Israfel By Poe, An Analysis Essay, Research Paper
Israfel: An Analysis
“Israfel” is a mesmerizing poem, the beginning of which was first set down by Poe during his days at West Point College.(Allen 233) The poem itself is a direct contrast to Poe’s usual poetry, which usually deal with death and dark thoughts or other melancholy, Gothic ideas. Poe’s idea of the death of beautiful woman being the most poetical of all topics is here, nowhere to be found. This proves that Poe, when so inclined, could indeed write about something other than opium induced nightmares and paranoid grieving men who are frightened to death by sarcastic,talkative, ravens. Besides “Israfel”, Poe’s other poetry, “To Helen”, as well as “Annabel Lee” and others, are virtually unrecognizable to the everyday reader as being works by Edgar Allan Poe. His name is usually associated with his tales of horror and the macabre. His one poem, “The Raven”, a work which deals with a mans steady decline into madness, is probably his most recognizable piece of poetry. A situation, which I feel is unfortunate, considering that the aforementioned are in most cases the equal to “The Raven.” Scholars have bestowed upon Edgar Allan Poe, the mantle of “horror writer” a crown which does him a great injustice considering the great variety of works that he wrote and the passion which drove him during his writing. It is this passion that is evident in “Israfel.”
The Poem itself draws heavily on Arabian and Oriental literature, subjects which fascinated Poe.(Allen 249) Supernatural elements, which are strong in all of Poe’s works and a basic concept of all the Romantics, are represented here, as well as heaven itself. The poem is mystical in nature and a praise of inspiration, which is represented by the angel Israfel, who dwells in heaven and sings so beautifully that the stars themselves have to stop and listen. Poe’s note on the text itself is taken from The Koran and reads as this: ” And the angel Israfel, whose heartstrings are a lute , and who has the sweetest voice of all God’s creatures. Koran.” Coleridge’s, “Kubla Khan”, in British literature , is similar to “Israfel”, in that they both offer a heavenly place of the “ideal.”
Israfel seems to represent a muse, of some sort, to Poe. He sits in heaven strumming his lyre and the over abundance of his voice carries over to earth, where Poe sits awaiting the stirring of emotion. Poetry is the evidence of Israfel’s existence. Who does Israfel represent? Is it Poe himself ? It is easy to think that, considering the arrogance of Poe. I’m sure he especially would have liked to think this, that he was Israfel the angel, baring his soul to the creatures of earth, human and all,exalting himself as the best poet of all the other angels, so great that they must set down their own attempts of singing and poetry and listen to his. Poe saying to Emerson, Thoreau, and the like, ” Listen to me! Look upon the truth of the human heart in my works, ye mighty and despair!”
Is Poe Israfel? In a way, yes I would say he is. I believe it is what lies within Poe’s heart and therefore a part of him. His inspiration, if you like. An inspiration which urges him onward in his poetry as well as frustrates him, in that he is the only one to hear the angels music. ” How could they know, these heavy sleepers, these solemn memorizers of the banalities of textbooks that in their midst, brooding over them in the long hours of the night, sat a spirit whose song was sweeter and clearer than that of all the archangels of God! How human and earthy, and how comforting to his own feelings it was, to imagine that even in heaven his voice would be heard above all others, and be found more acceptable.” (Allen 233)
The first seven lines concern the singing of Israfel who, as I have mentioned, sits in heaven and sings in such away that none of the other angels may surpass him. “Whose heart strings are a lute,” Poe writes of Israfel in the second line of the poem which he directly quotes from the Koran. He sings so beautifully that the stars themselves are “giddy” and cease their own hymns to “attend the spell of his voice.” Again, the “stars”, or the well-known poets of the time, must listen to his words which are supernatural or magical.
In lines eight through fifteen, Poe speaks of the moon and the power Israfel has even over this heavenly body. Israfel captivates the moon which “blushes with love” at the angels song. The seven Pleiads, (the seven daughters of Atlas, in Greek mythology, who became a constellation of stars) also “Pauses in Heaven” and heeds the voice of Israfel.
It is in lines sixteen through twenty-two that we first catch a glimpse of the physical side of Poe and his connections with the angel Israfel. He mentions “Israfeli’s fire”, a fire that is owes it’s payment to a lyre, or a musical instrument. He sits by this lyre, “the trembling living wire of those unusual strings”, or he sits by the poet and strums the living heart strings of man so that he may produce his art, be it poetry, prose, or painting. It could be that Poe is also suggesting that Israfel is also oweing to us in that we are an outlet for his song on this earth. We allow for his creativity to be expressed, not just in heaven or the spiritual plain, but in the physical world as well. That way all of God’s creatures may experience the beauty of his song and not dwell on the troubles of everyday life. It is a oneness with Israfel that Poe is hoping to achieve, in the physical body or mind and also in the soul. Israfel represents our creativity and the place from which it comes, Heaven or God. Some people such as poets, writers, artists and such are more attuned to Israfel and interact with it on a daily basis. Others hardly ever catch glimpses of Israfel and do not have to deal with the frustrations that come from hearing his songs.
Next, Poe speaks of the heavenly place that Israfel resides, “where deep thoughts are a duty,” or where the thinking of the free spirit is the most important and of the maturity of love, referring to it as a “grown-up god.” The Houri sit also in heaven, their beauty so strong that we can only catch glimpses of it in the stars. The Houri are another reference to Muslim mythology in that they are supposedly the virgins that await the followers of the Islamic faith in heaven.
In the fifth stanza, Poe speaks directly to Israfel and echos his own thoughts as well. He says it is not wrong for Israfel to despise a song lacking of passion because he is the greatest of all the angels in the creation of a song. Poe too, hated “an unimpassioned song”, which he felt was lacking in the works of Emerson and the Transcendentalists. At the end of the stanza he remarks “the wisest! Merrily live, and long!” The best and most passionate poetry would survive and be remembered by men, or only those songs that came from Israfel and the heart of the poet which he sings to.
The ecstasies, in lines thirty-five through thirty-nine, are all of the emotions captured by Israfel with his lute. These are the emotions that are difficult, at times, for the poet to capture on paper and are distributed throughout heaven easily by Israfels’ singing. The angels own sadness and love sent forth in paradise with such force that it is no wonder that the stars, themselves are mute. How then can a mere mortal interpret the singing of Israfel? If the heavenly bodies themselves are silent at the spectacle, what hope does the poet have? This is the frustration of Poe, his inability to completely understand the passion of Israfel, or his own whirlwind of emotions. I can presume, safely enough, that he felt he understood them better than the Transcendentalists.
` Lines forty through fifty deal with Poe’s bafflement over Israfel and his own inward struggle. He remarks of the perfectness of his muse’s existence and the glorys of paradise before commenting on our on world, calling it ” a world of sweets and sours.” We have the good and the bad and must deal with it in a physical nature and not in a song. Poe then refers to flowers as just flowers, possibly a verbal jab at Emerson. Nature is beautiful, but there can be no hidden meanings in trees, or rocks, or rivers. The real beauty comes from within the soul and from above. Israfel’s shadow and the “perfect bliss” of his existence, however, does bring some joy into our lives. His song, although not fully understood, does give us some comfort.
At the conclusion, Poe wishes to exchange places with Israfel so that he may understand the heavenly songs and allow Israfel to live on Earth where he would only be able to sing a “mortal melody”. He would then expierience, first hand, the futilety of attempting to capture the essence of true emotion on paper. “While a bolder note than this might swell, from my lyre within the sky.” Poe’s own song would dwarf Israfel’s as the latters now consumes Poe’s work and his outburst of emotion would swell the seams of heaven.
Again, this is not your typical work by Edgar Allan Poe and were it read to high school students I doubt that any of them would beable to acknowledge it as so. It does, however, offer a differing veiw of a man that has been referred to as the “Father of the American Horror Story.” It ,indeed, offers many aspects of the character of Edgar Allan Poe: his unbridled passion, his creativity and his dislike of the Transcendentalist movement as a whole.
Allen, Harvey. Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe. Farrar & Rinehart Inc.
Poe, Edgar A. “Israfel.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. W.W. Norton
& Company. New York. 1995