Edgar Allan Poe’s Heartbreaking “The Sleeper”

Dweller of the Dark Presents “The Sleeper” by Edgar Allan Poe

A heart beats in a rat covered tomb, bells ring out from an abandoned church, a black cat screams in the shadows, and a raven screeches, “Nevermore” as we return to the ghostly grave of Edgar Allan Poe.

Edgar Allan Poe, the master of the macabre, was a writer, editor, and literary critic. He’s best known for his poetry and short stories. Poe is widely regarded as a central figure of Romanticism in the United States and of American literature, and he was one of the country’s earliest practitioners of the short story. It’s without question he was the inventor of the detective fiction genre and influential in the emerging genre of science fiction. It is noteworthy that Edgar Allan Poe was the first well-known American writer to earn a living through writing alone. Unfortunately, as with many aspiring writers, it resulted in a financially difficult life and career.

Poe and his works influenced literature around the world, as well as specialized fields such as cosmology and cryptography. He and his work appear throughout popular culture in literature, music, films, and television. A number of his homes are dedicated museums today. The Mystery Writers of America present an annual award known as the Edgar Award for distinguished work in the mystery genre.

“The Sleeper” is a poem written by Edgar Allan Poe first published in the 1831 collection “Poems of Edgar A. Poe”. In that publication it has 74 lines and was originally titled “Irene.” Edgar Allan Poe thought this poem was his best. Poe remarked about his poem, “The Sleeper,” “in the higher qualities of poetry, it is better than ‘The Raven’—but there is not one man in a million who could be brought to agree with me in this opinion.”

The poem focuses on the death of a beautiful woman. It is a death which the mourning narrator struggles to deal with while considering the nature of Death and Life. Some lines seem to echo the poem “Christabel” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a poet known to have had a heavy influence on Poe’s poetry.

Who is the Sleeper? Will the narrator’s beloved Irene ever awake and dream no more?

The Sleeper

By Edgar Allan Poe

At midnight, in the month of June, 

I stand beneath the mystic moon. 

An opiate vapor, dewy, dim, 

Exhales from out her golden rim, 

And softly dripping, drop by drop, 

Upon the quiet mountain top, 

Steals drowsily and musically 

Into the universal valley. 

The rosemary nods upon the grave; 

The lily lolls upon the wave; 

Wrapping the fog about its breast, 

The ruin moulders into rest; 

Looking like Lethe, see! the lake 

A conscious slumber seems to take, 

And would not, for the world, awake. 

All Beauty sleeps!—and lo! where lies 

Irene, with her Destinies! 

Oh, lady bright! can it be right— 

This window open to the night? 

The wanton airs, from the tree-top, 

Laughingly through the lattice drop— 

The bodiless airs, a wizard rout, 

Flit through thy chamber in and out, 

And wave the curtain canopy 

So fitfully—so fearfully— 

Above the closed and fringéd lid 

’Neath which thy slumb’ring soul lies hid, 

That, o’er the floor and down the wall, 

Like ghosts the shadows rise and fall! 

Oh, lady dear, hast thou no fear? 

Why and what art thou dreaming here? 

Sure thou art come o’er far-off seas, 

A wonder to these garden trees! 

Strange is thy pallor! strange thy dress! 

Strange, above all, thy length of tress, 

And this all solemn silentness! 

The lady sleeps! Oh, may her sleep, 

Which is enduring, so be deep! 

Heaven have her in its sacred keep! 

This chamber changed for one more holy, 

This bed for one more melancholy, 

I pray to God that she may lie 

Forever with unopened eye, 

While the pale sheeted ghosts go by! 

My love, she sleeps! Oh, may her sleep, 

As it is lasting, so be deep! 

Soft may the worms about her creep! 

Far in the forest, dim and old, 

For her may some tall vault unfold— 

Some vault that oft hath flung its black 

And wingéd pannels fluttering back, 

Triumphant, o’er the crested palls 

Of her grand family funerals— 

Some sepulchre, remote, alone, 

Against whose portals she hath thrown, 

In childhood, many an idle stone— 

Some tomb from out whose sounding door 

She ne’er shall force an echo more, 

Thrilling to think, poor child of sin! 

It was the dead who groaned within.

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