Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. E. C. Stedman and G. E. Woodberry), “Al Aaraaf,” The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, New York: Stone and Kimball, vol. X, 1895, pp. 107-120


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[page 107:]

AL AARAAF

PART I

OH! nothing earthly save the ray

(Thrown back from flowers) of Beauty’s eye,

As in those gardens where the day

Springs from the gems of Circassy:

O! nothing earthly save the thrill

Of melody in woodland rill,

Or (music of the passion-hearted)

Joy’s voice so peacefully departed

That like the murmur in the shell,

Its echo dwelleth and will dwell:

Oh, nothing of the dross of ours,

Yet all the beauty, all the flowers

That list our Love, and deck our bowers,

Adorn yon world afar, afar

The wandering star.

’T was a sweet time for Nesace; for there

Her world lay lolling on the golden air,

Near four bright suns, a temporary rest,

An oasis in desert of the blest.

Away — away — ’mid seas of rays that roll

Empyrean splendor o’er the unchained soul, —

The soul that scarce (the billows are so dense)

Can struggle to its destined eminence, — [page 108:]

To distant spheres, from time to time, she rode,

And late to ours, the favoured one of God —

But, now, the ruler of an anchored realm,

She throws aside the sceptre — leaves the helm,

And, amid incense and high spiritual hymns,

Laves in quadruple light her angel limbs.

Now happiest, loveliest in yon lovely Earth,

Whence sprang the “Idea of Beauty” into birth,

(Falling in wreaths through many a startled star,

Like woman’s hair ‘mid pearls, until, afar,

It lit on hills Achaian, and there dwelt)

She looked into Infinity — and knelt.

Rich clouds, for canopies, about her curled —

Fit emblems of the model of her world —

Seen but in beauty — not impeding sight

Of other beauty glittering through the light —

A wreath that twined each starry form around,

And all the opaled air in color bound.

All hurriedly she knelt upon a bed

Of flowers: of lilies such as reared the head

On the fair Capo Deucato, and sprang

So eagerly around about to hang

Upon the flying footsteps of — deep pride —

Of her who loved a mortal, and so died;

The Sephalica, budding with young bees,

Upreared its purple stem around her knees:

And gemmy flower, of Trebizond misnamed,

Inmate of highest stars, where erst it shamed

All other loveliness: its honied dew

(The fabled nectar that the heathen knew)

Deliriously sweet, was dropped from Heaven,

And fell on gardens of the unforgiven [page 109:]

In Trebizond, and on a sunny flower

So like its own above that, to this hour,

It still remaineth, torturing the bee

With madness, and unwonted reverie:

In Heaven, and all its environs, the leaf

And blossom of the fairy plant, in grief

Disconsolate linger, — grief that hangs her head,

Repenting follies that full long have fled,

Heaving her white breast to the balmy air,

Like guilty beauty, chastened, and more fair:

Nyctanthes too, as sacred as the light

She fears to perfume, perfuming the night:

And Clytia pondering between many a sun,

While pettish tears adown her petals run:

And that aspiring flower that sprang on Earth,

And died, ere scarce exalted into birth,

Bursting its odorous heart in spirit to wing

Its way to Heaven, from garden of a king:

And Valisnerian lotus thither flown

From struggling with the waters of the Rhone:

And thy most lovely purple perfume, Zante, —

Isola d’oro, fior di Levante!

And the Nelumbo bud that floats for ever

With Indian Cupid down the holy river: —

Fair flowers, and fairy! to whose care is given

To bear the Goddess’ song, in odors, up to Heaven:

“Spirit! that dwellest where,

In the deep sky,

The terrible and fair,

In beauty vie!

Beyond the line of blue,

The boundary of the star [page 110:]

Which turneth at the view

Of thy barrier and thy bar, —

Of the barrier overgone

By the comets who were cast

From their pride, and from their throne

To be drudges till the last, —

To be carriers of fire

(The red fire of their heart)

With speed that may not tire

And with pain that shall not part, —

Who livest — that we know —

In Eternity — we feel —

But the shadow of whose brow

What spirit shall reveal?

Tho’ the beings whom thy Nesace,

Thy messenger hath known

Have dreamed for thy Infinity

A model of their own,

Thy will is done, Oh, God!

The star hath ridden high

Thro’ many a tempest, but she rode

Beneath thy burning eye;

And here, in thought, to thee —

In thought that can alone

Ascend thy empire and so be

A partner of thy throne —

By winged Fantasy,

My embassy is given,

Till secrecy shall knowledge be

In the environs of Heaven.”

She ceased — and buried then her burning cheek

Abashed, amid the lilies there, to seek [page 111:]

A shelter from the fervor of His eye;

For the stars trembled at the Deity.

She stirred not — breathed not — for a voice was there

How solemnly pervading the calm air!

A sound of silence on the startled ear

Which dreamy poets name “the music of the sphere!”

Ours is a world of words: Quiet we call

“Silence” — which is the merest word of all.

All Nature speaks, and even ideal things

Flap shadowy sounds from visionary wings;

But ah! not so when, thus, in realms on high

The eternal voice of God is passing by,

And the red winds are withering in the sky: —

“What though in worlds which sightless cycles run,

Linked to a little system, and one sun, —

Where all my love is folly and the crowd

Still think my terrors but the thunder cloud,

The storm, the earthquake, and the ocean-wrath, —

(Ah! will they cross me in my angrier path?)

What though in worlds which own a single sun

The sands of Time grow dimmer as they run,

Yet thine is my resplendency, so given

To bear my secrets through the upper Heaven.

Leave tenantless thy crystal home, and fly,

With all thy train, athwart the moony sky,

Apart — like fire-flies in Sicilian night,

And wing to other worlds another light!

Divulge the secrets of thy embassy

To the proud orbs that twinkle, and so be

To ev’ry heart a barrier and a ban

Lest the stars totter in the guilt of man!” [page 112:]

Up rose the maiden in the yellow night,

The single-mooned eve! — on Earth we plight

Our faith to one love — and one moon adore —

The birth-place of young Beauty had no more.

As sprang that yellow star from downy hours

Up rose the maiden from her shrine of flowers,

And bent o’er sheeny mountain and dim plain

Her way — but left not yet her Therasæan reign.

HIGH on a mountain of enamelled head, —

Such as the drowsy shepherd on his bed

Of giant pasturage lying at his ease,

Raising his heavy eyelid, starts and sees

With many a muttered “hope to be forgiven,”

What time the moon is quadrated in Heaven, —

Of rosy head, that towering far away

Into the sunlit ether, caught the ray

Of sunken suns at eve, at noon of night,

While the moon danced with the fair stranger light; —

Upreared upon such height arose a pile

Of gorgeous columns on the unburthened air,

Flashing from Parian marble that twin smile

Far down upon the wave that sparkled there,

And nursled the young mountain in its lair.

Of molten stars their pavement, such as fall

Through the ebon air, besilvering the pall

Of their own dissolution, while they die, —

Adorning then the dwellings of the sky.

A dome, by linked light from Heaven let down,

Sat gently on these columns as a crown; [page 113:]

A window of one circular diamond, there,

Looked out above into the purple air,

And rays from God shot down that meteor chain

And hallowed all the beauty twice again,

Save when, between the Empyrean and that ring,

Some eager spirit flapped his dusky wing.

But on the pillars Seraph eyes have seen

The dimness of this world: that grayish green

That Nature loves the best for Beauty’s grave

Lurked in each cornice, round each architrave —

And every sculptured cherub thereabout

That from his marble dwelling peeréd out

Seemed earthly in the shadow of his niche —

Achaian statues in a world so rich?

Friezes from Tadmor and Persepolis —

From Balbec, and the stilly, clear abyss

Of beautiful Gomorrah! O, the wave

Is now upon thee — but too late to save!

Sound loves to revel in a summer night:

Witness the murmur of the gray twilight

That stole upon the ear, in Eyraco,

Of many a wild star-gazer long ago —

That stealeth ever on the ear of him

Who, musing, gazeth on the distance dim.

And sees the darkness coming as a cloud —

Is not its form — its voice — most palpable and loud?

But what is this? — it cometh — and it brings

A music with it — ’t is the rush of wings —

A pause — and then a sweeping, falling strain

And Nesace is in her halls again.

From the wild energy of wanton haste

Her cheeks were flushing, and her lips apart;

And zone that clung around her gentle waist [page 114:]

Had burst beneath the heaving of her heart.

Within the centre of that hall to breathe

She paused and panted, Zanthe! all beneath,

The fairy light that kissed her golden hair

And longed to rest, yet could but sparkle there!

Young flowers were whispering in melody

To happy flowers that night, and tree to tree;

Fountains were gushing music as they fell

In many a star-lit grove, or moon-lit dell;

Yet silence came upon material things,

Fair flowers, bright waterfalls and angel wings,

And sound alone that from the spirit sprang

Bore burthen to the charm the maiden sang:

“ ‘Neath blue-bell or streamer,

Or tufted wild spray

That keeps, from the dreamer,

The moonbeam away,

Bright beings! that ponder,

With half closing eyes,

On the stars which your wonder

Hath drawn from the skies,

Till they glance through the shade, and

Come down to your brow

Like —— eyes of the maiden

Who calls on you now, —

Arise! from your dreaming

In violet bowers,

To duty beseeming

These star-litten hours!

And shake from your tresses

Encumbered with dew

The breath of those kisses [page 115:]

That cumber them too —

Oh, how, without you, Love!

Could angels be blest? —

Those kisses of true love

That lulled ye to rest!

Up! shake from your wing

Each hindering thing:

The dew of the night,

It would weigh down your flight;

And true love caresses,

O! leave them apart!

They are light on the tresses,

But lead on the heart.

Ligeia! Ligeia!

My beautiful one!

Whose harshest idea

Will to melody run,

O! is it thy will

On the breezes to toss?

Or, capriciously still,

Like the lone Albatross,

Incumbent on night

(As she on the air)

To keep watch with delight

On the harmony there?

Ligeia! whatever

Thy image may be,

No magic shall sever

Thy music from thee.

Thou hast bound many eyes

In a dreamy sleep, [page 116:]

But the strains still arise

Which thy vigilance keep:

The sound of the rain

Which leaps down to the flower,

And dances again

In the rhythm of the shower,

The murmur that springs

From the growing of grass

Are the music of things —

But are modelled, alas!

Away, then my dearest,

O! hie thee away

To springs that lie clearest

Beneath the moon-ray, —

To lone lake that smiles,

In its dream of deep rest,

At the many star-isles

That enjewel its breast!

Where wild flowers, creeping,

Have mingled their shade,

On its margin is sleeping

Full many a maid;

Some have left the cool glade, and

Have slept with the bee;

Arouse them my maiden,

On moorland and lea!

Go! breathe on their slumber,

All softly in ear,

The musical number

They slumbered to hear:

For what can awaken

An angel so soon

Whose sleep hath been taken

Beneath the cold moon, [page 117:]

As the spell which no slumber

Of witchery may test,

The rythmical number

Which lulled him to rest?”

Spirits in wing, and angels to the view,

A thousand seraphs burst the Empyrean through,

Young dreams still hovering on their drowsy flight,

Seraphs in all but “Knowledge,” the keen light

That fell, refracted, through thy bounds afar,

O Death! from eye of God upon that star:

Sweet was that error, sweeter still that death;

Sweet was that error — even with us the breath

Of science dims the mirror of our joy, —

To them ‘twere the Simoom, and would destroy.

For what (to them) availeth it to know

That Truth is Falsehood, or that Bliss is Woe?

Sweet was their death — with them to die was rife

With the last ecstacy of satiate life;

Beyond that death no immortality,

But sleep that pondereth and is not “to be;”

And there, oh, may my weary spirit dwell,

Apart from Heaven’s Eternity — and yet how far from Hell!

What guilty spirit, in what shrubbery dim,

Heard not the stirring summons of that hymn?

But two: they fell: for Heaven no grace imparts

To those who hear not for their beating hearts.

A maiden-angel and her seraph-lover.

O! where (and ye may seek the wide skies over)

Was Love, the blind, near sober Duty known?

Unguided Love hath fallen ’mid “tears of perfect moan.” [page 118:]

He was a goodly spirit — he who fell:

A wanderer by moss-y-mantled well,

A gazer on the lights that shine above,

A dreamer in the moonbeam by his love:

What wonder? For each star is eye-like there,

And looks so sweetly down on Beauty’s hair;

And they, and ev’ry mossy spring were holy

To his love-haunted heart and melancholy.

The night had found (to him a night of wo)

Upon a mountain crag, young Angelo;

Beetling it bends athwart the solemn sky,

And scowls on starry worlds that down beneath it lie.

Here sate he with his love, his dark eye bent

With eagle gaze along the firmament:

Now turned it upon her, but ever then

It trembled to the orb of EARTH again.

“Ianthe, dearest, see! how dim that ray!

How lovely ’tis to look so far away!

She seemed not thus upon that autumn eve

I left her gorgeous halls — nor mourned to leave.

That eve — that eve — I should remember well —

The sun-ray dropped, in Lemnos, with a spell

On theArabesque carving of a gilded hall

Wherein I sate, and on the draperied wall —

And on my eye-lids — O the heavy light!

How drowsily it weighed them into night!

On flowers, before, and mist, and love they ran

With Persian Saadi in his Gulistan:

But O that light! — I slumbered — Death, the while,

Stole o’er my senses in that lovely isle

So softly that no single silken hair

Awoke that slept — or knew that it was there. [page 119:]

The last spot of Earthes orb I trod upon

Was a proud temple called the Parthenon;

More beauty clung around her columned wall

Than even thy glowing bosom beats withal,

And when old Time my wing did disenthral

Thence sprang I as the eagle from his tower,

And years I left behind me in an hour.

What time upon her airy bounds I hung

One half the garden of her globe was flung

Unrolling as a chart unto my view;

Tenantless cities of the desert too!

Ianthe, beauty crowded on me then,

And half I wished to be again of men.”

“My Angelo! and why of them to be?

A brighter dwelling-place is here for thee —

And greener fields than in yon world above,

And women’s loveliness — and passionate love.”

“But, list, Ianthe! when the air so soft

Failed, as my pennoned spirit leapt aloft,

Perhaps my brain grew dizzy — but the world

I left so late was into chaos hurled,

Sprang from her station, on the winds apart,

And rolled, a flame, the fiery Heaven athwart.

Methought, my sweet one, then I ceased to soar

And fell — not swiftly as I rose before,

But with a downward, tremulous motion through

Light, brazen rays, this golden star unto!

Nor long the measure of my falling hours,

For nearest of all stars was thine to ours;

Dread star! that came, amid a night of mirth,

A red Dædalion on the timid Earth.” [page 120:]

“We came, and to thy Earth — but not to us

Be given our lady’s bidding to discuss:

We came, my love; around, above, below,

Gay fire-fly of the night we come and go,

Nor ask a reason save the angel-nod

She grants to us, as granted by her God,

But, Angelo, than thine gray Time unfurled

Never his fairy wing o’er fairier world!

Dim was its little disk, and angel eyes

Alone could see the phantom in the skies,

When first Al Aaraaf knew her course to be

Headlong thitherward o’er the starry sea;

But when its glory swelled upon the sky,

As glowing Beauty’s bust beneath man’s eye,

We paused before the heritage of men,

And thy star trembled — as doth Beauty then!”

Thus, in discourse, the lovers whiled away

The night that waned and waned and brought no day.

They fell: for Heaven to them no hope imparts

Who hear not for the beating of their hearts.

 


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Notes:

Stedman and Woodberry notes.

 

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[S:0 - SW, 1895] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Al Aaraaf (Stedman and Woodberry, 1895)