Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “The Conqueror Worm” (Text-01), undated manuscript, about October-November 1842



The Conqueror Worm.



By Edgar A. Poe.



Lo! ’tis a gala night

Within the lonesome latter years —

A mystic throng, bewing’d, bedight

In veils and drown’d in tears,

Sit in a theatre, to see

A play of hopes and fears,

While the orchestra breathes fitfully

The music of the spheres.


Mimes, in the form of God on High,

Mutter and mumble low,

And hither and thither fly —

Mere puppets they, who come and go

At bidding of vast shadowy things

That shift the scenery to and fro,

Flapping from out their Condor wings

Invisible Wo!


That motley drama — oh, be sure

It shall not be forgot!

With its Phantom chased forevermore,

By a crowd that seize it not,

Through a circle that ever returneth in

To the self-same spot,

And much of Madness and more of Sin,

And Horror the soul of the plot.


But see, amid the mimic rout,

A crawling shape intrude! —

A blood-red thing that writhes from out

The scenic solitude!

It writhes — it writhes! — with mortal pangs

The mimes become its food,

And the angels sob at vermin fangs

In human gore imbued!


Out, out are the lights — out all!

And, over each dying form,

The curtain, a funeral pall,

Comes down with the rush of a storm,

And the seraphs, all haggard and wan,

Uprising, unveiling, affirm

That the play is the tragedy, “Man,”

Its hero, the Conqueror Worm.




J. H. Whitty, in his edition of Poe’s poems (1911, p. 224), claims to have seen this manuscript, but does not record the text nor where he saw it. He comments: “A MS. copy of the poem, originally sent to Griswold by Poe and noted in Griswold’s hand ‘Last poem sent by Poe,’ has been compared. It follows the early texts with slight punctuation changes.” Whitty again mentions this manuscript in “New Poe Poems and Manuscripts Found,” New York Sun (Nov. 21, 1915), also printed, on the same date, in the Baltimore American. In that article, he comments only: “It was also thought that no manuscript copy of his poem The Conqueror Worm was in existence, but one has been discovered.” T. O. Mabbott specifically states that he never actually saw such a manuscript, but he accepts Whitty’s description sufficiently to list this item among his alternate texts, as entry G. Building on Whitty’s reference to the note about Griswold, Mabbott’s apparent presumption was that Poe sent the manuscript of the poem for a new edition of Griswold’s anthology The Poets and Poetry of America, first published in 1841 and regularly reissued. Although Poe sent Griswold a copy of the newly published poem “The Raven” prior to April 19, 1845, and approved proof sheets on that date, the earlier stereoplated editions were again reprinted in 1845 and 1846, a new edition not appearing until 1847. In that edition, “The Conqueror Worm” is one of the poems newly collected.

Ultimately, the “endorsement” on the manuscript, while it is reasonably correct in connecting the manuscript to Griswold, is misleading. Whitty has somewhat improved the phrasing, the original actually reading somewhat more clumsily as: “The last [[/]] Poe's last poem [[/]] given to [[overwritten]] by Edgar [[/]] Poe to R. W.Griswold.” Contrary to Whitty’s contention, the handwriting does not resemble that of Griswold, and the note was most likely written by someone else, probably long after Griswold’s death, possibly by an early owner based on something he may have been told.

In any case, the text of the manuscript clearly establishes it as the version printed in Graham’s Magazine, thus making it the original fair copy sent by Poe to that periodical. Because the poem appeared in the issue for January 1843, and Graham’s Magazine was usually available by the middle of the month prior to the official month of issue, the additional time being necessary for the sake of mailing to subscribers in more distant locations, it may be presumed that Poe would have sent it about November 1842. This date would allow for editing, typesetting and printing of the issue by December 15, 1842. Poe had left his position as an editor of Graham’s in May 1842, but was still living in Philadelphia. Replacing him on the editorial staff of the magazine was Rufus Wilmot Griswold, who may have retrieved the manuscript from the typesetters. No clear provenance can be established in the absence of better documentation. Like Poe’s personal copy of Eureka and several other important manuscripts, the present item may have been among those treasures that were sold or given away as autographs by Griswold, or more likely his son, William Griswold.


[S:1 - MS, about Nov. 1842] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Poems - The Conqueror Worm (Text-01)