Text: Hiram Peck McKnight, “The Murderer,” Conklin's Handy Manual of Useful Information, 1887, pp. 133-134


[page 133:]


[An Unpublished Poem by Edgar Allen [[Allan]] Poe.]

Ye glittering stars! how fair ye shine to-night,

And O, thou beauteous moon! thy fairy light

Is peeping thro’ those iron bars so near me.

How silent is the night — how clear and bright!’

I nothing hear, nor aught there is to hear me.

Shunned by all, as if the world did feat me;

Alone in chains! Ah, me, the cursed spell

That brought me here. Heaven could not cheer me,

Within these walls — within this dark, cold cell,

This gloomy, dreary, solitary hell.

And thou, so slow, O Time! so passing slow;

Keeping my soul in bondage, in this woe

So torturing — this uncontrollable pain;

Was I to blame? I was, they say. Then so

Be it. Will this deep sanguinary stain

Of my dark crime forever haunt my brain?

Must I live here and never, never hear

The sweetness of a friendly voice again?

Must I this torture feet year after year?

Live, die in hell, and Paradise so near?

Am I dead to Thee, O Christ? Thou who sought

The prisoner in his lonely cell; taught

Him to feel the enchantment of Thy love —

Am I dead to Thee? Canst Thou not be brought

By prayer from Thy celestial throne above

Into this darkened cell? Dost Thou, too, reprove

My soul? Thou too, doom it to endless misery?

Am I so hardened that I can not move

The divine, forgiving love in Thee?

Canst Thou be Christ and have no love for met

What! lost am I? Ne’er will I feel the bliss

Of heaven? Ne’er feel the joys above this

World of sin? What! never? Is my destiny

Hell? Into that dark, fathomless abyss

Of sin and crime? Into that misery

Eternal? Into that unquenchable sea

Of fire? Is there my future — it it there?

Ah! it comes before my eyes. See! see! Ye

Infernal fiends, why come ye here. How dare

Ye come? A,vay ! mock me not with your stare?

Away, ye fiends! Why at me now? Am I

Not hardened yet? Am I not fit for hell? Why

Test me again? O, horrors, hear the groans

Of tortured victims! Ah! see them lie

Bleeding and in chains! Hear the mocking moans,

Of the madden’d demons, in deep, wild tones! [page 134:]

See them hurl their victims into the hot mire!

Now see the devils dance! What! Are they stones?

Have they no hearts, no love, no kind desire?

Fearfully reveling ‘midst Jehovah's fire!

Cries, cries! horrible cries assail my ears!

I see her! My murdered victim now appears

Before me! Hear her pleading for mercy;

Ah! see her stare, with eyes swollen with tears;

Horrors! see her white arms outstretched to me,

Begging for life! O woe! O misery!

Take me, demons! take me out of this cell;

Satan, I’m thine! Hear, hear, I call on thee;

Torture me — rack me with the pains of hell;

Do what thou wilt, but break this madd’ning spell.

Listen! What's that? My soul, they come, they come!

The demons come to take thee to thy home!

See, see! No, no! O, heavens! What brought this

Pale skeleton here? Speak! speak! What! dumb?

And hast thou naught to say? What is thy office?

Away, fiend! What! move not for me! What is

Thy want? Speak, devil, speak! Come, come, unsheath

Thy tongue. Com'st thou from the dark’ abyss

Of sin? Hold, hold! I know thee — my breath!

Ha! ha! I know thee now — ‘tis Death! ‘tis Death!



An inquiry about the poem, including the first stanza, was printed in the Book Buyer for vol. XVIII, no. 3, April 1889, p. 256, signed only as “G. W. S.” No answer was provided. The poem was reprinted, again with the erroneous attribution to Poe, in The Shaftesbury Recitation, Washington, D. C., 1890, pp. 50-52. The first few lines were quoted in “The Fading of a Flower,” by “J. C. C. of Ohio,” with the assumption that they are by Poe, but without explanation. (That article appeared in the Richmond College Messenger, vol. XXV, no. 2, December 1898, p. 50.)

A much-revised version of the poem, although still retaining many of the lines (at least in part), was printed as “The Murderer's Dream,” in Prison Poetry, by Hiram Peck McKnight, 1896, pp. 179-182. The preface implies that the author is McKnight, although it acknowledges some assistance from his fellow inmates of the Ohio Penitentiary of Columbus, OH.

The Murderer's Dream.

Ye glittering stars! how fair ye shine tonight.

And, oh, thou modest moon! thy silvery light

Comes streaming through these iron bars before me.

How clear and silent is this lovely night!

How quiet and how bright!

I nothing hear, nor aught can hear

Me when I speak, but stone and iron that I fear;

I, shunned by all, as if alone I’d go to Hell;

I, alone in chains! Ah, me, the cruel spell

That brought me here. Heaven could not cheer me

Within these cursed walls — within this dark and dreary cell,

This gloomy, cold, and solitary Hell.

And thou, O Time! the only thing that's not my foe —

O Time! O Time! thou passeth on so slow,

Keeping my soul in terror, in bondage, and in woe;

Was I to blame? I was, they say; they say 'tis so.

Oh, God! will this deep crimson, aye, black stain

My nervous system always strain!

Will my foul crime forever haunt my brain?

Must I live here in earthly fear, and never, never hear

The sweetest voice to me of all, I’ve heard not for a year?

Must I this torture feel, year after year?

Live, die in Hell, and yet a Paradise so near?

Wilt Thou, Oh, God! wilt Thou not hear? ’Tis I, 'tis I they all do fear.

Am I to Thee, O Christ, as dead? Thou who sought

The lonely prisoner in his dismal cell, and to him taught

The true and only law to govern man — Thy love,

Which can be only reached by prayer to Thee above?

In this cold and darkened cell, dost Thou reprove

My soul? Dost Thou doom it to endless misery?

Am I so wicked, sinful, that I cannot move

Thy loving kindness, to a slight reprove?

Ah, me, ah, me, 'tis love Thou sayest — love.

Canst I at this late day by full repentance see

The divine, the holy, ever cleansing love In Thee?

Canst Thou be Christ and have no love for me?

What, can it be that I am lost and’ll never know thy bliss?

And for my cruel, wicked crime no joy above all this?

What, world of sin! What, never? Is my destiny Hell?

Is that my cruel sentence because in sin I fell?

Aye, I did fall! Into that dark and fathomless pit,

And now in Hell my soul has fell, and for Hell it is not fit:

Into that misery eternal, where nothing lives but all's infernal —

Is there my future — is it there?

My thoughts they burn my head, my heart ’twas, ah, ’twas dead —

But now it lives, and in my breast does burn:

Those pains, and, severe as they were, they flew, yes, flew away,

And being absent for awhile, remorse came in by day.

Oh, God, Oh, God, I am not fit for this infernal Hell!

Oh, mercy, mercy! my destiny, 'tis here that I must dwell.

Away! away! ye fiery fiends, I am among you now,

O Christ, O Savior of the sinner! To Satan must I bow?

Pray, take me back to earth again, and test me one and all,

And let me live anew my life and see if I will fall.

Test me, test me once again, let me hear the old church bell,

‘Cause now I’m so much steeped in sin that I’m not fit for Hell.

Oh, horrors! horrors! hear the groans of tortured victims there,

Some young, and many are quite old, I know it by their hair!

Poor, poor, poor wretches, see them there, all bleeding and in chains;

I know they realize their fate, because they all have brains.

Is this the horrid, horrid place my mother taught was Hell?

Oh, see those brutal fiery fiends, they call them “Imps” you know,

And many an one has feared them here, because of sin he’d sown.

Just see the demons of the deep! Just hear their hellish tones!

Then floating back on brimstone air comes mocking, mocking groans.

See, see the devils how they dance, with brimstone torches how they prance;

What! can it be they look like men and 'stead of hearts they have but sin

And grinning hang around me? Oh, fearful, fearful fire of hell, what can it be within?

They sneer and stare at me! Go ’way, ye devils cooked in sin and crime!

I’m now in Purgatory waiting for the time

When by the law of a just God I’ll be removed from here,

And by the law of Christ divine, of thee I’ll have no fear.

Hark! List! From yonder corner comes loud cries,

Oh, let me hold my aching, bursting head!

They come from some poor wretch that dies,

And many an one may mourn him now as dead.

I see him! I see him! There he is! My murdered victim now

Appears before me. That is him! and to him I must bow.

Oh, his cries, his groans, they haunt me

To the bottom of my wicked heart. Can it be

That I must dwell forever in this wretched misery?

Horrors! See him now reach out his bony hand

To grasp me firmly by the throat and hold me like a band.

Take me, demons, if you please, take me into Hell!

Anything you choose may do — remove me from this cell!

My soul, my soul, awake! awake! They come! they come!

The devil's come to take — Old Satan, I am thine!

Away my soul will ever roll through torturing, scorching Hell,

And down into the blackest depths my soul is cast pell-mell.

Oh, what a fate for man to meet — speak, Satan! speak, I say!

And with your torturing, devilish deeds — my ruin! no delay!

What dumb! Old Satan, canst thou speak? Look here

And speak thy want! I’m now right crisp and hard in sin and haven’t any fear.

Take me, demons! Take me, quick! I hear the awful knell

Of the roaring, moaning billows, and the bitterness of Hell.

Take me, Satan, take me! as my fate is firmly sealed,

While ye in Hades do wake me, and o’er me the batoon wield.

What! What! Am I mistaken? Was it only but a dream?

I, still living here on earth — oh, how real it all did seem.

Could I now just one chance have and in mercy be forgiven,

I would have respect for all and send prayers right up to heaven.

When on earth Christ did come to save sinners from their fate,

Any time they’d turn to Him they’d find ’twas not too late.

Holy Savior, heavenly dove, Thou who reigns supreme above!

Though in sin I have been dead, I am saved just by Thy love.

Could I only have good sight, that I could see my sad plight,

I would always to Thee cling, and to Thee cling with my might.

Now, to Thee let me give thanks, ’cause ’twas only a bad dream.

But its horrors to me cling, ‘cause so real it all did seem.


[S:0 - CHMUS, 1887] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Rejected - The Murderer (H. P. McKnight)