The City in the Sea
"The City in the Sea" is a
poemby Edgar Allan Poe. The final version was published in 1845, but earlier version was published as "The Doomed City" in 1831 and, later, as "The City of Sin". The poem tells the story of a city ruled by Death using common elements from Gothic fiction. Poe drew his inspiration from several works, including " Kubla Khan" by Samuel Taylor Coleridgeand was accused of plagiarizing "The City in the Sea" from a lesser-known poem.
The city is one in the west ruled by Death who is revered above all. ‘"While from a proud tower in the town, Death looks gigantically down."’ This is another classic Poe poem in that it deals with death and presents it in a non-conventional way. It is seen as a god that rules over a glorious peaceful city in the west. There are ‘"Domes and spires and kingly halls, and fanes and Babylon like walls…"’ That the city is in the west is ironic in itself fore the west has always been associated with good and life and the east with evil and death. At the end of the poem a ‘"stir in the air"’ or a wave moves the towers so that they create, ‘"A void within the filmy heaven."’ Poe speaks in the last part of the poem of the end of days when ‘"the waves now have a redder glow, the hours are breathing faint and low."’ The waves turning red is a sign of hells coming since red is the color of fire and hence the color of hell and the devil. ‘"And when, amid no earthly moans, Down, down the town shall settle hence, Hell rising from a thousand thrones, shall do it reverence."’ The last lines of the poem speak of the devil's gratitude to death in allowing him to come forth and rule over Earth.
In addition, the end suggests that this city is more evil than Hell for it will hold the city of Death in reverence. It is suggested, that Death may be worse than the Devil.
The weird setting and its foreboding remoteness in "The City in the Sea" is a common device of
Gothic fiction. [Fisher, Benjamin Franklin. "Poe and the Gothic Tradition," collected in "The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe", Kevin J. Hayes, editor. Cambridge University Press, 2002. p. 79. ISBN 0521797276] This combines with the poem's theme of a self-conscious dramatization of doom, similar to Poe's "The Sleeper" and "The Valley of Unrest." [Meyers, Jeffrey. "Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy". New York: Cooper Square Press, 1992. p. 52. ISBN 0815410387]
Poe was inspired at least in part by Flavius Josephus's "History of the Jewish Wars", a first century account of the Biblical city of
Gomorrah. [Meyers, Jeffrey. "Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy". New York: Cooper Square Press, 1992. p. 51. ISBN 0815410387] The poem also bears a resemblance to the Lucretius's classical poem "De Rerum Natura" and, specifically, an English translation by John Mason Good. Thirty-five of eighty-five consecutive lines parallel the work. [Driskell, Daniel. "Marginalia - Lucretius and 'The City in the Sea'," collected in "Poe Studies", Vol. 5, No. 2. December, 1972. [http://www.eapoe.org/pstudies/ps1970/p1972209.htm Available online] ] Poe's last version of the poem may also reference Edmund Spenser's " The Faerie Queene" with the term "proud tower". [Baker, Christopher P. "Marginalia - Spenser and 'The City in the Sea'," collected in "Poe Studies", Vol. 5, No. 2. December, 1972. [http://www.eapoe.org/pstudies/ps1970/p1972209.htm Available online] ] The mood and style of the poem also seem to echo " Kubla Khan", a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, known to be a heavy influence on Poe's poetry. [Campbell, Killis. "The Origins of Poe", "The Mind of Poe and Other Studies". New York: Russell & Russell, Inc., 1962: 154.]
Poe was accused of plagiarizing part of the poem from a poem called "Musing Thoughts", first published in 1829 in "The Token." Both poems include a line about a "thousand thrones". [Silverman, Kenneth. "Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance". New York: Harper Perennial, 1991. p. 319. ISBN 0060923318] Even so, it is considered one of his best poems from his early years. [Meyers, Jeffrey. "Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy". New York: Cooper Square Press, 1992. p. 51. ISBN 0815410387]
An early version of the poem, titled "The Doomed City", appeared in Poe's
1831collection simply called "Poetry". [Sova, Dawn B. "Edgar Allan Poe, A to Z". Checkmark Books, 2001. p. 50. ISBN 081604161X] It was reworked, as many of Poe's works, and published in the " Southern Literary Messenger" in August 1836 as "The City of Sin". It was first printed under the title "The City in the Sea" in the April 1845 issue of the "American Review". It was included by Rufus Wilmot Griswoldin the tenth edition of "The Poets and Poetry of America" in 1850, the year after Poe's death, as an example of Poe's best poetry. [ [http://www.eapoe.org/works/poems/index.htm Edgar Allan Poe Society online] ]
A performed version of the poem was included on the 1997 album "
Closed on Account of Rabies", though the name of the poem was given as "The City and the Sea". [Neimeyer, Mark. "Poe and popular culture," collected in "The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe", Kevin J. Hayes, editor. Cambridge University Press, 2002. p. 79. ISBN 0521797276]
* [http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/eapoe/bl-eapoe-city.htm Full text of the poem]
* [http://www.eapoe.org/works/info/pp038.htm Publication history] at the [http://www.eapoe.org Edgar Allan Poe Society]
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