The poem is five stanzas long and does not use a specific rhyme scheme. That being said, it is quite musical in the ways that it does rhyme. Each stanza follows its own rhyme scheme and uses numerous literary devices, like anaphora and imagery. Readers who are familiar with Poe’s work will not be surprised by the subject matter in this short poem or find themselves struggling to relate it to Poe’s life.
Spirits of the Dead Edgar Allan PoeThy soul shall find itself alone 'Mid dark thoughts of the grey tombstone; Not one, of all the crowd, to pry Into thine hour of secrecy. Be silent in that solitude, Which is not loneliness- for then The spirits of the dead, who stood In life before thee, are again In death around thee, and their will Shall overshadow thee; be still. The night, though clear, shall frown, And the stars shall not look down From their high thrones in the Heaven With light like hope to mortals given, But their red orbs, without beam, To thy weariness shall seem As a burning and a fever Which would cling to thee for ever. Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish, Now are visions ne'er to vanish; From thy spirit shall they pass No more, like dewdrop from the grass. The breeze, the breath of God, is still, And the mist upon the hill Shadowy, shadowy, yet unbroken, Is a symbol and a token. How it hangs upon the trees, A mystery of mysteries!
Explore Spirits of the Dead
‘Spirits of the Dead’ by Edgar Allan Poe describes death as the greatest of mysteries and something to be appreciated for its own beauties.
The poem begins with the speaker describing how “you” are standing in a cemetery alone. The speaker describes how “you” are considering life and death and are entirely alone. They make a point to contrast how “you” might be alone in life but in death “you” are going to be surrounded by spirits of the dead. As the poem progresses, the speaker emphasizes the mysterious nature of death, warns against romanticizing it, and personifies nature.
Structure and Form
‘Spirits of the Dead’ by Edgar Allan Poe is a five-stanza poem that is divided into sets of uneven lines. The first stanza has four lines, the second: six, the third: eight, the fourth: four, and the fifth: six. This means that the poem does not follow a specific rhyme scheme. The meter works in a similar way. There are lines that are quite well structured and others that are looser. The poem contains numerous examples of rhyme as well. For instance, the first stanza follows a rhyme scheme of AABB and the second stanza: CDCDEE. Different patterns are used throughout the remaining stanzas.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: can be seen when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “high” and “heaven” in line three of the third stanza.
- Enjambment: can be seen when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza as well as lines two and three of the third stanza.
- Imagery: occurs when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. For example, “But their red orbs, without beam, / To thy weariness shall seem.”
Thy soul shall find itself alone
’Mid dark thoughts of the gray tombstone—
Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy.
In the first stanza of this piece, the speaker begins by setting up a haunting image of “thee,” or “you,” standing in a graveyard. “Your” soul is lost in through of the “gray tombstone,” or death. There is no one there to “pry / Into thine hour of secrecy.” This makes it feel as though the subject’s time alone in the cemetery is incredibly important.
This first stanza follows a rhyme scheme of AABB.
Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness- for then
The spirits of the dead, who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee, and their will
Shall overshadow thee; be still.
The loneliness that’s highlighted in the first stanza is challenged in the second. The subject is alone in life, but, in death, they will be surrounded by “the spirits of the dead.” Those who were with “thee” in life will be “before thee…again / In death.”
The speaker implores “you” to be “silent” in one’s solitude and truly appreciate the beauty of life and death. The rhyme scheme of this stanza is ABABCC, with new end sounds.
The night, though clear, shall frown,
And the stars shall not look down
From their high thrones in the Heaven
With light like hope to mortals given,
But their red orbs, without beam,
To thy weariness shall seem
As a burning and a fever
Which would cling to thee for ever.
The third stanza expresses the speaker’s interest in hope and the afterlife. The speaker personifies the stars, describing them as not looking “down” from their “high thrones in heaven,” a place of power. There, they disapprove of the way human beings perceive death. Hope is not something positive in the context of this poem. Instead, it is something that plagues humans throughout their lives. It brings “mortals” to “weariness” that clings to “thee for ever.”
In simpler terms, the speaker is expressing disapproval of humanity’s willingness to romanticize death. The rhyme scheme of this stanza is AABBCCDD.
Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish,
Now are visions ne’er to vanish;
From thy spirit shall they pass
No more, like dewdrop from the grass.
In the fourth stanza, the speaker uses alliteration and anaphora. The first two lines start with “Now are.” The speaker is emphasizing how a departed soul is nothing more than memories. These thoughts exist and pass from the body, as one’s soul moves into the next realm. It is a simple, common process. Connected to nature, and as simple as, the appearance and disappearance of dew from pieces of grass.
This stanza follows a rhyme scheme of AABB, the same as the first stanza.
The breeze, the breath of God, is still,
And the mist upon the hill
Shadowy, shadowy, yet unbroken,
Is a symbol and a token.
How it hangs upon the trees,
A mystery of mysteries!
The fifth stanza connects death and nature to God. The speaker uses one central image in the next lines, that of a “mist upon the hill.” It symbolizes the separation between one world and the next but also emphasizes how they truly exist inside one another. The repetition of the word “shadowy” in the third line brings back the darkness of the previous stanzas.
Life and death are filled with darkness, the speaker says, but through his depiction of that darkness it’s hard not to find beauty. The poem ends with an emphasis on how the world is filled with “mysteries.” Death is the most important and all-consuming mystery of all. This final stanza rhymes AABBCC.
The purpose is to highlight the interconnectivity of life and death, as well as how these states of being are connected to the natural world. “You,” the speaker notes, should appreciate your different states, including being alone in life but not in death.
The tone is passionate as the speaker discusses death, nature, and God. While they are speaking on what some would consider the depressive subject matter, they are not themselves depressed by it.
The themes at work in this poem are death and the afterlife. The speaker also makes a point of emphasizing nature as an important element of life and death.
The speaker is someone who has thought a great deal about life and death. Some have postulated that this poem was written with Poe’s recently deceased wife, Virginia, in mind.
Readers who enjoyed this piece should also consider reading some other Edgar Allan Poe poems. For example:
- ‘The Bells’ – the poet depicts the various sounds bells make and the events they symbolize.
- ‘Eldorado’ – the metaphor of a knight seeking the lost city to speak on the futility of dreams and lifelong pursuits.
- ‘A Dream’ – describes a speaker waking and dreaming state and the brief moments of light and hope he experiences.