‘To One in Paradise‘ by Edgar Allan Poe is a four stanza poem that is separated into sets of six or seven lines. The first and last stanzas of this piece contain six lines, while the middle two contains seven. The poem also follows a particular rhyme scheme that follows the variable pattern of, ababcb dedede fggfgfg hihihi. While there is a structure to the rhyme scheme, it does not remain the same throughout any of the stanzas. It generally follows every other line, sing-song like meter, but its adherence is not strict. Poe has chosen to swap out lines, and rearrange words where necessary.
The poem begins with the speaker describing the love that he once had with this person. She was everything to him, and the only source of light in his life. She provided him with a place of refuge, a “green isle” on which he could live in beauty, away from the realities of life. As the title states, this woman has passed on. She is no longer in his world and now everything is bleak and endless unchanging.
He sees no reason to continue on with his life at first. His love was too bright to last and has now burnt out. He compares himself to a burnt tree or injured eagle. There might have been hope for one like him in the past, but no longer. He will never be happy again, just as the burnt tree will not bloom nor the eagle fly.
The poem concludes with the speaker stating that in his dreams he is able to find some peace. She comes to him while he sleeps and they return to their world of “eternal streams” and “ethereal dances.” This is his only reason for continuing on.
Analysis of To One in Paradise
Thou wast that all to me, love,
For which my soul did pine—
A green isle in the sea, love,
A fountain and a shrine,
All wreathed with fairy fruits and flowers,
And all the flowers were mine.
The poem begins with the speaker directing his words towards the subject, and single intended listener, of ‘To One in Paradise‘. This person to the one to whom the title refers, the “One” who is “in Paradise.” Before even starting the poem the reader will already have an idea of what it is going to be about due to the suggestive nature of the title. “Paradise” is a clear reference to heaven, and the “One” is most likely going to be a lost loved one. Someone that was close to the speaker and has passed on.
In the first line the speaker starts by addressing his “love,” and telling her that she was “all to” him. She was all that mattered in the world to him, and the only thing, “For which my soul did pine.” There was nothing else that could control the speaker as she did, and no other that tempted his heart.
The four following lines of this stanza compare the love for the lost “one” to the presence of an island in the sea. The emotions that he feels, and felt, for this woman, and the embodiment of the woman herself, is like “A green isle in the sea.” She is a refuge amongst the torrents of the sea. She is a place that contains “A fountain and a shrine.”
Her love has provided him with a place of beauty to rest that is covered, or “wreathed” with “fairy,” or magical, “fruits and flowers.” The island of this love was important to him not only because it was a place he had access to, but also because he owned it. The “flowers were mine.”
The speaker was not an onlooker on someone else’s love or a visitor to the island, he was integral to its construction.
Ah, dream too bright to last!
Ah, starry Hope! that didst arise
But to be overcast!
A voice from out the Future cries,
“On! on!”—but o’er the Past
(Dim gulf!) my spirit hovering lies
Mute, motionless, aghast!
The second stanza takes the reader back to the reality of the situation. One must remember, as the speaker now does, that this dream is lost. The “love” about which the speaker is referring no longer exists.
He begins the second stanza by stating that the “dream” which was the island, was “too bright to last.” It burned too brightly and too beautifully, and fizzled out in the reality of life. He compares the emotions that he once felt on his island, in amongst the love of his partner, to a “starry Hope” that was created, only to become “overcast.” It is clear that this change of circumstances feels quite unfair to the speaker, but also, as if it was the only suitable ending to the story.
Once more the final four lines of this section add additional detail to the situation, and context to the speaker’s emotions. He imagines a voice coming from the “Future,” crying out to him to carry on with his life and move past the loss. This is not easy for him though as the “Past” is also present. It is a “gulf” in his mind into which he cannot escape and continually falls further into. It is the place that his “spirit” hovers, and while there, he is “Mute, motionless, [and] aghast” at the world.
For, alas! alas! with me
The light of Life is o’er!
No more—no more—no more—
(Such language holds the solemn sea
To the sands upon the shore)
Shall bloom the thunder-blasted tree,
Or the stricken eagle soar!
The speaker has now moved into a mental space that is completely consumed by mourning. He is unable to shake off what has happened, move on with his life, and search for happiness once more. The depth of his despair is clearly stated at the beginning of the third stanza.
He says, “alas! alas!,” his life is over. There is nothing left, he thinks, for him to live for. There is no light within his mind and his thoughts come like depressive waves on the shore. The constant repetition of, “No more—no more—no more” is compared to the tides impacting the sand of a beach. It is endless and without fault. The lines continue on past the parentheses to describe the fact that never again shall the “thunder-blasted tree” bloom or the “stricken eagle soar.”
He is comparing himself to injured elements of the earth that might once have had a chance of recovery, but no longer do. The burnt tree will never grow again, nor will the hurt eagle fly, just as he will never live to see the light, or happiness, again.
And all my days are trances,
And all my nightly dreams
Are where thy grey eye glances,
And where thy footstep gleams—
In what ethereal dances,
By what eternal streams.
In the final stanza, the speaker comes to the end of his lines of mourning. He does reach a kind of conclusion, but one that is perpetually dark and unchanging.
He describes the days of his life as being like “trances.” He moves through them without engaging with the world or truly experiencing anything. In contrast, his nights are much more interesting. While sleeping he is able to have “nightly dreams” into which his “grey,” depressed “eye glances.” It is in this place of imagining that he hears his love’s “footsteps gleam[ing].” He is able to see and interact with her in his mind during this time.
His dreams are the only place of refuge left to the speaker. It is here, amongst the “ethereal dreams” and the “eternal streams” that he can find peace.