I am interested in hearing an interpretation or translation of "Ligeia" by Poe.

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If anyone could offer idea's or opinions on what this story is about, I'd appreciate it. I get the jist of it, but i am wondering what explicitly is going on in the story. Thanks!

-- Anonymous, May 08, 2000



Even though this story is one of my more favored tales by Edgar Poe, it had been a few years since I had taken the time to enjoy it. I have since done so once again and, perhaps, I should thank you for renewing my interest with your request. Frankly, I do have some ideas or opinions on what the story is about, however, to be brutally truthful with you, my interpretations seem to be somewhat inconsistent or, at least, at odds with some or even most literature scholars. Obviously, I think they are the ones who are in error but then I am certainly no scholar, merely another opinionated American eternally fettered to the works of Edgar Poe.

Most interpretations I have read seem to pass in and out of the realm of the esoteric and much emphasis seems to be placed upon the psychology of either Poe, the narrator or the narrator versus Poe. While I would never, in a serious state, even attempt to imply that the works of Edgar Poe were an easy read, I cannot help but point out that most of his tales present much less difficulty in understanding the gist of it than many of these interminable and obscure discourses in psychoanalysis. I will add, however, that Poe is not always explicit and leaves much in his tales to the readers imagination. This is precisely what makes him a joy to read but will inevitably lead to divergent opinions.

If, in reading the following, you see me succumb to using any phrase with the prefix psycho.., stop immediately and tear this up. : )

Ligeia was first printed in a Baltimore journal called the American Museum of Science, Literature and the Arts in September 1838 and was reprinted in Poes Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque in 1840. If I recall, Poe was paid ten dollars for the piece.

Ligeia is a story of triumph of will over death. In the opening quote by Poe of Joseph Glanvill, which is repeated in the body of the tale, Poe alludes to the premise of the story.

Joseph Glanvill was a follower of Pyrrhonism, a philosophical concept of skepticism (the suspension of judgement) for things not known. It was conceived as a discipline of philosophy by Pyrrho, a Greek philosopher around 300 BC. There are variants of course and one of the more interesting is that what cannot be explained or known by conventional investigation can only be explained through the supernatural.

And the will therein lieth, which dieth not. Who knoweth, the mysteries of the will, with its vigor? For God is but a great will pervading all things by nature of its intentness. Man doeth not yield himself to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will.

The thought Poe is attempting to convey here is that Who among us really knows the strength of mans will. It is only those that suffer the weakness of feeble will that surrender to death. In others of stronger will, the body dies but the will remains and does not die, and can be born again. Does this sound familiar to you?

There is little doubt for the depth of love and passion the narrator and Ligeia held for one another. This is a recurring theme in many of Poes tales and poems. Most important is Poes intricately detailed descriptions of Ligeia (that I will not go into) told through the narrator and he does this intentionally and immediately prepares the reader for the rebirth of Ligeia in the conclusion. For without this description, how else would we recognize the narrators portrayal of Rowena as truly that of his beloved Ligeia reborn. Poe does not stop at a detailed illustration of her matchless beauty, he also carefully characterizes Ligeias intellect and knowledge as gigantic and says, I have spoken of the learning of Ligeia: It was immense  such as I have never known in a woman. He later goes on to say that,  I was sufficiently aware of her infinite supremacy to resign myself, with a child like confidence, to her guidance through the chaotic world of metaphysical investigation..  I have interpreted this to mean that he has judged her intellect to be so profoundly dominate and spanning not only the physical but supernatural disciplines as well. He, therefore, blissfully acquiesces to her brilliant guidance. Last but just as important is his recounting of her eyes, large, expansive and brilliantly black. This window to her soul also suggests her incredible brilliance.

Upon her death, the narrator is lost, alone and in agony over the loss of his beloved. Ultimately, after years pass and desperate to forget her and relieve his anguish, he leaves Germany and travels to England where he secludes himself in an abbey that he furnishes himself. Alone and a slave to his surroundings and opium, he marries,  the fair-haired and blue eyed Lady Rowena Trevanion of Tremaine. As a successor to the unforgotten Ligeia. Quickly he finds that he remains unhappy and that he, . loathed her with a hatred more to demon than to man. She too was distressed and fearful of his temper and shunned him which pleased rather than angered him. Still he could not forget Ligeia and in his opium dreams he could restore her to their shared happiness.

Now, for my own purposes, I have used the words reborn and rebirth merely to make a point. In fact, this is not the term most appropriate to the conclusion of this story. To move ahead, Rowena is on her deathbed and is cycling in and out of lucidity. The narrator moves to collect a receptacle of prescribed wine and senses a presence a,  palpable although invisible object that had passed him by and he then saw a  faint, indefinite shadow of angelic aspect thinking he is under the influence of the narcotic, he collects the wine and takes it to Rowena, pours her a glass and raises to her lips. Rowena takes the glass and drinks the wine. He becomes aware of a foot-fall upon the carpet and another near the couch and then as Rowena drinks more of the wine, he sees or imagines seeing three or four large drops of a brilliant and ruby colored fluid fall within the goblet. Unseen by Rowena, she unhesitatingly finishes her drink.

Immediately, Rowenas health declines precipitously and after three days she expires. Her servants prepare her for the tomb. In his loss, the narrator does not grieve for Rowena but stays at her bedside and pines for his lost Ligeia. Numerous times, Rowena appears to recover from death. Her cheeks flush, her body moves and her voice is heard in gentle sobs. While each recovery is more pronounced, it is followed by decline more severe. This continues through the night until the limbs of the stiffened remains relaxes, the corpse stirred and the signs of life returned to the previously emaciated body of Rowena. Finally, Rowena rises and, tottering, moves to the center of the room. Here is where Poe has the narrator again describe Rowena but the portrait is of another, a love lost but always remembered and loved nonetheless. Alas we find. It is Ligeia.

It is in the cyclic nature of the recovery of the corpse that we see the struggle between Ligeia and Rowena. Ligeia had died in body but her will to return never died. She was simply waiting for a vessel, a body to occupy and her lovers marriage to Rowena provided that vessel. She was there, in the room, she was the invisible presence, it was her shadow on the floor and it was her foot-falls on the carpet. In her struggle with Rowena, it was Ligeia that was the victor and it was her will that won her life again.

My apologies for the length of this but you did ask for an opinion. : ) Seriously, I really hope this helps, Jessica.

Best Regards,

-- Anonymous, May 08, 2000

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