Friday, December 11, 2009

Poe Fridays: Ligeia

This week's Poe Fridays short story is the difficult-to-spell Ligeia. You can read it here.

This story begins with a beautifully romantic passage --
I CANNOT, for my soul, remember how, when, or even precisely where, I first became acquainted with the lady Ligeia. Long years have since elapsed, and my memory is feeble through much suffering. Or, perhaps, I cannot now bring these points to mind, because, in truth, the character of my beloved, her rare learning, her singular yet placid cast of beauty, and the thrilling and enthralling eloquence of her low musical language, made their way into my heart by paces so steadily and stealthily progressive that they have been unnoticed and unknown.

But then of course --
Ligeia grew ill. The wild eyes blazed with a too --too glorious effulgence; the pale fingers became of the transparent waxen hue of the grave, and the blue veins upon the lofty forehead swelled and sank impetuously with the tides of the gentle emotion. I saw that she must die --and I struggled desperately in spirit with the grim Azrael. And the struggles of the passionate wife were, to my astonishment, even more energetic than my own. There had been much in her stern nature to impress me with the belief that, to her, death would have come without its terrors; --but not so. Words are impotent to convey any just idea of the fierceness of resistance with which she wrestled with the Shadow.

When the lady dies, the narrator goes to England and buys an old, rundown abbey. He begins using opium and decorates the inside of the abbey in an opulent manner. He also adds to the abbey a second wife, Lady Rowena Trevanion. Because of his undying love for the departed Ligeia, he has little love to spare for his new wife and she, in turn, has little for him. Then Lady Rowena begins to have violent illnesses of an unknown origin. During one of her fits, she confesses feeling an unnatural presence in the room and the narrator also experiences some unexplainable phenomena. Shortly after, the poor woman dies and, while sitting with the body, the narrator starts noticing signs of life that come and go. But when the woman finally stirs, she is no longer Rowena.

This is an extremely creepy story! The beginning is full of gushing love, followed by the deepest sorrow, the most vivid hatred and then ending with sheer astonishment. This story certainly stirs the emotions of the reader. I wish the story continued past the point where Poe ends it. From the first paragraph, it seems that the narrator may have lost his mind.

Our short story for next week will be the humorous X-ing a Paragrab.

Glad to be the first wife,


  1. creepy indeed.
    Poe new how to build tension.

  2. "Ligeia" is great, and phenomenally rich with subtext for close reading. I used it in a paper years ago to prove that Poe was a feminist.

    OMG! I luv "X-ing a Paragrab"! I get all kinds of school-boy silly over it!

  3. I love this story! I even wrote a paper on it once in college; I remember the title, "Flesh Made Word", but I have no recollection of what it was all about. Poe. How I love him, and his crazy stories. :)

  4. *snort* glad to be the first wife. =)

    I'm feeling a little bit like I've read this story before...Poe does tend to recycle ideas, doesn't he?

  5. Al - It's strange to be reading a story and hearing the narrator's voice in your head rising in pitch and speeding up. Poe is one of the few authors to master that.

    Rob - How fascinating! And I can't wait to hear your Paragrab thoughts next week!

    Jenny - Funny that we have two people who wrote papers on this story!

    Elizabeth - I know, I'm hilarious. ;) I sometimes feel like he revisits ideas that he had earlier and improves upon them in a new story. I know that some of his poems were actually changed and renamed too. Could you imagine a modern author trying to do that?

  6. The closest to "Ligeia" is the story "Morella," which Poe himself admitted was too similar and he apologized for it. There's also a very slight resemblance to "Eleonora." Other than that, a lot of loved ones die in Poe stories, so it might just be that causing deja vu. :)

  7. Rob - We read Morella a few months ago ... I would definitely say that Ligeia is better.