My American Poetry Review: Poe’s “Valley of Unrest”

The Valley of Unrest by Edgar Allen Poe

As a neophyte to the world of poetry, each week of study brings a new awareness and appreciation to this beautiful representation of language.  For this week’s canon of work, there is a distinct shift in the physicality of the poems as we move from the idyllic ballads and poems of Longfellow and Whittier to the tenebrous works of Edgar Allan Poe.  In this poetry response of The Valley of Unrest, I will apply my newly acquired skills of scansion and prosody to identify this shift through Poe’s use of meters and rhyme.

Abelard Heloise

In setting the mood for his poem, The Valley of Unrest, about a silent graveyard of soldiers, Poe uses a combination of trochaic and dactylic meters with falling lines of intonations to show seriousness in his subject.   Poe begins by using the word “once” in italics to set the past in a valley which “smiled with azure towers… mild-eyed stars.., flowers… and red sun-light”(524).  This use of vocabulary gives the reader an impression of a bucolic dell of days gone by. The mood changes, however, as this valley which had been once silent as the soldiers left to fight wars, was “Now…restless”(524). Poe again uses italics to show a change in time and mood. He also changes from rhyming couplets to triplets following the line “Nothing there is motionless” along with very somber vocabulary to show the sadness of the solitude in this graveyard such as: motionless, nothing, solitude, uneasily, unquiet, weep, nameless and, tears.  Every visitor now can feel the presence of the buried soldiers in this graveyard.  The only motion is from the trees which “palpitate like the chill seas around the misty Hebrides”(525)!

The imagery of the final lines of lilies weeping about the “nameless graves—from off their delicate stems” includes the personification of the dew taking the form of tears falling from the petals, crying for the lost lives of the soldiers. Poe closes with the future adjective “Perennial” to give this valley permanence in order to reflect and honor the fallen (525).  In The Valley of Unrest, Poe gives the reader a glimpse into his boyhood experience of standing in this very graveyard with his parents.  Sharing these experiences is a gift to readers as described by Sarah Ruhl  as ,” Here I stood; I loved the world enough to write it all down”.

Once it smiled a silent dell
Where the people did not dwell;
They had gone unto the wars,
Trusting to the mild-eyed stars,
Nightly, from their azure towers,
To keep watch above the flowers,
In the midst of which all day
The red sun-light lazily lay.
Now each visitor shall confess
The sad valley’s restlessness.
Nothing there is motionless—
Nothing save the airs that brood
Over the magic solitude.
Ah, by no wind are stirred those trees
That palpitate like the chill seas
Around the misty Hebrides!
Ah, by no wind those clouds are driven
That rustle through the unquiet Heaven
Uneasily, from morn till even,
Over the violets there that lie
In myriad types of the human eye—
Over the lilies there that wave
And weep above a nameless grave!
They wave:—from out their fragrant tops
External dews come down in drops.
They weep:—from off their delicate stems
Perennial tears descend in gems.

Works Cited

Hollander, John.  American Poetry:  The Nineteenth Century, Vol. 1: Phillip Freneau to Walt

     Whitman. (1993). Library of America. Print. 524-525.

Copyright 2016 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)

 

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