BY EDGAR A. POE.
I am come of a race noted for vigour of fancy and ardour of passion. Pyrros is my name. Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled whether madness be or be not the loftier intelligence—whether much that is glorious—whether all that is profound—do not spring from disease of thought, from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect. They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape the dreamers by night. In their gray visions they obtain glimpses of eternity, and thrill, in awaking, to find that they have been upon the verge of the great secret. In snatches they learn something of the wisdom which is of good, and more of that mere knowledge which is of evil. They penetrate, however rudderless or compassless, into the vast ocean of the 'light ineffable,' and, again, like the adventurers of the Nubian geographer, 'agressi sunt mare tenebrarum, quid in eo esset exploraturi.'
We will say then that I am mad. I grant, at least, that there are two distinct conditions of my mental existence—the condition of a lucid reason, not to be disputed, and belonging to the memory of events forming the first epoch of my life; and a condition of shadow and doubt, appertaining to the present, and to the recollection of what constitutes the second great era of my being. Therefore, what I shall tell of the earlier period, believe; and to what I may relate of the later time, give only such credit as may seem due; or doubt it altogether; or, if doubt it ye dare not, then play unto its riddle the Sphynx.
She whom I loved in youth, and of whom I now pen calmly and distinctly these remembrances, was the sole daughter of the only sister of my mother long departed. Eleonora was the name of my cousin. We had always dwelled together, beneath a tropical sun, in the 'Valley of Many-Coloured Grass.' No unguided footstep ever came upon that vale; for it lay singularly far away up among a range of giant hills that hung beetling around about it, shutting out the sunlight from its sweetest recesses. No path was trodden in its vicinity; and to reach our happy home there was need of putting back with force the foliage of many thousands of forest trees, and of crushing to death the glories of many millions of fragrant flowers. Thus it was that we lived all alone, knowing nothing of the world without the valley—I, and my cousin, and her mother.
From the dim regions beyond the mountains at the upper end of our encircled domain there crept out a narrow and deep river, brighter than all save Eleonora's eyes; and, winding stealthily about in mazy courses, it passed away at length through a shadowy gorge among hills still dimmer than those from which it had issued. We called it the 'River of Silence;' for there seemed to be a hushing influence in its flow. No murmur arose from its bed, and so gently it wandered along that the pearly pebbles upon which we loved to gaze, far down within its bosom, stirred not at all, but lay in a motionless content, each in its own old station, shining on gloriously for ever.
And the margin of the river, and of the many dazzling rivulets that glided through devious ways into its channel, and the spaces that extended from the brinks away down into the depths of the streams, until they reached the bed of pebbles at the bottom—these spots, not less than the whole surface of the valley, from the river to the mountains that girdled it in, were carpeted all by a soft green grass, thick, short, perfectly even, and vanilla-perfumed, but so besprinkled throughout with the yellow buttercup, the white daisy, the purple violet, and the ruby-red asphodel, that its exceeding beauty spoke to our hearts in loud tones of the love and of the glory of God.
And here and there, in groves about this grass, like wildernesses of dreams, sprang up fantastic trees, whose tall slender stems stood not upright, but slanted gracefully toward the light that peered at noonday into the centre of the valley. Their bark was speckled with the vivid alternate splendours of ebony and silver, and was smoother than all save the cheeks of Eleonora—so that but for the brilliant green of the huge leaves that spread from their summits in long tremulous lines, dallying with the zephyrs, one might have fancied them giant serpents of Syria, doing homage to their sovereign, the sun.
Hand in hand about this valley, for fifteen years, roamed I with Eleonora, before love entered within our hearts. It was one evening at the close of the third lustrum of her life, and of the fourth of my own, that we sat, locked in each other's embrace, beneath the serpent-like trees, and looked down within the waters of the River of Silence at our images therein. We spoke no words during the rest of that sweet day; and our words upon the morrow were tremulous and few.
We had drawn the god Eros from that wave; and now we felt that he had enkindled within us the fiery souls of our forefathers. The passions which had for centuries distinguished our race came thronging with the fancies for which they had been equally noted, and together breathed a delirious bliss over the Valley of the Many-Coloured Grass. A change fell upon all things. Strange brilliant flowers, star-shaped, burst out upon the trees, where no flowers had been known before. The tints of the green carpet deepened, and when, one by one, the white daisies shrank away, there sprang up in place of them ten by ten of the ruby-red asphodel. And life arose in our paths; for the tall flamingo, hitherto unseen, with all gay, glowing birds, flaunted his scarlet plumage before us; and golden and silver fish haunted the river, out of the bosom of which issued, little by little, a murmur that swelled at length into a lulling melody more divine than that of the harp of Æolus, sweeter than all save the voice of Eleonora. And now, too, a vast and voluminous cloud, which we had long watched in the regions of Hesper, floated out thence all gorgeous in crimson and gold, and settling in peace above us, sank day by day lower and lower, until its edges rested upon the tops of the mountains, turning all their dimness into magnificence, and shutting us up, as if for ever, within a magic prison-house of grandeur and of glory.
The loveliness of Eleonora was that of the seraphim—and here, as in all things referring to this epoch, my memory is vividly distinct. In stature she was tall, and slender even to fragility; the exceeding delicacy of her frame, as well as of the hues of her cheek, speaking painfully of the feeble tenure by which she held existence. The lilies of the valley were not more fair. With the nose, lips, and chin of the Greek Venus, she had the majestic forehead, the naturally-waving auburn hair, and the large luminous eyes of her kindred. Her beauty, nevertheless, was of that nature which leads the heart to wonder not less than to love. The grace of her motion was surely ethereal. Her fantastic step left no impress upon the asphodel—and I could not but dream as I gazed, enrapt, upon her alternate moods of melancholy and of mirth, that two separate souls were enshrined within her. So radical were her changes of countenance, that at one instant I fancied her possessed by some spirit of smiles, at another by some demon of tears.
She was a maiden artless and innocent as the brief life she had led among the flowers. No guile disguised the fervour of love which animated her heart—and she examined with me its inmost recesses, as we walked together in the Valley of the Many-Coloured Grass, and discoursed of the mighty changes which had lately taken place. At length, having spoken, one day, in tears, of the last sad change which must befall humanity, she thenceforward dwelt only upon this one sorrowful theme, interweaving it into all our converse—as in the songs of the Bard of Shiraz the same images are found occurring again and again in every impressive variation of phrase.
She had seen that the finger of death was upon her bosom—that, like the ephemera, she had been made perfect in loveliness only to die; but the terrors of the grave, to her, lay solely in a consideration which she revealed to me, one still evening at twilight, by the banks of the River of Silence. She grieved to think that, having entombed her in the Valley of the Many-Coloured Grass, I would quit for ever its happy recesses, transferring the love which was now so passionately her own to some maiden of the outer and every-day world.
And then and there I threw myself hurriedly at the feet of Eleonora, and offered up a vow to herself and to Heaven that I would never bind myself in marriage to any daughter of earth—that I would in no manner prove recreant to her dear memory, or to the memory of the devout affection with which she had blessed me. And I called the Mighty Ruler of the universe to witness the pious solemnity of my vow. And the curse which I invoked of him, and of her, a saint in Elysium, should I prove traitorous to that promise, involved a penalty the exceeding great horror of which will not permit me to make record of it here. And the bright eyes of Eleonora grew brighter at my words; and she sighed as if a deadly burden had been taken from her breast; and she trembled and very bitterly wept; but she made acceptance of the vow—for what was she but a child? and it made easy to her the bed of her death. And she said to me, not many days afterwards, tranquilly dying, that because of what I had done for the comfort of her spirit, she would watch over me in that spirit when departed, and, if so it were permitted her, return to me visibly in the watches of the night; but if this thing were indeed beyond the power of the souls in Paradise, that she would at least give me frequent indications of her presence, sighing upon me in the evening winds, or filling the air which I breathed with perfume from the censers of the angels. And with these words upon her lips she yielded up her innocent life, putting end to the first epoch of my own.
Thus far I have faithfully said; but, as I pass the barrier in time's path formed by the death of my beloved, and proceed into the second era of my existence, I feel that a vague shadow gathers over my brain, and I mistrust the perfect sanity of the record. But let me on. Years dragged themselves along heavily, and still, with the aged mother of Eleonora, I dwelled within the Valley of the Many-Coloured Grass. A second change had come upon all things. The star-shaped flowers shrank into the stems of the trees, and appeared no more. The tints of the green carpet faded, and one by one the ruby-red asphodels withered away, and there sprang up in place of them, ten by ten, dark eye-like violets that quivered uneasily. And life departed from our paths; for the tall flamingo flaunted no longer his scarlet plumage before us, but flew sadly from the vale into the hills, with all the gay, glowing birds that had arrived in his company. And the golden and silver fish swam down through the gorge at the lower end of our domain, and bedecked the sweet river never again. And the lulling melody that had been softer than the wind-harp of Æolus, and more divine than all save the voice of Eleonora—it died, little by little, away, in murmurs growing lower and lower, until the stream returned at length utterly into the solemnity of its original silence. And then, lastly, the voluminous cloud uprose, and abandoning the tops of the mountains to the dimness of old, fell back into the regions of Hesper, and took away all its manifold golden and gorgeous glories from the Valley of the Many-Coloured Grass.
Yet the promises of Eleonora were not forgotten; for I heard the sounds of the swinging of the censers of the angels; and streams of a holy perfume floated ever and ever about the valley; and at lone hours, when my heart beat heavily, the winds that bathed my brow came unto me laden with soft sighs; and indistinct murmurs filled often the night air; and once—oh, but once only—I was awakened from a slumber like unto the slumber of death, by the pressing of spiritual lips upon mine own.
But the void within my heart refused even thus to be filled. I longed—I madly pined for the love which had before filled it to overflowing. At length the valley pained me through its memories of Eleonora, and I left it for ever for the vanities and the turbulent triumphs of the world.
I found myself within a strange Eastern city, where all things might have served to blot from recollection the sweet dreams I had dreamed so long in the Valley of the Many-Coloured Grass. The pomps and pageantries of a stately court, and the mad clangour of arms, and the radiant loveliness of woman, bewildered and intoxicated my brain. But as yet my soul had proved true to her vows, and the indications of the presence of Eleonora were still given me in the silent hours of the night. Suddenly these manifestations ceased, and the world grew dark before my eyes, and I stood aghast at the burning thoughts which possessed, at the terrible temptations which beset me—for there came, from some far distant and unknown land, into the gay court of the king I served, a fair-haired and slender maiden, to whose beauty my whole recreant heart yielded at once—at whose footstool I bowed down, without a struggle, in the most ardent, in the most abject worship of love.
What, indeed, was the passion I had once felt for the young girl of the Valley, in comparison with the madness, and the glow, and the fervour, and the spirit-stirring ecstasy of adoration with which I poured out my soul in tears at the feet of the lady Ermengarde? Oh, bright was the lady Ermengarde! I looked down into the blue depths of her meaning eyes, and I thought only of them, and of her. Oh, lovely was the lady Ermengarde! and in that knowledge I had room for none other. Oh, glorious was the wavy flow of her auburn tresses! and I clasped them in a transport of joy to my bosom. And I found rapture in the fantastic grace of her step—and there was a wild delirium in the love I bore her when I started to see upon her countenance the radical transition from tears to smiles that I had wondered at in the long-lost Eleonora. I forgot—I despised the horrors of the curse I had so blindly invoked, and I wedded the lady Ermengarde.
I wedded, nor dreaded the curse I had invoked, and its bitterness was not visited upon me. And in the silence of the night there came once again through my lattice the soft sighs which had forsaken me, and they modelled themselves into sweet voice, saying—'Sleep in peace; for the spirit of Love reigneth and ruleth; and in taking to thy passionate heart her who is Ermengarde, thou art absolved, for reasons which shall be made known to thee in Heaven, of thy vows unto Eleonora.'