is there balm in Gilead?greenspun.com : LUSENET : The Work of Edgar Allan Poe : One Thread
What does it mean: is there balm in Gilead? The poet (the I) desperately wants to know in the Raven. To me it seems to have a biblical reference?
-- Anonymous, June 25, 2000
Yes, it's biblical, and according to The Reader's Encyclopedia, "Is there no balm in Gilead? (Jer. viii. 22), most probably means balm=consolation.
-- Anonymous, June 28, 2000
Footnote in the Heath Anthology Vol.1 states, "A complex reference, meaning: is there solace in the future? or (Biblical) is there hope for heaven? Literally the phrase denoted a fragrant tree grown in ancient Palestine; but there was a comercial salve in Poe's day called "Balm in Gilead" which was much like the modern day Ben Gay. Conceivably Poe is wondering whether a patent medicine might help if all else fails."
-- Anonymous, July 02, 2000
There was a popular salve then? Probably not.
The question is Jeremiah 8:22, and "balm of gilead" has been used in a number of contexts since.
Of all the ones that would have most likely familiar to Poe, there is the old slave spiritual, "There is a balm in Gilead."
From the spiritual affirmation, back to the Bible question, thence to The Raven.
Let's not make up hypothetical salves.
Jeremiah, (sometimes the "weeping prophet"), by the way, asked the question as a metaphor for the desolation of Isreal.
-- Anonymous, April 21, 2003