Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. T. O. Mabbott), “Berenice,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. II: Tales and Sketches (1978), pp. 207-221 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 207, continued:]


This is one of Poe's best known stories. Critics have received it variously, but almost no selection omits it. The magnificence of its style is undeniable. Yet even in its present form, from which four unpleasant paragraphs of the earlier versions were wisely omitted by the author, many readers find the tale too repulsive by far.

Soon after its publication in the Southern Literary Messenger for March 1835, Poe, on April 30, wrote apologetically to the editor, T. W. White, who had apparently received complaints:

The subject is far too horrible.... The Tale originated in a bet that I could produce nothing effective on a subject so singular, provided I treated it seriously. ... I allow that it approaches the very verge of bad-taste — but I will not sin quite so egregiously again.

The basis of the challenge pretty surely was a scandal in Baltimore about the “robbing of graves for the sake of obtaining human teeth” for dentists. An account of it in the Baltimore Saturday Visiter of February 23, 1833 was discovered by Lucille King.* [page 208:]

The zealous searchers for Poe's personality in his characters have seized upon this story. Psychiatrists assure me the fascination of teeth might be a sign of necrophilism. What is forgotten is that all the ladies with whom Poe was (or fancied himself) in love were in normal health when he became interested in them.

The names of the characters are significant. Egeus is the name of Hermia's father in Midsummer Night's Dream, who failed to understand love. Berenicë was the wife of King Ptolemy III Euergetes of Egypt. She cut off her hair in fulfillment of a vow for her husband's safe return from battle, and hung it in a temple — whence, according to the court astronomer, the gods took it and placed it in the heavens as the constellation Coma Berenices. The event has inspired several poets. Callimachus wrote a poem on the subject at the time. The Greek version is preserved only in fragments; but there is a complete Latin version by Catullus, remotely a source of Pope's Rape of the Lock.

Since no appropriate narrator for “Berenicë” appears in the introduction to Tales of the Folio Club, it seems unlikely that the tale was one of the eleven Poe alluded to in his letter to the Buckinghams, May 4, 1833. Hence the date of its composition may be assumed to be any time between the spring of 1833 and early 1835, when it was sent to White.


(A) Southern Literary Messenger, March 1835 (1:533-336); (B) Duane copy of last with manuscript changes, 1839; (C) Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840), II, 167-181; (D) Broadway Journal, April 5, 1845 (1:217-219); (E) Works (1850), I, 437-445. PHANTASY-PIECES, title only.

Griswold's text (E) is followed. Poe made seven verbal changes in the Duane Messenger (B), presumably as “copy” for the printers of C, but more changes were made in proof. PHANTASY-PIECES in the table of contents gave a new and abortive title, but the actual changes are lost with the second volume of the set. For the Broadway Journal (D) changes in phraseology and punctuation were fairly extensive and included the deletion of four gruesome paragraphs. The asterisked divisions occur in all texts.


The Spirit of the Times (Philadelphia), April 11, 1845, from the Broadway Journal. [page 209:]

BERENICE.   [E]   [[v]]   [[n]]

Dicebant mihi sodales, si sepulchrum amicæ’ visitarem, curas meas aliquantulum fore levatas. — Ebn Zaiat. (1)   [[v]]

Misery is manifold. The wretchedness of earth is multiform. Overreaching the wide horizon as{a} the rainbow, its hues are as various as the hues of that arch — as distinct too, yet as intimately blended. Overreaching the wide horizon as{b} the rainbow! How is it that from beauty I have derived a type of unloveliness? — from the covenant of peace,(2) a simile of sorrow? But{c} as, in ethics, evil is a consequence of good, so, in fact, out of joy is sorrow born. Either the memory of past bliss is the anguish of to-day, or the agonies which are{d} have their origin in the ecstasies{e} which might have been.{f}

My baptismal name is Egæus; that of my family I will not mention. Yet there are no towers in the land more time-honored than my gloomy, gray, hereditary halls. Our line has been called a race of visionaries; and in many striking particulars — in the character of the family mansion — in the frescos of the chief saloon — in the tapestries of the dormitories — in the chiselling of some buttresses in the armory — but more especially in the gallery of antique paintings — in the fashion of the library chamber — and, lastly, in the very peculiar nature of the library's contents — there is more than sufficient evidence to warrant the belief.

The recollections{g} of my earliest years are connected with that chamber, and with its volumes — of which latter I will say no more. Here died my mother. Herein was I born. But it is mere idleness to say that I had not lived before — that the soul has no previous existence.(3) You deny it? — let us not argue the matter. Convinced myself, I seek not to convince. There is, however, a remembrance [page 210:] of aerial forms — of spiritual and meaning eyes — of sounds, musical yet sad; a remembrance which will not be excluded; a memory like a shadow — vague, variable, indefinite, unsteady; and like a shadow, too, in the impossibility of my getting rid of it while the sunlight of my reason shall exist.

In that chamber was I born. Thus awaking{h} from the long night of what seemed, but was not, nonentity, at once into the very regions of fairy land — into a palace of imagination — into the wild dominions of monastic thought and erudition — it is not singular that I gazed around me with a startled and ardent eye — that I loitered away my boyhood in books, and dissipated my youth in revery; but it is singular, that as years rolled away, and the noon of manhood found me still in the mansion of my fathers — it is wonderful what stagnation there fell upon the springs of my life — wonderful how total an inversion took place in the character of my {ii}commonest thought.{ii} The realities of the world affected me as visions, and as visions only, while the wild ideas of the land of dreams became, in turn, not the material of my every-day existence, but in very deed that existence utterly and solely in itself.

  * * * * *  

Berenicë and I were cousins, and we grew up together in my paternal halls. Yet differently we grew — I, ill of health, and buried in gloom — she, agile, graceful, and overflowing with energy; hers,{j} the ramble on the hill-side — mine, the studies of the cloister; I, living within my own heart, and addicted, body and soul, to the most intense and painful meditation — she, roaming carelessly through life, with no thought of the shadows in her path, or the silent flight of the raven-winged hours. Berenicë! — I call upon her name — Berenicë! — and from the gray ruins of memory a thousand tumultuous recollections are startled at the sound! Ah, vividly is her image before me now, as in the early days of her light-heartedness and joy! Oh, gorgeous yet fantastic beauty! Oh, sylph amid the shrubberies of Arnheim!(4) Oh, Naiad among its{k} fountains! And then — then all is mystery and terror, and a tale which [page 211:] should not be told. Disease — a fatal disease, fell like the simoon{l} (5) upon her frame; and, even while I gazed upon her, the spirit of change swept over her, pervading her mind, her habits, and her character, and, in a manner the most subtle and terrible, disturbing even the{m} identity of her person! Alas! the destroyer came and went! — and the victim — where is{n} she? I knew her not — or knew her no longer as Berenicë!

Among the numerous train of maladies superinduced by that fatal and primary one which effected a revolution of so horrible a kind in the moral and physical being of my cousin, may be mentioned as the most distressing and obstinate in its nature, a species of epilepsy not unfrequently terminating in trance itself — trance very nearly resembling positive dissolution, and from which her manner of recovery was, in most instances, startlingly abrupt. In the mean time, my own disease — for I have been told that I should call it by no other appellation — my own disease, then, grew rapidly upon me, and{o} assumed finally a monomaniac character of a novel and extraordinary form — hourly and momently{p} gaining vigor — and at length obtaining over me the most{q} incomprehensible ascendency. This monomania, if I must so term it, consisted in a morbid irritability of{r} those properties of the mind in metaphysical science termed the attentive. It is more than probable that I am not understood; but I {ss}fear, indeed, that it is{ss} in no manner possible to convey to the mind of the merely general reader, an adequate idea of that nervous intensity of interest with which, in my case, the powers of meditation (not to speak technically) busied and{t} buried themselves, in the contemplation of even the most ordinary{u} objects of the universe.

To muse for long unwearied hours, with my attention riveted to some frivolous device on{v} the margin or in the typography of a book; to become absorbed, for the better part of a summer's day, in a quaint shadow falling aslant upon the tapestry or upon the floor; [page 212:] to lose myself, for an entire night, in watching the steady flame of a lamp, or the embers of a fire; to dream away whole days over the perfume of a flower; to repeat, monotonously, some common word, until the sound, by dint of frequent repetition, ceased to convey any idea whatever to the mind; to lose all sense of motion or physical existence, by means{w} of absolute bodily quiescence long and obstinately persevered in: such were a few of the most common and least pernicious vagaries induced by a condition of the mental faculties, not, indeed, altogether unparalleled, but certainly bidding defiance to anything like analysis or explanation.(6)

Yet let me not be misapprehended. The undue, earnest,{x} and morbid attention thus excited by objects in their own nature frivolous, must not be confounded in character with that ruminating propensity common to all mankind, and more especially indulged in by persons of ardent imagination.{y} It was not even, as might be at first supposed, an extreme condition, or exaggeration of such propensity, but primarily and essentially distinct and different. In the one instance, the dreamer, or enthusiast, being interested by an object usually not frivolous, imperceptibly loses sight of this object in a wilderness of deductions and suggestions issuing therefrom, until, at the conclusion of a day-dream often replete with luxury, he finds the incitamentum, or first cause of his musings, entirely{z} vanished and forgotten. In my case, the primary object was invariably frivolous, although assuming, through the medium of my distempered vision, a refracted and unreal importance. Few deductions, if any, were made; and those few pertinaciously returning in{a} upon the original object as a centre.(7) The meditations were never pleasurable; and, at the termination of the revery, the first cause, so far from being out of sight, had attained that supernaturally exaggerated interest which was the prevailing feature of the disease. In a word, the powers of mind more particularly exercised were, with me, as I have said before, the attentive, and are, with the day-dreamer, the speculative.

My books, at this epoch, if they did not actually serve to irritate [page 213:] the disorder, partook, it will be perceived, largely, in their imaginative and inconsequential nature, of the characteristic qualities of the disorder itself. I well remember, among others, the treatise of the noble Italian, Cælius{b} Secundus Curio, “De Amplitudine Beati Regni Dei;” St. Austin's{c} great work, “The City of God;” and Tertullian's{d}De Carne Christi,” in which the paradoxical{e} sentence, “Mortuus est Dei filius; credibile est quia ineptum est; et sepultus resurrexit; certum est quia impossibile est,” occupied my undivided time, for many weeks of laborious and fruitless investigation.(8)

Thus it will appear that, shaken from its balance only by trivial things, my reason bore resemblance to that ocean-crag spoken of by Ptolemy Hephestion, which,{f} steadily resisting the attacks of human violence, and the fiercer fury of the waters and the winds, trembled only to the touch of the flower called Asphodel.(9) And although, to a careless thinker, it might appear a matter beyond doubt, that the{g} alteration produced by her unhappy malady, in the moral condition of Berenicë, would afford me many objects for the exercise of that intense and abnormal{h} meditation whose nature I have been at some trouble in explaining, yet such was not {ii}in any degree{ii} the case. In the lucid intervals of my infirmity, her calamity, indeed, gave me pain, and, taking deeply to heart that total wreck of her fair and gentle life, I did not fail to ponder, frequently and bitterly, upon the wonder-working means by which so strange a revolution had been so suddenly brought to pass. But these reflections partook not of the idiosyncrasy of my disease, and were{j} such as would have occurred, under similar circumstances, to the ordinary mass of mankind. True to its own character, my disorder revelled in the less important but more startling changes wrought in the physical frame of {kk}Berenicë — in{kk} the singular and most appalling distortion of her personal identity.

During the brightest days of her unparalleled beauty, most [page 214:] surely I had never loved her. In the strange anomaly of my existence, feelings,{l} with me, had never been of the heart, and my passions always were of the mind. Through the gray of the early morning — among the trellised shadows of the forest at noonday — and in the silence of my library at night — she had flitted by my eyes, and I had seen her — not as the living and breathing Berenicë, but as the Berenicë of a dream; not as a being of the {mm}earth, earthy,{mm} but as the abstraction of such a being; not as a thing to admire, but to analyze; not as an object of love, but as the theme of the most abstruse although desultory speculation. And now — now I shuddered in her presence, and grew pale at her approach; yet, bitterly lamenting her fallen and desolate condition, I {nn}called to mind{nn} that she had loved me long, and, in an evil moment, I spoke to her of marriage.

And at length the period of our nuptials was approaching, when, upon an afternoon in the winter of the year — one of those unseasonably warm, calm, and misty days which are the nurse of the beautiful Halcyon,* — I sat, (and sat, as I thought, alone,) in the inner apartment of the library. But, uplifting my eyes, I saw that{o} Berenicë stood before me.

Was it my own excited imagination — or the misty influence of the atmosphere — or the uncertain twilight of the chamber — or the gray draperies which fell around her figure — that caused {pp}in it so vacillating and indistinct an outline?{pp} I could not tell.{q} She spoke{r} no word; and I — not for worlds could I have uttered a syllable. An icy chill ran through my frame; a sense of insufferable anxiety oppressed me; a consuming curiosity pervaded my soul; and, sinking back upon the chair, I remained for some time breathless and motionless,{s} with my eyes riveted upon her person. Alas! [page 215:] its emaciation was excessive, and not one vestige of the former being lurked in any single line of the contour. My burning glances at length fell upon the{t} face.

The forehead was high, and very pale, and singularly placid; and the once jetty{u} hair fell partially over it, and overshadowed the hollow temples with {vv}innumerable ringlets, now of a vivid yellow,{vv} and jarring discordantly, in their fantastic character, with the reigning melancholy of the countenance.(11) The eyes were lifeless, and lustreless, {ww}and seemingly pupilless,{ww} and I shrank,{x} involuntarily from their glassy stare to the contemplation of the thin and shrunken lips. They parted; and in a smile of peculiar meaning, the teeth of the changed Berenicë disclosed themselves slowly to my view. Would to God that I had never beheld them, or that, having done so, I had died!

  * * * * *  

The shutting of a door disturbed me, and, looking up, I found that{y} my cousin had departed from the chamber. But from the disordered chamber of my brain, had not, alas! departed, and would not be driven away, the white and ghastly spectrum of the teeth. Not a speck on{z} their surface — not a shade on their enamel{a} — not an indenture in their edges — but what that brief period of her smile had sufficed to brand in upon my memory. I saw them now even more unequivocally than I beheld them then. The teeth! — the teeth! — they were here, and there, and everywhere, and visibly and palpably before me; long, narrow, and excessively white, with the pale lips writhing about them,(12) as in the very moment of their first terrible development. Then came the full fury of my monomania, and I struggled in vain against its strange and irresistible influence. In the multiplied objects of the external world I had no thoughts but for the teeth. {bb}For these I longed with a frenzied desire.{bb} All other matters and all different interests became absorbed in their single contemplation. They — they alone [page 216:] were present to the mental eye, and they, in their sole individuality, became the essence of my mental life. I held them in every light. I turned them in every attitude. I surveyed their characteristics. I dwelt upon their peculiarities. I pondered upon their conformation. I mused upon the alteration in their {cc}nature. I{cc} shuddered as I assigned to them, in imagination, a sensitive and sentient power, and, even when unassisted by the lips, a capability of moral expression. Of {dd}Mademoiselle Sallé{dd} it has been well{e} said, “Que tous ses pas etaien{f} des sentiments,(13) and of Berenicë I more seriously believed que tous ses dents étaient des idées.{g} {hh}Des idées! — ah, here was the idiotic thought that destroyed me! Des idées! — ah, therefore it was that I coveted them so madly! I felt that their possession could alone ever restore me to peace, in giving me back to reason.{hh}

And the evening closed in upon me thus — and then the darkness came, and tarried, and went — and the day again dawned — and the mists of a second night were now gathering around — and still I sat motionless in that solitary room — and still I sat buried in meditation — and still the phantasma of the teeth maintained its terrible ascendency, as, with the most vivid and hideous distinctness, it floated about amid the changing lights and shadows of the chamber. At length there broke{i} in upon my dreams a{j} cry as of horror and dismay; and thereunto, after a pause, succeeded the sound of troubled voices, intermingled with many low moanings of sorrow or of pain. I arose{k} from my seat, and,{l} throwing open one of the doors of the library, {mm}saw standing{mm} out in the ante-chamber a servant maiden, all in tears, who{n} told me that Berenicë was — no more! {oo}She had been seized with epilepsy{oo} in the early morning, and now, at the closing in of the night, the grave [page 217:] was ready for its tenant, and all the preparations for the burial were completed.{p}

  * * * * *  

I found myself{q} sitting in the library, and again sitting there alone. It seemed that I had newly awakened from a confused and exciting dream. I knew that it was now midnight, and I was well aware{r} that since the setting of the sun{s} Berenicë had been interred. But of that dreary period which{t} intervened I had no positive, at least no definite comprehension. Yet{u} its memory was replete{v} with horror — horror more horrible from being vague, and terror more terrible from ambiguity. It was a fearful page in the record of my existence, written all over with dim, and hideous, and unintelligible [page 218:] recollections. I strived to decypher them, but in vain; while ever and anon, like the spirit of a departed sound, the shrill and piercing shriek of a female voice seemed to be ringing in my ears. I had done a deed — what was it? {ww}I asked myself the question aloud, and the whispering echoes of the chamber answered me, — “What was it?{ww}

On the table beside me burned a lamp, and near it lay a little box.{x} It was{y} of no remarkable character, and I had seen it frequently before, for it was{z} the property of the family physician; but how came it there, upon my table, and why did I shudder in regarding it? These things were in no manner to be accounted for, and my eyes at length dropped to the open pages of a book, and to a sentence underscored therein. The words were the singular but simple ones{a} of the poet Ebn Zaiat: — “Dicebant mihi sodales si sepulchrum amicae visitarem, curas meas aliquantulum fore levatas.”{b} Why, then, as I perused them, did the hairs of my head erect themselves on end, and the blood of my body {cc}become congealed{cc} within my veins?

There came a light tap at the library door — and, pale as the tenant of a tomb, a menial entered upon tiptoe. His looks were wild with terror, and he spoke to me in a voice tremulous, husky, and very low. What said he? — some broken sentences I heard. He told of a wild cry disturbing{d} the silence of the night — of the gathering together of the household — of a search in the direction of the sound; and then his tones grew thrillingly distinct as he whispered me of a violated grave — of a disfigured body{e} enshrouded, yet still breathing — still palpitating — still alive!{f}

He pointed to my garments; they were muddy and clotted with gore. I spoke not, and he took me gently by the hand:{g} it was indented with the impress of human nails. He directed my attention [page 219:] to some object against the wall. I looked at it for some minutes: it was a spade. With a shriek I bounded to the table, and grasped the{h} box that lay upon it. But I could not force it open; and, in my tremor, it slipped from{i} my hands, and fell heavily, and burst into pieces; and from it, with a rattling sound, there rolled out some instruments of dental surgery, intermingled with {jj}thirty-two small,{jj} white, and ivory-looking{k} substances that were scattered to and fro about the floor.

[[Poe's Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears near the bottom of page 214:]

*  For as Jove, during the winter season, gives twice seven days of warmth, men have called this clement and temperate time the nurse of the beautiful Halcyon. —

Simonides. (10) [Poe's note]


[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 209:]

Title:  Berenice — A Tale (A, B); The Teeth (PHANTASY-PIECES)

Motto:  Omitted (A, B, C)

a  like (A, B, C)

b  like (A, B, C)

c  But thus is it. And (A) changed in B

d  are, (A, B, E) comma deleted to follow C, D

e  ecstacies (E) misprint

f  After this: I have a tale to tell in its own essence rife with horror — I would suppress it were it not a record more of feelings than of facts. (A, B, C)

g  recollection (D, E) misprint, corrected from A, B, C

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 210:]

h  awaking, as it were, (A) changed in B

ii ... ii  common thoughts. (A, B, C)

j  her's, (E) misprint, corrected from A, B, C, D

k  her (A, B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 211:]

l  simoom (A, B, D)

m  the very (A, B)

n  was (A, B, C, D)

o  and, aggravated in its symptoms by the immoderate use of opium, (A, B, C)

p  momentarily (A, B)

q  most singular and (A, B, C)

r  of the nerves immediately affecting (A, B, C)

ss ... ss fear that it is indeed (A, B, C)

t  and, as it were, (A, B, C)

u  common (A, B, C)

v  upon (A, B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 212:]

w  by means / in a state (A, B, C)

x  intense, (A) canceled in B; earnest first in C

y  imagination. By no means. (A) changed in B

z  utterly (A, B)

a  in, so to speak, (A, B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 213:]

b  Cœlius (A, B, C, D, E) emended editorially

c  Austin’ (D) misprint

d  Tertullian (A, B, C, D) misprint

e  unintelligible (A, B, C)

f  which (A, D, E) comma added from B, C

g  the fearful (A, B, C)

h  morbid (A, B, C)

ii ... ii  by any means (A, B, C)

j  where (D) misprint

kk ... kk  Berenice, and in (A, B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 214:]

l  feelings (D, E) comma added from A, B, C

mm ... mm  earth — earthly — (A, B, C)

nn ... nn  knew (A, B, C)

o  I saw that omitted (A, B, C)

pp ... pp  it to loom up in so unnatural a degree? (A, B, C)

q  tell. Perhaps she had grown taller since her malady. (A) changed in B

r  spoke, however, (A) changed in B

s  motionless, and (A, B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 215:]

t  her (A, B)

u  golden (A, B, C)

vv ... vv  ringlets now black as the raven's ring, (A); ringlets now black as the raven's wing, (B, C)

ww ... ww  Omitted (A, B, C)

x  shrunk (A, B, C)

y  Omitted (A, B, C)

z  upon (A, B, C)

a  enamel — not a line in their configuration (A, B, C)

bb ... bb  Omitted (A, B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 216:]

cc ... cc  nature — and (A, B, C)

dd ... dd  Mad'selle Sallé (A, B, C, D) accent added from A, B, C, D

e  Omitted (A, B, C)

f  etoient (A, B) accent added to étoient editorially

g  idees. (E) accent added from A, B, C, D

hh ... hh  Omitted (A, B, C) accents added from D

i  broke forcibly (A, B, C)

j  a wild (A, B, C)

k  arose hurriedly (A, B, C)

l  and (E) comma added from A, B, C, D

mm ... mm  there stood (A) changed in B

n  and she (A, B, C)

oo ... oo  Seized with an epileptic fit she had fallen dead (A, B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 217:]

p  After this A, B, C have four paragraphs not used in D and E:

With a heart full of grief, yet reluctantly, and oppressed with awe, I made my way to the bed-chamber of the departed. The room was large, and very dark, and at every step within its gloomy precincts I encountered the paraphernalia of the grave. The coffin, so a menial told me, lay surrounded by the curtains of yonder bed, and in that coffin, he whisperingly assured me, was all that remained of Berenice. Who was it asked me would I not look upon the corpse? I had seen the lips of no one move, yet the question had been demanded, and the echo of the syllables still lingered in the room. It was impossible to refuse; and with a sense of suffocation I dragged myself to the side of the bed. Gently I uplifted the draperies of the curtains.

As I let them fall they descended upon my shoulders, and shutting me thus out from the living, enclosed me in the strictest communion with the deceased.

The very atmosphere was redolent of death. The peculiar smell of the coffin sickened me; and I fancied a deleterious odor was already exhaling from the body. I would have given worlds to escape — to fly from the pernicious influence of mortality — to breathe once again the pure air of the eternal heavens. But I had no longer the power to move — my knees tottered beneath me — and I remained rooted to the spot, and gazing upon the frightful length of the rigid body as it lay outstretched in the dark coffin without a lid.

God of heaven! — is [Was (C)] it possible? Is [Was (C)] it my brain that reels [reeled (C)] — or was it indeed the finger of the enshrouded dead that stirred in the white cerement that bound it? Frozen with unutterable awe I slowly raised my eyes to the countenance of the corpse. There had been a band around the jaws, but, I know not how, it was broken asunder. The livid lips were wreathed into a species of smile, and, through the enveloping gloom, once again there glared upon me in too palpable reality, the white and glistening, and ghastly teeth of Berenice. I sprang convulsively from the bed, and, uttering no word, rushed forth a maniac from that apartment of triple horror, and mystery, and death.

q  myself again (A, B, C)

r  aware, (E) comma deleted to follow A, B, C, D

s  sun, (E) comma deleted to follow A, B, C, D

t  which had (A, B, C)

u  But (C)

v  rife (A, B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 218:]

ww ... ww  And the echoes of the chamber answered me “what was it?” (A, B, C)

x  box of ebony. (A, B, C)

y  was a box (A, B, C)

z  for it was / it being (A, B, C)

a  words (A, B, C)

b  To the Latin is appended a footnote: My companions told me I might find some little alleviation of my misery, in visiting the grave of my beloved. (A, B)

cc ... cc  congeal (A, B, C)

d  heard in (A, B)

e  body discovered upon its margin — a body (A, B, C)

f  still alive! (A, B, C)

g  hand: but (A, B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 219:]

h  the ebony (A, B, C)

i  from out (A, B); from out of (C)

jj ... jj  many (A, B, C)

k  glistening (A, B, C)

[page 219, continued:]


Title:  In Poe's day Berenice was pronounced as four syllables, and rhyming with “very spicy.” Hence, a diaeresis has been added to our text.

1.  The words of the motto are quoted again in the text of the story; for the first version of the tale (A), Poe translated them in a footnote he later canceled: “My companions told me I might find some little alleviation of my misery, in visiting the grave of my beloved.” The sentence is quoted in French from the Kitab al-Aghani (Book of Songs), a tenth-century collection, in D’Herbelot's Bibliothèque Orientale (1697), p. 921, s.v. Zaïat. Abou Giafar Mohammed ben Abdalmalek ben Abban, known as Ben Zaïat (“descendant of an oil-merchant”), was a grammarian and poet of Baghdad, who wrote an elegy on the loss of a beloved slave girl. He died about A.D. 218. The source of Poe's Latin version is not known.

2.  See Genesis 9:13 on the rainbow as the symbol of God's covenant with Noah.

3.  Poe's interest in reincarnation is evident also in “Metzengerstein,” “Morella,” “Ligeia,” and several later stories.

4.  The fearless and vigorously beautiful heroine of Scott's Anne of Geierstein (1829; new edition, with Introduction by the author, dated 1831) was Baroness of Arnheim; her family and castle had a reputation for magic; seemingly mysterious glimpses of her in the forest by night are described in chapter X of Scott's novel. See notes on Poe's late tale, “The Domain of Arnheim.”

5.  The simoon (also spelled simoom), or sirocco, is a destructive wind, hot from crossing the deserts of Africa, which reaches Italy moist and still hot. It is mentioned also in “Al Aaraaf,” II, 165; in the 1831 version of “Tamerlane,” line 186; in “MS. Found in a Bottle”; and in an early version of “Silence — a Fable.”

6.  By “device” Poe means a printer's ornament — not a motto, as Baudelaire mistakenly translated it. There is a parallel passage in “Tamerlane,” version of 1829, line 81f.: [page 220:]

Thus I remember having dwelt

Some page of early lore upon,

With loitering eye, till I have felt

The letters — with their meaning — melt

To fantasies — with none.

This kind of self-hypnotism may have been an experience of the author. There is another treatment of it in “The Pit and the Pendulum” — “he who ponders over the perfume of some novel flower.”

7.  Compare “The Conqueror Worm,” lines 21-22, “a circle that ever returneth in / To the self-same spot.”

8.  Poe uses the same words in citing Curio's book as did Isaac D’Israeli in the article “Hell” in Curiosities of Literature. Curio (1503-1569), an Italian Protestant, was a cheerful fellow who argued that Hell had a smaller population than Heaven; the British Museum has an edition of his book printed at Basel in 1554. St. Augustine's De Civitate Dei, begun in A. D. 413 and finished in 426, argued that the truly eternal city was not the material Rome, but the spiritual City of God. The paradoxical sentence, “The Son of God has died, it is to be believed because it is incredible; and, buried, He is risen, it is sure because it is impossible,” is in the fifth section of Tertullian's work De Carne Christi (On the Flesh of Christ), dating from A. D. 202-208. The passage is also quoted in “Marginalia,” number 151 (Graham's, March 1846, p. 117).

9.  Ptolemy Hephestion (Ptolemaeus Chennos) is one of the Mythographi whose works are synopsized by Photius. See a jocularly incorrect reference to him in “A Remarkable Letter.” The allusion here is to a passage in Ptolemy's third book, referred to in Bryant's Antient Mythology (3rd ed., 1807), V, 204, where Bryant tells of a rock, probably near Gades (modern Cadiz), called Petra Gigonia, which is swayed by a blade of grass. Poe seems to have reasoned if grass, why not better asphodel, a symbol of death. (Asphodels are said to cover the meadows of Hades.) See other references to asphodels in “The Valley Nis,” “The Island of the Fay,” and “Eleonora.”

10.  This is a fragment of Simonides (number 37 in the Loeb Lyra Graeca, III, 301) preserved in the Historia Animalium of Aristotle. Poe used it also in an early version (A) of “Morella.” Pliny, Natural History (Bohn ed. X, 47), following Aristotle, tells us that the birds (who have given their poetic name to the whole kingfisher family) make their nests a week before the summer solstice, and sit for seven days after it upon five eggs, and that at this time the Sicilian sea is usually calm.

11.  It has been suggested that Poe had in mind the lady called the “Nightmare Life-in-Death” in the third part of Coleridge's Ancient Mariner. The passage appeared thus in the Lyrical Ballads, edition of 1800 (that reprinted at Philadelphia in 1802):

Is that a Death? and are there two?

Is Death that woman's mate?

Her lips were red, her looks were free,

Her locks were yellow as gold

Her skin was as white as leprosy, [page 221:]

And she was far liker Death than he,

Her flesh made the still air cold.

See Darrell Abel, “Coleridge's ‘Life in Death’ and Poe's ‘Death in Life’ ” (London N & Q, May 1955). See also “Ligeia” for a change of the color of the heroine's hair. Although natural change of the color of human hair (other than to gray or white) is certainly uncommon, it has occurred. G. M. Gould and W. L. Pyle, Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine (Philadelphia, 1900), pp. 239-240, refer to several cases resulting from severe fevers. Miss Janet Doe, Librarian of the New York Academy of Medicine, kindly supplied me with this reference and others. Poe may have seen a newspaper account or actually have known of a case.

12.  Compare “The Pit and the Pendulum”: “I saw... those lips. I saw them writhe with a deadly locution.” See also “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”: “The upper lip writhed itself away from the teeth.”

13.  “Her every step was a sentiment” Mlle. Marie Sallé (1714-1756) was a famous dancer, and a friend of Voltaire. The verse, quoted by Bielfeld (Book II, chapter xiv, section 2), who did not name the author, has been found in Louis Fuzelier's “Prologue” to the ballet, Les Festes grecgues et romaines, 1723, published in Reçueil general des Operas (Paris, 1734) volume XIII. Poe's own French means “that all her teeth were ideas.”


[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 207:]

*  See Studies in English, no. 10 (University of Texas Bulletin, 1930), p. 135, and Campbell's Mind of Poe, p. 167. [See also Roger Forclaz, “A Source for ‘Berenice’ and a Note on Poe's Reading,” Poe Newsletter, October 1968. “The Visionary” which appeared in The Casket for 1832 is pointed out as a possible source.]



TOM does not explain his statement for the pronuciation of Berenice, but it might be supported by reference to Byron's poem “To M” (1806), where Berenice is used, and needs four syllables to fit the meter.


[S:1 - TOM2T, 1978] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions-The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (T. O. Mabbott) (Berenice)