Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. T. O. Mabbott), “Spirits of the Dead,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. I: Poems (1969), pp. 70-73 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 70:]


In this poem, says Woodberry (1909, I, 44), “the treatment of landscape is wholly Poe's own ... it affords the first glimpse of that new tract of Acheron ... which he revealed” — a place “out of space, out of time.”

On the surface the poem merely says that one who visits a churchyard communes through memory with the departed. But I share Campbell's idea (Poems, p. 158) that the poem is inspired by the long incantation at the end of the first scene of Byron's Manfred, which is believed to refer to the last unsuccessful attempt at a reconciliation with Lady Byron. Poe's poem may be meant to say to Elmira Royster merely, “You never can quite forget the person you wronged.” The most significant lines from Manfred are:

And the meteor on the grave,

And the wisp on the morass; ...

And the silent leaves are still

In the shadow of the hill,

Shall my soul be upon thine,

With a power and a sign....

There are shades which will not vanish,

There are thoughts thou canst not banish;

By a Power to thee unknown,

Thou canst never be alone ...

And to thee shall Night deny

All the quiet of her sky ...

The version of Poe's poem in his volume of 1827 contained two obvious misprints: “ferver” in line 17, which in text A below I have corrected to “fever” because of the rhyme, and “wish” in line 24, usually corrected to “mist” from the later versions, but here changed to “wisp,” which is in the Byronic source and is a less radical change from “wish.” About 1828 Poe made a number of changes in a manuscript version retitled “Spirits of the Dead.” (This manuscript, once in the possession of Lambert A. Wilmer, is, pace Woodberry, in Poe's own hand.) In 1829 he published the poem, still further revised, in his second little volume. In 1839 it was used as an unsigned filler in Burton's Gentleman's Magazine. Griswold did not collect it, but it was pointed out as a [page 71:] new poem by Poe in the little periodical of the Washington Sanitary Fair, the Roll Call, of March 12, 1864. E. L. Didier collected it in The Life and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe in 1877.


(A) Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827), pp. 27-28; (B) Wilmer manuscript, 1828, now owned by H. Bradley Martin; (C) Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems (1829), pp. 65-66; (D) Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, July 1839 (5:51).

[page 73, continued:]


Title:   The Spirits of the Dead (B)

5  that / thy (B)

10  overshadow / then o’ershadow (B)

18  After this B adds:

But ’twill leave thee as each star

With the dewdrop flies afar.

19  shalt / can'st (B)

21-22  Transposed in B

[page 73, continued:]


5-10  Compare “Dream-Land,” lines 31-88.

6  Campbell (Poems, p. 159) has a long note on the proverb “Never less alone than when alone,” which has been traced back to Cicero, and, in English, to Shakespeare — and was used by Byron.

23  Compare “The City in the Sea,” lines 38-41, and “The Valley of Unrest,” lines 11-19.

26  See “Stanzas” (1827), line 24, for “a symbol and a token.”





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