Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “The City in the Sea” (Text-05c), The Raven and Other Poems (1845), pp. 21-22


[page 21, continued:]



LO! Death has reared himself a throne

In a strange city lying alone

Far down within the dim West,

Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best

Have gone to their eternal rest.

There shrines and palaces and towers

(Time-eaten towers that tremble not!)

Resemble nothing that is ours.

Around, by lifting winds forgot,

Resignedly beneath the sky

The melancholy waters lie.

No rays from the holy heaven come down

On the long night-time of that town;

But light from out the lurid sea

Streams up the turrets silently —

Gleams up the pinnacles far and free —

Up domes — up spires — up kingly halls —

Up fanes — up Babylon-like walls —

Up shadowy long-forgotten bowers

Of scultured ivy and stone flowers —

Up many and many a marvellous shrine

Whose wreathed friezes intertwine

The viol, the violet, and the vine. [page 22:]

Resignedly beneath the sky

The melancholy waters lie.

So blend the turrets and shadows there

That all seem pendulous in air,

While from a proud tower in the town

Death looks gigantically down.

There open fanes and gaping graves

Yawn level with the luminous waves;

But not the riches there that lie

In each idol's diamond eye —

Not the gaily-jewelled dead

Tempt the waters from their bed;

For no ripples curl, alas!

Along that wilderness of glass —

No swellings tell that winds may be

Upon some far-off happier sea —

No heavings hint that winds have been

On seas less hideously serene.

But lo, a stir is in the air!

The wave — there is a movement there!

As if the towers had thrown aside,

In slightly sinking, the dull tide —

As if their tops had feebly given

A void within the filmy Heaven.

The waves have now a redder glow —

The hours are breathing faint and low —

And when, amid no earthly moans,

Down, down that town shall settle hence. [[,]]

Hell, rising from a thousand thrones,

Shall do it reverence.



In reading this poem, the modern mind tends immediately to think of Atlantis, the fabled paradise that has long usurped any recollection of other submerged cities. As has often been suggested, the more likely source for Poe was the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, both still visible beneath the Dead Sea. In his poem “Al Aaraaf,” Poe includes the following note: “There were, undoubtedly, more than two cities engluphed in the ‘dead sea.’ In the valley of Siddim were five — Adrah, Zeboin, Zoar,  Sodom, and Gomorrah. Stephen, of Byzantium, mentions eight, and Strabo, thirteeen, (engulphed) — but the last is out of all reason.  It is said, (Tacitus, Strabo, Josephus, Daniel, of St. Saba, Nau, Maundrell, Troilo, D’Arvieux) that, after an excessive drought, the vestiges of columns, walls, &c. are seen above the surface. At any season, such remains may be discoverd by looking down into the transparent lake, and at such distances as would argue the existence of many settlements in the space now usurped by the ‘Asphaltites.’ ”


[S:1 - RAOP, 1845 (fac, 1969)] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Poems - The City in the Sea (Text-05c)