The City In the Sea??? : LUSENET : The Work of Edgar Allan Poe : One Thread

I've read and re-read Poe's poem, "The City In the Sea" and I've tried to come up with it's meaning on my own but I would like to known what others have to say about its meaning and what's behind it. Thanks, Justin

-- Anonymous, May 09, 2000



A most difficult poem for me to understand as well, The City in the Sea was not always titled so. It was first printed as The Doomed City in the Southern Literary Messenger in 1831 and then, again in the Messenger in August of 1836 as The City of Sin. In April of 1845, The American Review  A Whig Journal offered it as The City in the Sea  A Prophecy but it was the Broadway Journal that settled on the title The City in the Sea in August 1845.

I realize this does not directly address your question but there are some clues to be found in these changing titles that are relevant to understanding whats behind it. Hopefully, by the conclusion of this, you will have some insight into the objective of this piece. First of all, you should know that this poem was written by Poe while in his early twenties or before. It contains the thoughts, reflections and emotions of a very well educated and idealistic young man raised by a god-fearing family in the South and at a time when religious fervor was sweeping the country. In addition, the transcendentalist movement held sway over literature and the arts and encouraged the expression of the spiritual or supernatural over the material or reality.

Even at this young age, this poem reveals an early adherence to the rules and principles of poetry as defined by Poe himself later. His belief, his prime directive if you like, was that poetry was conceived to stir the soul and not necessarily the intellect. His own powerful intellect worked in unison with his classic education and gave him an extraordinary command of the language with which to create the effects seen in his poetry and prose. This one is just an early examle.

This poem, The City in the Sea is about the affects of sin upon the soul. As Arthur H Quinn states in his book, Edgar Allan Poe  A Critical Biography, this poem is  a picture of the death of the soul, brought on by sin. Quinn also indicates that Poe repeatedly dealt with this concern for the effects of sin in his works but that little mention is made of the sin itself. This is probably due to the morality of the period or, perhaps, of Poe himself and an personal reluctance to get into the circumstances or the particulars of sin. Poe quickly recognized the value of this in that it left this element of the poem to the imagination of the reader. Poe does this often.

In the first stanza Poe tells us of the city where Death resides upon his throne and illustrates for us the shrines and palaces and ancient towers that are unlike anything seen by mortal man. He tells us of those souls watched over by death, condemned there by their sin. Judged on earth as good or bad or worst or best, each has been judged by death and each soul doomed for the sin committed. It must remembered that good people sin too but only their lives on earth are judged those remaining, their souls are judged by Others.

In the second stanza he tells us that nothing of Heaven exists there and that even the light of Heaven cannot penetrate the perpetual night-time of the City. He continues to portray the lifelessness that exists among the walls and the towers and speaks of the sculptured ivy and stone flowers. The only light that exists there is the light from below that streams up the columns and pinnacles.

In the third, he tells of the unbroken stillness of the City and of the proud tower in the town where Death surveys its occupants.

The fourth speaks to the hopelessness of those condemned. That regardless of their power and wealth in mortal life, no soul condemned within the city can stir the waters to motion nor, Tempt the waters from their bed The stillness is so pervading that far off winds of stormy seas cannot stir the waves so, hideously serene.

The fifth and final stanza tells us that the final hours have come and the only power to stir the still mirror-like waters into waves have opened beneath the city and have come to collect the doomed souls for their final journey to eternal damnation.

Well there you have it, Justin. I hope it helps.

Best Regards,

-- Anonymous, May 13, 2000

It's Lyonaisse. Don't try to read too much into things. It's Lyonaisse. Trust me :o)

-- Anonymous, April 16, 2001

Moderation questions? read the FAQ