"If I could dwellIn honor of Poe's 203rd, I present "Our Israfel," a poem written by Edwin Markham in commemoration of the Poe Centennial in 1909. Inevitably, it pales compared to whatever Poe and his lyre within the sky might compose for this day, but, alas, a mere "mortal melody" is the best I can offer here and now:
Hath dwelt, and he where I,
He might not sing so wildly well
A mortal melody,
While a bolder note than this might swell
From my lyre within the sky."
-Edgar Allan Poe, "Israfel"
"The sad great gifts the austere Muses bring
In their stern hands to make their poets of
Were laid on him that he might darkly sing
Of Beauty, Death and Love.
They laid upon him hunger as a dower,
A hunger for a loveliness more strange
Than Earth can give--more wild than any hour
Of all this chance and change.
They laid upon him Music's trembling charm,
The mystery of sound, of shaken air,
Whose touch can lift the spirit or alarm--
Build rapture, build despair.
They touched him with imagination's rod,
The power that built these heavens that soar and seem--
These heavens that are the daring of some God
Stirred by the lyric dream.
And then (for oh, the Muses do not spare!)
They set for him one final gift apart:
They gave him sorrow as a pack to bear,
Sorrow to break the heart.
And so they called the poet into Time,
The saddest and the proudest of the race
That ever came this way with sound of rhyme,
In quest of Beauty's face.
He came with rumor of the mystery,
Crying the wonder ever on before,
The laureate of dreams that cannot be,
Of Night and the Nevermore.
He steered toward shadow with melodious helm,
Touching with somber prow the wharves of Dis,
Exploring all the dim and hollow realm
This side the last abyss.
He looked on cities in their crumbling hours,
Where Death obscurely mumbles out his rune,
Hoary, remote, alone, where time-torn towers
Hang spectral in the moon.
He mused among the dim sarcophagi,
While far upon the rim of ruin fled
A host of hooded forms that hurried by
With laughters to the dead.
He walked our streets as on a lonely strand:
His country was not here--it was afar.
Not here his home, not here his motherland,
But in some statlier star.
Life was his exile, Earth his alien shore,
And these were foreign faces that he passed:
For he had other language, other lore,
And he must home at last.
His country was not here, but in the isles
Of Aidenn ringed around with lustrous seas,
Where golden galleys skim the silver miles
Or sleep upon the breeze.
And there were gardens where the fountains springs
In valleys of a many-colored grass--
Gardens where bulbuls in the shadows sing,
And rose-pale maidens pass--
Gardens of hyacinths and asphodels,
Inwoven with the sounds of warbling rills,
With triple-tinted suns and lilied wells,
Walled in by golden hills.
And there he built him palaces of song,
Lifting their spires against the pallid moon,
With corridors where shapes of shadow throng
When night is at her noon.
He sought his dream-love there by many names
Of terror and of pity and of peace--
Lenore, Ligeia (burning like pale flames)
He trod high chambers lit with ruby light,
And heard in the hush the somber arras stir,
And stir again, in the deep and secret night,
With memories of her.
He heard the demon whispers in the deep,
And songs of deathless love where seraphs are;
He saw the cliffs of Time, a ghostly heap,
But over the cliffs the star!
O poet, not for you the trampling street,
The wrangling crowd that cry and clutch for gold,
And so you followed Beauty's flying feet
Into the dim and old.
O poet, life was bitter to your heart:
These stones have memories of the tears you shed.
Forgive the serpent tongue, the flying dart--
Forgive us from the dead.
You sang your song: we gave you scorn for pay:
For beauty's bread we gave a stone; and yet
Because our eyes were holden on the way,
Remember to forget.
Sing, Israfel: you have your star at last,
Your morning star; but we--we still must live!
So now that all is over, all is past,