Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. T. O. Mabbott), “The Lake,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. I: Poems (1969), pp. 82-86 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 82, continued:]


This is the best of Poe's early poems. It comes last in his first volume, and even in its first form shows maturity and power. [page 83:]

It is founded on fact, recording a visit near sunset to a place reputedly haunted by the ghosts of two lovers, neither unfriendly nor truly unhappy. The place is the Lake of the Dismal Swamp. That strange body of water is not really rockbound, but the driftwood on its shores, when wet, looks like black rock, and the water was believed to be poisonous. The identification was made by Professor Robert Morrison in the Explicator, December 1948, after he had visited the spot. It may be firmly accepted, for no other lake Poe is likely to have known, so closely fitting his description, has been discovered by commentators.(1)

Thomas Moore visited the place in 1803, and then, at nearby Norfolk, Virginia, wrote “A Ballad: The Lake of the Dismal Swamp,” with a quoted anonymous foreword: “They tell of a young man who lost his mind upon the death of a girl he loved, and who, suddenly disappearing from his friends, was never afterwards heard of. As he had frequently said, in his ravings, that the girl was not dead, but gone to the Dismal Swamp, it is supposed he had wandered into that dreary wilderness, and ... been lost.”

In the poem Moore says that the “deadly vine doth weep / Its venomous tear” and goes on —

But oft, from the Indian hunter's camp

This lover and maid so true

Are seen at the hour of the midnight damp

To cross the Lake by a fire-fly lamp,

And paddle their white canoe!

Moore does not mention the blackness of the shores, but Poe had seen them, as he indicated in the poem. We have no other reference to a visit to Norfolk before 1827, but E. M. Alfriend in the Literary Era, August 1901, tells of Poe's visits, alone, to the wild islands in the James River between Richmond and Manchester, among beds of great granite rocks, over which the river [page 84:] leaps and bounds, where he spent “hours amid wild and beautiful localities, musing with nature.”

The poet, recalling his visits, shares imaginatively the delusion of the lover who found in the waves a heaven for his beloved, and now haunts the lake in her company.

The poem, with some changes, was reprinted in Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems (1829). A cut and much altered version was inserted in the 1831 version of “Tamerlane,” where the lines are put into the mouth of the hero and — some of them — addressed to the heroine, Ada. The poem was again collected under its own title in The Raven and Other Poems (1845) and by Griswold in Works (1850).

Meanwhile, toward the end of 1845 it was published in The Missionary Memorial for 1846. This text seems definitely earlier than that in The Raven and Other Poems. It was the custom to reprint gift books from stereotype plates with new dates and titles on occasion. During Poe's lifetime the compilation published in 1845 as The Missionary Memorial appeared with the title Christ's Messengers: or the Missionary Memorial, issued at New York as of 1847 and 1848. The Missionary Offering, a Memorial, Auburn, New York, dated 1850, possibly appeared while Poe was still alive. See Ralph Thompson, American Literary Annuals (1936), page 141, for six other reprints.


(A) Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827), p. 34; (B) Wilmer manuscript, 1828, now in the Pierpont Morgan Library; (C) Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems (1829), pp. 64-65; (D) Poems (1831), pp. 115-116 (in “Tamerlane” as lines 79-99); (E) The Missionary Memorial for 1846, pp. 324-325; (F) The Raven and Other Poems (1845), p. 89; (G) Works (1850), II, 109.

Texts A and F are given in full, D above at pp. 47-48.

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1  In youth's spring it was my lot (B, C, E)

2  world / earth (B)

6  towered / tower’d (C, E)

9  mystic wind went / wind would pass me (B); black wind murmur’d (C); ghastly wind went (E)

10  Murmuring in / In a stilly (B); In a dirge of (C); In a dirge-like (E)

11  My boyish spirit would awake (B); My infant spirit would awake (C)

12  the lone / that lone (E)

15  And a feeling undefined (B); A feeling not the jewell’d mine (C, E)

16  Springing from a darken’d mind (B); Should ever bribe me to define (C)

17  Nor Love — altho’ the Love be thine: (C)

18  poisonous / poison’d (B, C, E)

19  gulf / depth (E)

[page 86, continued:]

NOTES [to version F]

Title:  The Lake of the Dismal Swamp was formerly called Drummond's Pond; now it is usually Lake Drummond. The blank of the dedication cannot now be filled in; it did not appear during the lifetime of Poe's foster mother, in whose company he might have visited Norfolk.

1  Compare Childe Harold, III, iii, 1: “In my youth's summer I did sing of One.”

18-19  Compare Manfred, I, ii, 103: “such would have been for me a fitting tomb.” John Phelps Fruit, The Mind and Art of Poe's Poetry (1899), p. 18, thought the poem contained a hint of suicide. But this is precluded by the publication of “The Lake” in a religious annual, and by identification of the lake.

23  “Eden” here and in “To Frances,” like “Aidenn” in “The Raven,” means Heaven or Paradise. For the notion of spirits dwelling in the “heaven of a lake” see also “Irenë,” lines 43-59.


[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 83:]

1  Prior to Morrison's discussion in 1948, students were much puzzled by the poem. C. W. Kent and R. M. Hogg sought for such a tarn in Scotland, but there the rocks are not black or the waters poisoned. Nor is Poe's scene a place like Patrick's Purgatory in Donegal, about which Moore has a song, “I wish I was by that dim lake,” in Irish Melodies, which Poe praised in “The Poetic Principle.”





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