A Spirit of Melancholy: Poe, Lovecraft and their Poetry

Well, yesterday was the first day of fall which means, we are OFFICIALLY in the Gothic season! Even if I didn’t know the dates, it would be obvious because my Google Alerts and other news feeds are flooded with references to Poe, Dracula and Guillermo del Toro (due to his upcoming movie release).

In the spirit of the season, I have begun to delve into some seasonally appropriate poetry. I am quite familiar with the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, but not his poetry. It’s funny though, when I first began to dive into Poe, I started with his poetry and then later came to find intrigue in his stories. I’m not sure why it is opposite with Lovecraft, but it just happened that way. I began with Cthulu and then progressed from there. At one point, I had read every story he’d written, but it’s been a while and my memory of each of them has faded somewhat. This fall would be a good time to reconnect.

Today, I wanted to share with you a poem I came across this week by Lovecraft that references Poe directly. I love that because it symbolizes to me that he knew that he had a connection to Poe that went beyond the similarities literary analysis and critique drew between the two men.

Eternal brood the shadows on this ground,
Dreaming of centuries that have gone before;
Great elms rise solemnly by slab and mound,
Arched high above a hidden world of yore.
Round all the scene a light of memory plays,
And dead leaves whisper of departed days,
Longing for sights and sounds that are no more.

Lonely and sad, a specter glides along
Aisles where of old his living footsteps fell;
No common glance discerns him, though his song
Peals down through time with a mysterious spell.
Only the few who sorcery’s secret know,
Espy amidst these tombs the shade of Poe.

The couplets in this poem also remind me of Poe who appeared to love rhyming in the couplet form (in alternating lines).

Another intriguing find in my poetry reading is a poem by Lovecraft that is extraordinarily reminiscent of Annabel Lee.

Black loom the crags of the uplands behind me,
Dark are the sands of the far-stretching shore.
Dim are the pathways and rocks that remind me
Sadly of years in the lost Nevermore.

Soft laps the ocean on wave-polish’d boulder,
Sweet is the sound and familiar to me;
Here, with her head gently bent to my shoulder,
Walk’d I with Unda, the Bride of the Sea.

Bright was the morn of my youth when I met her,
Sweet as the breeze that blew o’er the brine.
Swift was I captur’d in Love’s strongest fetter,
Glad to be here, and she glad to be mine.

Never a question ask’d I where she wander’d,
Never a question ask’d she of my birth:
Happy as children, we thought not nor ponder’d,
Glad of the bounty of ocean and earth.

Once when the moonlight play’d soft ‘mid the billows,
High on the cliff o’er the waters we stood,
Bound was her hair with a garland of willows,
Pluck’d by the fount in the bird-haunted wood.

Strangely she gaz’d on the surges beneath her,
Charm’d with the sound or entranc’d by the light:
Then did the waves a wild aspect bequeath her,
Stern as the ocean and weird as the night.

Coldly she left me, astonish’d and weeping,
Standing alone ‘mid the legions she bless’d:
Down, ever downward, half gliding, half creeping,
Stole the sweet Unda in oceanward quest.

Calm grew the sea, and tumultuous beating
Turn’d to a ripple as Unda the fair
Trod the wet sands in affectionate greeting,
Beckon’d to me, and no longer was there!

Long did I pace by the banks where she vanish’d,
High climb’d the moon and descended again.
Grey broke the dawn till the sad night was banish’d,
Still ach’d my soul with its infinite pain.

All the wide world have I search’d for my darling;
Scour’d the far desert and sail’d distant seas.
Once on the wave while the tempest was snarling,
Flash’d a fair face that brought quiet and ease.

Ever in restlessness onward I stumble
Seeking and pining scarce heeding my way.
Now have I stray’d where the wide waters rumble,
Back to the scene of the lost yesterday.

Lo! the red moon from the ocean’s low hazes
Rises in ominous grandeur to view;
Strange is its face as my tortur’d eye gazes
O’er the vast reaches of sparkle and blue.

Straight from the moon to the shore where I’m sighing
Grows a bright bridge made of wavelets and beams.
Frail it may be, yet how simple the trying,
Wand’ring from earth to the orb of sweet dreams.

What is yon face in the moonlight appearing;
Have I at last found the maiden that fled?
Out on the beam-bridge my footsteps are nearing
Her whose sweet beckoning hastens my tread.

Current’s surround me, and drowsily swaying,
Far on the moon-path I seek the sweet face.
Eagerly, hasting, half panting, half praying,
Forward I reach for the vision of grace.

Murmuring waters about me are closing,
Soft the sweet vision advances to me.
Done are my trials; my heart is reposing
Safe with my Unda, the Bride of the Sea.

There’s much to be said about Unda and Annabel Lee. If you need a quick refresh on Poe’s Annabel Lee, click here. Both share a love with the narrators that is compared to that of children. It is pure, innocent and complete. Both do not care about societal expectations or the past or their current stations in life. For each woman and each narrator, love is enough. Well, until it isn’t. Because of the use of melancholy in their writing, Poe and Lovecraft see it necessary for the beautiful woman, the object of desire and love, to die.  Perhaps idyllic love is too perfect to last and instead is fated to be ephemeral. Also, each poem is composed in rhyming stanzas where every other line rhymes.

Melancholy is hugely important to Poe and he references it regularly in his critical writing. I’m not familiar with Lovecraft enough to know whether he has done his own critical writing/philosophizing. But for Poe,beauty and melancholy are at the heart of what he creates.

“Beauty is the sole legitimate province of the poem…pleasure which is at once the most intense, the most elevating, and the most pure, is, I believe, found in the contemplation of the beautiful. When, indeed, men speak of Beauty, they mean, precisely, not a quality, as is supposed, but an effect—they refer, in short, just to that intense and pure elevation of soul—not of intellect, or of heart—upon which I have commented, and which is experienced in consequence of contemplating the beautiful…   Regarding, then, Beauty as my province, my next question referred to the tone of its highest manifestation—and all experience has shown that this tone is one of sadness. Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears. Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all the poetical tones.” (Poe. The Philosophy of Composition).

The major difference between Annabel Lee and The Bride of the Sea lies in the form of each woman’s death. Annabel Lee gets a chill, becomes ill and dies. Unda commits suicide by walking into the sea, though it is suggested that her will was not wholly her own. It seems that she was lulled into a trance by the wind or the waves and lured into the sea, or at least that is what the narrator envisions. So in both cases, perhaps some external force saw fit to separate the narrators and their loves, if the narrator’s perspective is to be trusted.

Poetry is always fun to delve into, especially when you can use it to help you get in the proper mood for the season. I know that the featured image at the beginning of this post isn’t really an accurate depiction of the connections between Poe and Lovecraft, but I loved how they were pictured, Poe with his Raven and Lovecraft with Cthulu.

What poems have you found lately that have tickled your fancy?