LIGEIA: Eternal Love Beyond Death Essay

LIGEIA: Eternal Love Beyond Death Essay

Poe developed a new definition of art that will have a profound influence on literary modernism; he turned a sketch into a true art form, invented the detective novel, extended the possibilities of science fiction literature and founded a new genre of fiction with psychological, emotional and symbolic dimensions.

By the obsessive exploration of extreme states in stories like “Ligeia” and “William Wilson”, Poe has opened a new territory in the psychological literature untouched until then by the literature dominated by a narrow realism and the concern for the ordinary experience.

Poe has been called the evil genius of American literature, a cursed poet, whose legend, developed by his own misrepresentation, by the defamation of his enemies and sad episodes of his life full of disappointments, shadowed his appreciation as one of the brightest and most original writers of America. In his native country, the literary legacy of Poe was denied and it still is constantly underestimated.

Poe’s reputation as a great poet was reflected by his extraordinary impact on French symbolism: Baudelaire named him: “the most forceful writer of the time”; Mallarme was saying about Poe that he was “his great master”; Valery noted that “Poe is the only perfect author. He was never wrong.” Poe is one of the few literary personalities who were distinguished in poetry, fiction and criticism and whose literary contribution was reflected in his amazing innovations.

Poe developed a new definition of art that will have a profound influence on literary modernism; he turned a sketch into a true art form, invented the detective novel, extended the possibilities of science fiction literature and founded a new genre of fiction with psychological, emotional and symbolic dimensions.

By the obsessive exploration of extreme states in stories like “Ligeia” and “William Wilson”, Poe has opened a new territory in the psychological literature untouched until then by the literature dominated by a narrow realism and the concern for the ordinary experience.

One of the main themes of Ligeia, one of the most appreciated stories written by Edgar Allan Poe, is about love beyond death.

The unnamed narrator remembers about his beloved Ligeia, recalling her unique attributes. For him, she was a woman of extraordinary beauty and erudition, raven-haired and dark-eyed, with an amazing beauty.

He doesn’t have any other memories about her, excepting her impressive appearance and personality: “I cannot, for my soul, remember how, when, or even precisely where, I first became acquainted with the lady Ligeia.” He compares her with a “radiance of an opium-dream,” rejecting the “ordinary” and accepting the supernatural through unusual.

“There is no exquisite beauty,” says Bacon, Lord Verulam, speaking truly of all the forms and genera of beauty, “without some strangeness in the proportion.”

Their love story begins “in some large, old decaying city near the Rhine.” Even after her death, he can’t remember anything about her surname, although her family known many generations. Ligeia was not a classic beauty, she was beautiful in her own way, an ethereal beauty, and mystical and irregular, having an ivory skin, being both calm and quiet and passionate:

“I regarded the sweet mouth. Here was indeed the triumph of all things heavenly –the magnificent turn of the short upper lip –the soft, voluptuous slumber of the under –the dimples which sported, and the color which spoke –the teeth glancing back, with a brilliancy almost startling, every ray of the holy light which fell upon them in her serene and placid, yet most exultingly radiant of all smiles.”

Her soul was like a fire that burns smoldered and wild in the same time. Her education fascinated him, as she knew ancient and modern languages and sciences, guiding him in nature studies and metaphysics: “Her presence, her readings alone, rendered vividly luminous the many mysteries of the transcendentalism in which we were immersed,” passing on “wisdom too divinely precious not to be forbidden!” he remembers.

The narrator felt like a child in her presence, she represented his world, feeding his imagination and desire to live. Maybe the mysticism around her was making her seem so fascinating and unreal in his eyes.

After an unspecified length of time, she started to fight against a cruel illness that finally, killed her. But she tried to resist, without wishing at least for a moment, to die. A few hours before passing over, Ligeia asked his beloved to read her one of her poems about death, “Conquering Worm”. She accepted her mortality and condition, both in literature and in life:

“O God! O Divine Father! –shall these things be undeviatingly so? –shall this Conqueror be not once conquered? Are we not part and parcel in Thee? Who –who knoweth the mysteries of the will with its vigor? Man doth not yield him to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will.”

The narrator, affected by Ligeia’s death, went to Europe for several months, relocating in the end to an abbey in a remote region of England. The dismal landscape, bleak and dark was expressing his deepest thoughts. He became addicted to opium, perceiving it as a way to hide himself from pain.

His second wife, Lady Rowena Trevanion of Tremaine, was the aesthetic opposite of Ligeia, with “the fair-haired and blue-eyed”. This difference expresses the contrast between German and English romanticism.

The bridal chamber was looking more like an old altar, with a container for incense that was hanging on a chain from the ceiling, ottomans, a bridal couch beneath a canopy, a golden candelabra, a heavy and massive-looking tapestry, lofty walls, gigantic in height and a black-granite sarcophagus from Egypt in each of the five corners of the room. The atmosphere was dark, reflecting the future of their marriage.

Lady Rowena avoided her husband during their first month of marriage, as she didn’t love him and he was too moody and melancholy, despising her. His thoughts and dreams were focused on his beloved Ligeia.

In the second month of their marriage, Rowena become affected by fever and anxiety, fighting against the sounds and movements that she was hearing and perceiving in the night. The narrator considered these phantasms as being a normal reaction occurred because of her illness. Soon after she recovered, she felt ill again. The doctors weren’t able to diagnose or treat her chronically malady.

The illness made her nervous and irritable, having hallucinations and visions. The fever was consuming her day by day, “and in her perturbed state of half-slumber, she spoke of sounds and of motions“. Her face was shadowed by a deadly pallor. The narrator was influenced by opium while telling his story.

At some moment, Rowena fainted and he held the wine to her mouth. While he was waiting for her to recover, he heard footsteps on the carpet and saw several drops of bright, deep-red fluid fall into the glass. He thought that this was just a reaction resulted from his opium addiction. The health of his wife worsened and she died four days later. When looking to his wife dead body, the narrator was still thinking and somehow, associating the image with Ligeia.

A few moments later, he heard a sob coming from Rowena, although her body was inert: “And again I sunk into visions of Ligeia –and again, (what marvel that I shudder while I write,) again there reached my ears a low sob from the region of the ebony bed.” Suddenly, he noticed that the color returned to her cheeks, disappearing as quickly as it came: “And the cheeks-there were the roses as in her noon of life –yes, these might indeed be the fair cheeks of the living Lady of Tremaine.”

An hour later, her lips moved slightly, but just for a few seconds, as she became again cold and stiff. He began to think once more to Ligeia and the body returned again to life. This happened all night long, as his thoughts were bringing the soul back into Rowena’s body.

The narrator began to feel confused: “What inexpressible madness seized me with that thought?” The shroud felt away and he saw raven hair and wild black eyes. Ligeia returned back to life, from beyond the death: “And now slowly opened the eyes of the figure which stood before me. Here then, at least,” I shrieked aloud, “can I never –can I never be mistaken –these are the full, and the black, and the wild eyes –of my lost love –of the lady –of the LADY LIGEIA.”

Was Ligeia’s reincarnation a hallucination caused by opium addiction or a real fact? This is the less important. The narrator thoughts took life in the most sublime expression, creating at least the impression of life. His love materialized into reality or into an image of reality.

His obsessive love for Ligeia was stronger than the death itself, conquering both human and divine barriers.

References

  1. ^ Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. New York: Harper Perennial, 1991: 139–140. ISBN 0060923318

  2. ^ Hoffman, Daniel. Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1972: 248. ISBN 0807123218

  3. ^ Kennedy, J. Gerald. Poe, Death, and the Life of Writing. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987: 83. ISBN 0300037732

  4. ^ Kennedy, J. Gerald. “Poe, ‘Ligeia,’ and the Problem of Dying Women” collected in New Essays on Poe’s Major Tales, edited by Kenneth Silverman. Cambridge University Press, 1993: 119-20. ISBN 0521422434

  5. ^ Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998: 271. ISBN 0801857309

  6. ^ Griffith, Clark. “Poe’s ‘Ligeia’ and the English Romantics” in Twentieth Century Interpretations of Poe’s Tales. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1971: 64.

  7. ^ Griffith, Clark. “Poe’s ‘Ligeia’ and the English Romantics” in Twentieth Century Interpretations of Poe’s Tales. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1971: 66.

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