Dead Stars

Published October 29, 2012 by Elsa Pla

The exercise for the past week was to identify, analyze, and imitate some of the elements of horror in Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry.

I chose to analyze the poem “Spirits of the Dead”:

Thy soul shall find itself alone 

‘Mid dark thoughts of the grey tomb-stone;

Not one, of all the crowd, to pry

Into thine hour of secrecy.

Be silent in that solitude,

Which is not loneliness for then

The spirits of the dead, who stood

In life before thee, are again

In death around thee, and their will

Shall overshadow thee; be still.

The night, though clear, shall frown,

And the stars shall not look down

From their high thrones in the Heaven

With light like hope to mortals given,

But their red orbs, without beam,

To thy weariness shall seem

As a burning and a fever

Which would cling to thee for ever.

Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish,

Now are visions ne’er to vanish;

From thy spirit shall they pass

No more, like dew-drop from the grass.

The breeze, the breath of God, is still,

And the mist upon the hill

Shadowy, shadowy, yet unbroken,

Is a symbol and a token.

How it hangs upon the trees,

A mystery of mysteries!

Analysis:

Topic: Each of the five stanzas of the poem offers a different reflection on death.

The rhetorical devices:

1- rhyme (including internal rhyme) and rhythm (mostly iambic meter)

Examples: Notice the rhyming words at the end of lines and within lines (in bold).

2- consonance and assonance in most lines

Examples: Notice the words “soul” and “alone”and the “l” sounds in “Thy soul shall find itself alone,” and notice the “s,” “t,” and “d” sounds in “The spirits of the dead, who stood.”

3- alliteration

Examples: “silent in that solitude” “visions ne’er to vanish” “the breeze, the breath of God”

4- repetition

Examples: “In life before thee, are again//In death around thee, and their will//Shall overshadow thee; be still.” “Shadowy, shadowy, yet unbroken” A mystery of mysteries!”

5- personification

Examples: “The night, though clear, shall frown,//And the stars shall not look down”

6- simile and metaphor

Examples: “From thy spirit shall they pass//No more, like dew-drop from the grass.” “And the mist upon the hill//Shadowy, shadowy, yet unbroken//Is a symbol and a token.”

7- imagery – Each stanza presents an image that’s part of a whole scene described in the poem : 1- tomb-stones, 2- spirits of the dead, 3- a frowning, dark sky full of beam-less stars, 4- visions that torment the observer, 5- no breeze and a mist hanging from the trees.

Examples: “the grey tomb-stone” “be silent in that solitude” “the spirits of the dead again in death around thee” The night, though clear, shall frown” “their red orbs, without beam” “now are visions ne’er to vanish” “the breeze, the breath of God, is still” “the mist upon the hill shadowy, shadowy, yet unbroken” “how it hangs upon the trees”

The mood: The scene described — which could be real, imagined, or metaphorical — is ghostly and oppressive, and it evokes feelings of melancholy, hopelessness, and tormented acceptance, but the final image fills the observer (and the reader) with wonder (the symbol/token of the mist hanging like a shroud upon the trees) and hope (death, after all, is a mystery).

The theme/message: Death is painful, terrible, and inevitable, but it’s also a wondrous mystery.

Elements of horror: The significant element of horror in this poem is imagery. The scene described evokes a mood of tormented hopelessness. The monster is death, and there’s no escaping it. The true moment of horror comes with the image of the beam-less (dead) stars. The stars offer light (hope) to the living, but for the dead (the observer) there is no light. The feeling of hopelessness brought about by the beam-less stars is likened to an eternal burning or fever — the poet’s version of hell.

What an amazing poem. My opinion is that you appreciate poetry so much more when you analyze it (especially the figurative language and the imagery), try to understand and imagine what the poet was thinking and feeling, and allow the poem to speak to you on a deep personal level.

Here’s my own dark October poem (using imagery as the element of horror) about aging and death:

OCTOBER LEAVES

I didn’t expect to open the door

just as that mischievous cold wind

began chasing the chittering

October leaves,

shoving them like a bully until

they no longer scuttled and scattered,

but whirled and stormed and

somersaulted,

crashing into each other

in a crescendo of panic,

out of control like spooked

cattle or spilled marbles.

So I stood there shaking in the dark,

my hand to my chest

as they rumbled past me,

rattling and crumpling in protest,

scraping the rigid curb

of the road that lead them on

like a ghostly black river

from autumn into winter.

This week’s exercise will be to do a character analysis of a main character(s) in a favorite book and then of a main character(s) in a story or novel you’re working on.

Happy Halloween!

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.” Edgar Allan Poe

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