‘Lines on Ale’ by Edgar Allan Poe is believed by some to have been written in 1848 at a tavern in Lowell, Massachusetts. This poem, like many of Poe’s, feels quite personal. What’s different in this one, in comparison to some of his better-known poems, is that it’s focusing on the result of Poe’s sorrow rather than that sorrow itself.
Explore Lines on Ale
As mentioned below, Poe’s life was marked by tragedy and his death by alcoholism. Therefore, it’s more than likely that this poem was written from his own perspective. The lines describe the narrator’s sorrow while drinking. He suggests that there’s no purpose to his life and that while drunk, he doesn’t care that time passes or that it exists at all. He also expresses the visions that flash through his mind. They come and go, displaying sights of all sorts to his already troubled mind.
It’s a well-known fact that Edgar Allan Poe lived a dark and sorrowful life and that his death fit easily into that same category. There is also a great deal of mystery shrouding the latter and what actually happened to end the life of one of America’s greatest writers. Poe suffered from alcoholism throughout his life, but he was truly ill towards the end of his life. At the beginning of October, after arriving in Baltimore, he entered into a tavern where he was close to comatose. It was assumed by those around him that he was in an alcoholic stupor and a local doctor admitted him to the hospital. He was wearing odd clothes and drifting in and out of consciousness. He died on October 7th.
The same doctor who admitted him believed that Poe died from complications of alcoholism. It should be noted, though, that several other people, especially those close to the author, noted that he had recently joined a temperance society. The doctor on duty at the hospital said that he thought Poe was not drunk, nor had he been drinking in the days before his death.
Structure and Form
‘Lines on Ale’ by Edgar Allan Poe is an eight-line poem that is contained within one stanza of text. The lines follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABABCDCD, although most of the rhymes are half-rhymes rather than full or perfect rhymes. “Away” and “today” in lines six and eight are perfect, while other end rhymes like “fancies” and “advances” are half-rhymes, meaning that only part of the words rhyme rather than the full word.
Poe uses several literary devices in ‘Lines on Ale.’ These include but are not limited to enjambment, caesura, and alliteration. The latter is a type of repetition that’s concerned with the use and reuse of the same consonant sound at the beginning of lines. For example, “fancies” and “fade” in lines five and six, as well as “Quaintest” and “queerest” in line five.
Enjambment is a formal device, one that occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point—for example, the transition between lines one and two as well as lines five and six. Readers have to go down to the next line in order to find out how the sentence or phrase concludes.
Caesurae are pauses in the middle of the lines. These are created either through a natural pause in the meter or through the use of punctuation. For example, line five reads: “Quaintest thoughts – queerest fancies.”
Analysis of Lines on Ale
Fill with mingled cream and amber
I will drain that glass again.
Such hilarious visions clamber
Through the chamber of my brain –
In the first four lines of ‘Lines on Ale,’ the speaker, who is very likely Poe himself, describing drinking one more glass of ale. It’s filled with “mingled cream and amber,” the two colors that are directly associated with his experience in a tavern. The use of the word “again” in the second line is quite important to inform the reader that this is certainly not the first time that this speaker has had an ale.
What’s also clear, as the speaker gets to the second and third lines, is that he’s drunk. He’s had enough to drink to where he sees “visions” in his mind. He knows the sights and sounds aren’t real, but they do seem to entertain and torment him in equal measure.
Quaintest thoughts – queerest fancies
Come to life and fade away;
What care I how time advances?
I am drinking ale today.
The visions are “Quaintest thoughts – queerest,” or weirdest, “fancies.” The speaker’s mind is filled with flitting images, some positive, some negative. They come to life in his mind and then “fade away” as if they never existed in the first place. This is not something the speaker appears to have an opinion about. It’s just something that’s happening and that he’s accepting.
The speaker’s lack of care about his situation, what’s going on inside his head and around him is elaborated on in the final two lines. He says that he doesn’t care about time and how many hours have passed. He’s drinking ale today, and that’s all that matters at this moment. Any consequences are going to come later.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Lines on Ale’ should also consider reading some of Poe’s better-known poems. For example,
- ‘A Dream within a Dream’ – examines time and humanity’s perception of how it passes. It was published in 1849 and has 24 lines, divided into two stanzas in which the poet expresses his depths of despair.
- ‘Anabel Lee’ – one of his best-known poems in which he describes the death of a woman he loved, taken into heaven by jealous angels.
- ‘The Haunted Palace’ – a dark poem that describes a narrator’s descent into insanity through the image of a dilapidated house.
- ‘Lenore’ – also known as ‘A Pæen,’ describes the results of a young woman’s death, a common theme in Poe’s writing.