Al Aaraaf

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Al Aaraaf  (1829) 
by Edgar Allan Poe
A poem written by Edgar Allan Poe in 1829.

Part I[edit]

O! 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.

'Twas a sweet time for Nesace – for there
Her world lay lolling on the golden air,
Near four bright suns – a temporary rest –
A garden-spot in desert of the blest.
Away – away – 'mid seas of rays that roll
Empyrean splendor o'er th' unchained soul –
The soul that scarce (the billows are so dense)
Can struggle to its destin'd eminence, –
To distant spheres, from time to time, she rode
And late to ours, the favor'd one of God –
But, now, the ruler of an anchor'd 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 thro' 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 thro' the light –
A wreath that twined each starry form around,
And all the opal'd air in color bound.

All hurriedly she knelt upon a bed
Of flowers: of lilies such as rear'd the head
[1]On the fair Capo Deucato, and sprang
So eagerly around about to hang
Upon the flying footsteps of – deep pride –
[2]Of her who lov'd a mortal – and so died.
The Sephalica, budding with young bees,
Upreared its purple stem around her knees:—
[3]And gemmy flower, of Trebizond misnam'd –
Inmate of highest stars, where erst it sham'd
All other loveliness: – its honied dew
(The fabled nectar that the heathen knew)
Deliriously sweet, was dropp'd from Heaven,
And fell on gardens of the unforgiven
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 Red,
Heaving her white breast to the balmy air,
Like guilty beauty, chasten'd and more fair:
Nyctanthes too, as sacred as the light
She fears to perfume, perfuming the night:
[4]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:
[5]And Valisnerian lotus, thither flown
From struggling with the waters of the Rhone:
[6]And thy most lovely purple perfume, Zante!
Isola d'oro! – Fior di Levante!
[7]And the Nelumbo bud that floats for ever
With Indian Cupid down the holy river –
Fair flowers, and fairy! to whose care is given
[8]To bear the Goddess' song, in odours, 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
    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 dream'd for thy Infinity
    [9]A model of their own –
    Thy will is done, O 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 –
    [10]By winged Fantasy,
    My embassy is given,
    Till secrecy shall knowledge be
    In the environs of Heaven."

She ceas'd – and buried then her burning cheek
Abash'd, amid the lilies there, to seek
A shelter from the fervor of His eye;
For the stars trembled at the Deity.
She stirr'd not – breath'd 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 ev'n 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: –

[11]"What tho '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 tho' 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 thro' the upper Heaven!
Leave tenantless thy crystal home, and fly,
With all thy train, athwart the moony sky –
[12]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!"

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 mountains and dim plain
[13]Her way, but left not yet her Therasaean reign.

Part II[edit]

High on a mountain of enamell'd 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 mutter'd "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 danc'd with the fair stranger light –
Uprear'd upon such height arose a pile
Of gorgeous columns on th' unburthen'd air,
Flashing from Parian marble that twin smile
Far down upon the wave that sparkled there,
And nursled the young mountain in its lair.
[14]Of molten stars their pavement, such as fall
Thro' 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 –
A window of one circular diamond, there,
Look'd out above into the purple air,
And rays from God shot down that meteor chain
And hallow'd all the beauty twice again,
Save, when, between th' empyrean and that ring,
Some eager spirit flapp'd his dusky wing.
But on the pillars Seraph eyes have seen
The dimness of this world: that greyish green
That Nature loves the best Beauty's grave
Lurk'd in each cornice, round each architrave
And every sculptur'd cherub thereabout
That from his marble dwelling peered out,
Seem'd earthly in the shadow of his niche –
Achaian statues in a world so rich!
[15]Friezes from Tadmor and Persepolis
From Balbec, and the stilly, clear abyss
[16]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 grey twilight
[17]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 –
[18]Is not its form – its voice – most palpable and loud?

But what is this? – it cometh, and it brings
A music with it – 'tis 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
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 kiss'd her golden hair
And long'd to rest, yet could but sparkle there.

[19]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 the blue-bell or streamer –
      Or tufted wild spray
    That keeps, from the dreamer,
      [20]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 thro' 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
      Encumber'd with dew
    The breath of those kisses
      That cumber them too –
    (O! how, without you, Love!
      Could angels be blest?)
    Those kisses of true Love
      That lull'd 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,
      [21]Like the lone Albatross,
    Incumbent on night
      (As she on the air)
    To keep watch with delight
      On the harmony there?

    Ligeia! wherever
      Thy image may be,
    No magic shall sever
      Thy music from thee.
    Thou hast bound many eyes
      In a dreamy sleep –
    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 –
    [22]The murmur that springs
      From the growing of grass
    Are the music of things –
      But are modell'd, alas! –
    Away, then, my dearest,
      Oh! hie thee away
    To the 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
      [23]Have slept with the bee –
    Arouse them, my maiden,
      On moorland and lea
    Go! breathe on their slumber,
      All softly in ear,
    Thy musical number
      They slumbered to hear
    For what can awaken
      An angel so soon,
    Whose sleep hath been taken
      Beneath the cold moon,
    As the spell which no slumber
      Of witchery may test,
    The rhythmical number
      Which lull'd him to rest?"

Spirits in wing, and angels to the view,
A thousand seraphs burst th' Empyrean thro'
Young dreams still hovering on their drowsy flight –
Seraphs in all but "Knowledge," the keen light
That fell, refracted, thro' 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 ecstasy 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 –
[24]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?
[25]Unguided Love hath fallen – 'mid "tears of perfect moan."
He was a goodly spirit – he who fell:
A wanderer by mossy-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 woe)
Upon a mountain crag, young Angelo –
Beetling it bends athwart the solemn sky,
And scowls on starry worlds that down beneath it lie.
Here sat he with his love – his dark eye bent
With eagle gaze along the firmament:
Now turn'd 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 seem'd not thus upon that autumn eve
    I left her gorgeous halls – nor mourn'd to leave.
    That eve – that eve – I should remember well –
    The sun-ray dropp'd in Lemnos, with a spell
    On th' Arabesq' carving of a gilded hall
    Wherein I sate, and on the drap'ried wall –
    And on my eyelids – O! the heavy light!
    How drowsily it weigh'd them into night!
    On flowers, before, and mist, and love they ran
    With Persian Saadi in his Gulistan:
    But O! that light! – I slumber'd – 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 he was there.

    "The last spot of Earth's orb I trod upon
    [26]Was a proud temple call'd the Parthenon;
    More beauty clung around her column'd wall
    [27]Than ev'n 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 wish'd 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 woman's loveliness – and passionate love."

    "But, list, Ianthe! when the air so soft
    [28]Fail'd, as my pennon'd spirit leapt aloft,
    Perhaps my brain grew dizzy – but the world
    I left so late was into chaos hurl'd –
    Sprang from her station, on the winds apart.
    And roll'd, 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 thro'
    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 Daedalion on the timid Earth."

        "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 grey Time unfurl'd
        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 swell'd 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.

Poe's footnotes[edit]

  1. On the fair Capo Deucato: On Santa Mauraolim Deucadia.
  2. Of her who lov'd a mortal: Sappho.
  3. And gemmy flower, of Trebizond misnam'd: This flower is much noticed by Lewehoeck and Tournefort. The bee, feeding upon its blossom, becomes intoxicated.
  4. Clytia: The Chrysanthemum Peruvianum, or, to employ a better-known term – the turnsol which turns continually towards the sun, covers itself, like Peru, the country from which it comes, with dewy clouds which cool and refresh its flowers during the most violent heat of the day. — B. de. St. Pierre.
  5. Valisnerian lotus: There is found, in the Rhone, a beautiful lily of the Valisnerian kind. Its stem will stretch to the length of three or four feet – thus preserving its head above the water in the swellings of the river.
  6. And thy most lovely purple perfume: The Hyacinth.
  7. Indian Cupid: It is a fiction of the Indians, that Cupid was first seen floating in one of these down the river Ganges – and that he still loves the cradle of his childhood.
  8. To bear the Goddess' song, in odours, up to Heaven: And golden vials full of odours which are the prayers of the saints. — Rev. St. John.
  9. A model of their own: The Humanitarians held that God was to be understood as having really a human form. — Vide Clarke's Sermons, vol. 1, page 26, fol. edit.

    The drift of Milton's argument, leads him to employ language which would appear at first sight, to verge upon their doctrine; but it will be seen immediately, that he guards himself against the charge of having adopted one of the most ignorant errors of the dark ages of the church. Dr. Sumner's Notes on Milton's Christian Doctrine.

    This opinion, in spite of many testimonies to the contrary, could never have been very general. Audeus, a Syrian of Messopotamia, was condemned for the opinion, as heretical. He lived in the beginning of the 4th century. His disciples were called Anthropomorphites. — Vide Du Pin.

    Among Milton's poems are these lines:–
        Dicite sacrorum præsides nemorum Deæ, &c.
        Quis ille primus cujus ex imagine
        Natura solers finxit humanum genus?
        Eternus, incorruptus, æquævus polo
        Unusque et universus exemplar Dei. — And afterwards,
        Non cui profundum Cæcius lumen dedit
        Dircæus augur vidit hunc alto sinu, &c.
  10. By winged Fantasy:
        Seltsamen Tochter Jovia
        Seinem Schosskinde
        Der Phantasie. — Goethe.
  11. Sightless: too small to be seen. — Legge.
  12. Like fire-flies: I have often noticed a peculiar movement of the fire-fly – They will collect in a body and fly off, from a common centre into innumerable radii.
  13. Her Therasaean reign: Therasæa, or Therasea, the island mentioned by Seneca, which, in a moment, arose from the sea to the eyes of astonished mariners.
  14. Some star which, from the ruin'd roof
    Of shak'd Olympus, by mischance, did fall — Milton.
  15. Voltaire, in speaking of Persepolis, says, "Je conmois bien 'admiration qu'inspirent ces ruins – mais un palais erige au pied du'ne chaine des rochers sterils – peut il etre un chef doevure des arts!" — Voila les arguments de M. Voltaire.
  16. O! the wave: Ula Deguisi is the Turkish appellation; but, on its own shores, it is called Bahar Loth, or Almotanah. There were undoubtedly more than two cities engulphed in the "dead sea." In the valley of Siddim were five – Adrah, Zeboin, Zoar, Sodom and Gomorrah. Stephen of Byzantium mentions eight, and Strabo thirteen, (engulphed) — but the last is out of all reason.

    It is said, (Tacitus, Strabo, Josephus, Daniel of St. Saba, Nau, Maundrell, Troilo, D'Arvicus) that, after an excessive drought, the vestiges of columns, walls, &c. are seen above the surface. At any season, such remains may be discover'd 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."
  17. Eyraco: Chaldea.
  18. Most palpable and loud: I have often thought I could distinctly hear the sound of the darkness as it stole over the horizon.
  19. Young flowers were whispering in melody: Fairies use flowers for their charactery. Merry Wives of Windsor. [William Shakespeare]
  20. The moonbeam: In Scripture is this passage – "The sun shall not harm thee by day, nor the moon by night." It is, perhaps, not generally known that the moon, in Egypt, has the effect of producing blindness to those who sleep with the face exposed to its rays, to which circumstance the passage evidently alludes.
  21. Like the lone Albatross: The Albatross is said to sleep on the wing.
  22. The murmur that springs: I met with this idea in an old English tale, which I am now unable to obtain and quote from memory:– "The verie essence and, as it were, springe-heade, and origine of all musiche is the verie pleasaunte sounde which the trees of the forest do make when they growe."
  23. The wild bee will not sleep in the shade if there be moonlight.
    The rhyme in this verse, as in one about 60 lines before, has an appearance of affectation. It is, however, imitated from Sir W. Scott, or rather from Claud Halcro – in whose mouth I admired its effect.
        O! were there an island,
          Tho' ever so wild
        Where woman might smile, and
          No man be beguil'd, &c.
  24. Apart from Heaven's Eternity: With the Arabian there is a medium between Heaven and Hell, where men suffer no punishment, but yet do not attain that tranquil and even happiness which they suppose to be characteristic of heavenly enjoyment.
        Un no rompido sueño –
        Un dia puro – allegre – libre
        Quiera –
        Libre de amor – de zelo –
        De odio – de esperanza – de rezelo.
              —Luis Ponce de León.
    Sorrow is not excluded from "Al Aaraaf," but it is that sorrow which the living love to cherish for the dead, and which, in some minds, resembles the delirium of opium. The passionate excitement of Love and the buoyancy of spirit attendant upon intoxication are its less holy pleasures – the price of which, to those souls who make choice of "Al Aaraaf" as their residence after life, is final death and annihilation.
  25. Tears of perfect moan:
        There be tears of perfect moan
        Wept for thee in Helicon. Milton.
  26. A proud temple call'd the Parthenon: It was entire in 1687 – the most elevated spot in Athens.
  27. Thy glowing bosom:
        Shadowing more beauty in their airy brows
        Than have the white breasts of the Queen of Love. — Marlowe.
  28. Pennon: for pinion — Milton.
This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.