem “trash”). More importantly, his poem, far from disproving the assertion of difficulty in creating a “successful imitation” of Poe’s poetry, demonstrates many of the inherent problems of the designated task. Today, it seems to be an obvious and clumsy attempt to imitate “The Raven.” While it did fool such early Poe biographers as William Fearing Gill and E. C. Stedman, whose confidence still persuaded James A. Harrison as late as 1902, it must be noted that most of the confusion over the status of the poem was due to the means by which Mr. Gardette promoted it, and not to any assumption of quality of the poem itself.

 

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[S:0 - SLM, 1863] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Rejected - The Fire Fiend