Text: Henry W. Austin, “Lilitha, Princess of Ghouls,” Southern Bivouac, vol. 1, no. 11, April 1886, pp. 655-657


[page 655, continued:]



SEVEN years after Poe had flared out of life to become a fixed star of the second magnitude in literature, another erratic nature, not unillumined by genius, but overshadowed by insanity and doomed to suicide, left London for New York.

His name was Richard Realf, and by some he was supposed to be a natural son of Lord Byron, whom he markedly favored in feature, and whose fiery, yet practical passion for liberty he seemed to inherit. Realf, in New York, sought entrance into that old literary Bohemia [column 2:] which has now almost faded into a tradition, and will soon, doubtless, dissolve into a myth.

It was the year 1856, and prelusive mutterings of the thunder of 1861 were stirring men’s hearts. Richard Realf and his friend, Richard Hinton, another Englishman, needed but little agitation of the social atmosphere to fan them into flame. They espoused the anti-slavery party and were only estopped by accident from joining John Brown in his raid on Virginia. Ranking next perhaps to his political enthusiasm was Realf’s devotion to poetry; for he [page 656:] himself was a poet of high order, as readers of the earlier numbers of Scribner’s may remember, and equal with this devotion to poetry itself seems to have been Realf’s curious attachment to the personality of the poet Poe, whose living face he continually regretted never to have seen. Following this bent, Realf spent most of his leisure in New York, poring over the musty files of defunct periodicals in search of Poe’s disjecta membra.

In this way Realf discovered the last stanza of “Ulalume,” originally printed in the American Review, where it attracted no especial notice except from Mrs. Sarah Helen Whitman, by whose advice Poe cut off the closing stanza when he republished it in Willis’s Home Journal, January 1, 1818. Realf also unearthed some more Poe rubbish which was authenticated by Griswold, and later on for a large sum — that is, large in those days, when the Poe- cult had not struck from France to this country, caroming on England, by the way — Realf bought a manuscript poem by Poe, which was composed a few months after the publication of Ulalume.

Realf clung to this poem with fanatical tenacity, and made no attempt to publish it, though sorely tempted at times by poverty. He said in his picturesque style of speech that it came from the hands of Poe “by a pathway of intrigues and through the jungles of grave infidelities.” He also intimated that its publication would not only have blazoned forth to the world the forgotten amours of the dead magician, but would also have brought scandal on some whom he, Realf, had loved, and unluckily Realf had loved, as he called it, too often and too ill.

At last, in San Francisco, Realf died by his own hand, chiefly driven thereto by a woman it was said; and at his death his manuscripts fell into the hands of M. J. Kent and Richard Hinton, who made a feeble endeavor to publish them piecemeal in an obscure Washington paper, which had possibly five hundred readers. Their plan was to use Poe’s name as a bellows to wake up a flame of popular interest in their beloved Realf, and therefore they began their series by editing, after a fashion, the Poe-relic. But so poor was the reputation of their paper, so poorly was the article placed, and so much absurdity was interspersed that it fell fatter than the conventional flounder as regards general readers.

Yet it attracted a few, but some curious typographical errors (one for instance making Poe [column 2:] present at a valentine party in 1878 instead of 1848) caused most readers to imagine the article, with its pièce de résistance, Poe’s Lilitha, nothing more than a wretchedly elaborate humbug. So at first I thought it, though it was rather difficult to suspect that Richard Hinton, a wild-eyed enthusiast with a long, whitish beard that seemed the incandescent type of his fiery, political eloquence, would perpetrate what he, in his ex-aspirating English, would have styled an awful ‘oax.

But as I have come to study this poem, Lilitha, which claims to be the last ever written by that great master of a small school, I have grown to believe that it bears internal evidence of being — ragged as it is in parts a veritable Poe-nugget. I therefore introduce to the public for a second time, under the more favorable auspices of a publication with wide circulation and perhaps more widely intelligent readers, Lilitha, Princess of Ghouls:


The night, it was misty and phantasmagorial,

For the sun had set ashen as lead —

Of his beams shorn and ashen as lead;

And many a shadow of ancient memorial

Came up from the tombs of the dead —

Came up on its mission phantasmagorial

From the tombs of the legended dead.

The stars, they were shut from my revel —

From the sight of my wassail and revel,

In the palace of princes entombed ;

For the omens they boded were evil

Were omens, as men said, of evil,

And of hearts unto ghastliness doomed:

Wherefore, they were shut from my revel

In the palace of princes entombed.

By the light of the triple-winged triad

I quaffed from a goblet of gold,

That was wrought ere the birth of a dryad,

In the years immemorially old —

That was wrought of red rubies and gold,

Ere the birth of a sylph or a dryad,

In the years immemorially old

In the days of the ghouls immemorially old.

And I drank of the wine called the living —

Of the wine that doth quicken men’s souls;

Of the wine that entrances men’s souls

I quaffed without fear or misgiving —

With no vestige of fear or misgiving;

And I cried that as long as earth rolls

No sorrow shall trouble their souls,

Who have qualled of the wine called the living

By night with the Princess of Ghouls;

I was mad with the wine called the living,

And I sang to the Princess of Ghouls —

Yes! invoked I the Princess of Ghouls.

Why dwellest thou in the tombs of the dead,

With hearts on whose blood the worm has fed?

Come quaff the living wine! [page 657:]

My pulse is wild, my blood runs red,

Come make thy bridal bed

With a soul like mine!

But blood-red banners spread their pinions

Over a fabric where shadows dwell,

Drifting, drifting, drifting drearily,

Through pulseless dominions,

To the music of Azrael —

Through haunted dominions,

Drifting, drifting, drifting drearily,

To the music of Azrael.

And though at thy grim name the Arab winces,

And his swart lips grow white,

Come quaff with me, my beauty and my princess,

The wine of my life to-night.

Ah, many have fallen unshriven,.

In the sapphirine glory of wine,

And a few stars have wasted from heaven

Since that ghoul-haunted revel of mine;

But neither unshriven nor shriven

Shall slumber these pulses of mine,

Since with Lilitha, Princess of Ghouls,

I have quaffed of the ghoul-haunted wine; —

Ah, neither unshriven nor shriven,

And neither in hell nor in heaven,

Shall they rest from the ghoul-haunted wine.

Now comes the question of internal evidence, which is too apt to be made a matter for moot courts of particular hair-splitting, and which therefore I would like to array rather on broad and general grounds. I think it can hardly reader of Poe’s poetry, that while the circle of his fantasy, like the moonlight ring of fable, is a magic one, it is likewise a very small one. The themes that his fantasy wooed to its embrace were generally gloomy. In sooth the four corners of his intellectual bed might be Poesquely named despair, dreams, dementia, death. You will find also, in addition to the monotonous paucity of his themes, that the images of external nature which he uses to illustrate and embellish them are likewise very few, though applied with the most various dexterity.

Moreover, when an idea or an image had been once taken into the embrace of his fantasy he was given to reproducing it continually. For instance, the solemn flight of great birds, eagles, condors, etc., was an image that again languor of the lily as it lolls on the water was another; but the especial externity which kept coming into his poetry, like the poor king’s head into poor Mr. Dick’s memorial, was the [column 2:] stellar universe — stars, or a star. In fact, before and after the Raven, he hardly wrote a poem into which he did not bring this favorite object of bis contemplation; and, by the bye, it is a curious fact that, beside his poetic adoration of stars, Poe possessed remarkable knowledge in astronomy. The stars, accordingly, had to come into Lilitha in the second and the last stanzas.

Another peculiarity of Poe’s mind, noticed by James Hannay, the great London critic, was his adjective-power. While the adjectives of other poets are apt to be frequent and merely expletive of the measure, Poe’s are generally rare, often curiously felicitous, and sometimes splendidly pictorial. Is it not so in the above poem — especially in the first and last stanzas?

And now, when we come to consider how often the leading idea — that of ghouls — had appeared in Poe’s previous poetry, it is not unreasonable to suppose that it should finally have crystallized into a special ghoul-poem and so we have Lilitha, a production in which Poe’s mannerisms of iterative idea and repetitive phrase seem flaming to a point of supreme intensity, the last point, it seems to me, between highly volatile poetry and the driveling density of a drunkenness not far from insanity. have escaped the ken of the most cursory

The insanity-theory, as an explanation of Poe’s life, has had many able advocates, and there is some strong ground for it, since it appears to be tolerably well established that Poe was not a sot, like Burns, but a periodical drinker, so that, having had a father of like habit, he might be classed under the caption of inherited cerebral epilepsy.

And this theory receives some comfort, too, from this poem, Lilitha, in which Poe’s foible of self-plagiarism, I repeat, is intensely marked; for such figures as “The wine, called the living,” and “Blood-red banners spreading their pinions,” are not merely echoes of fragmentary expression, but they recall to mind two entire poems, namely, his “Lines for Annie” and “The Haunted Palace.”

Then, too, in this Lilitha, as a finality, will be found, I think, by nice ears that unique and again forced its way into his verse. The melodic structure which was the base of Poe’s fame as a poet. For the secret of this man’s magic was — his music. He is indeed, like Shelley, a great singer; but not, like Shelley, a singer of great things.

Henry W. Austin.





[S:0 - SB, 1886] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Lilitha, Princess of Ghouls (Henry W. Austin, 1886)