So sweet the hour, so calm the time,
I feel it more than half a crime,
When Nature sleeps and stars are mute,
To mar the silence ev’n with lute.
At rest on ocean’s brilliant dyes
An image of Elysium lies:
Seven Pleiades entranced in Heaven,
Form in the deep another seven:
Endymion nodding from above
Sees in the sea a second love.
Within the valleys dim and brown,
And on the spectral mountain’s crown,
The wearied light is dying down,
And earth, and stars, and sea, and sky
Are redolent of sleep, as I
Am redolent of thee and thine
Enthralling love, my Adeline.
But list, O list, so soft and low
Thy lover’s voice tonight shall flow,
That, scarce awake, thy soul shall deem
My words the music of a dream.
Thus, while no single sound too rude
Upon thy slumber shall intrude,
Our thoughts, our souls O God above!
In every deed shall mingle, love.
Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1809. He is most well known for his work in the area of detective fiction and is often cited as the creator of the genre. During his lifetime, Poe was also recognized as a prominent literary critic. The poem “Serenade” was published in 1833 and was first printed in an issue of the Baltimore Sunday Visitor.
In his poem, “Serenade,” Poe uses a combination of archaic diction, allusions to Greek mythology, consistent meter, and rhyme to create a magical nighttime setting. Antiquated language is present in many of Poe’s poems, including “The Sleeper” (1831). His decision to use words such as “O,” “thee,” and “list,” which is simply an abbreviation of “listen,” serves both to create the sense that the poem is set in another, more mystical time as well as to maintain the meter of the poem. Adding to the mysticism, Poe alludes to Greek mythology frequently throughout “Serenade.” His idea of the beauty of untouched nature is strengthened by his reference to “Elysium,” which is described as a “paradise” in Homer’s Odyssey. According to mythology, Elysium is a concept of the afterlife reserved for mortals related to the gods and the righteous and heroic mortals chosen by the gods to live a blessed life even after death. This image of “paradise” is strengthened by Poe’s allusion to the Seven Pleiades. In astrology, the Pleiades are a cluster of stars among the nearest of the stars to earth, making them some of the brightest stars in the night sky. In Greek mythology, the Seven Pleiades are seven beautiful sisters, born to the titan Atlas and the sea-nymph Pleione. Due to their beauty, the sisters are said to have had many romantic affairs with Olympian gods. These affairs resulted in the births of several gods, including Hermes and Aethusa, the lover of Apollo. Poe’s reference to Endymion reflects the profound affect nature has on man. According to folklore, Endymion was a handsome mortal whose love of observing astrological movements resulted in a romantic relationship between him and Selene, the Titan goddess of the moon. In addition to enhancing the aesthetic of the poem, Poe’s use of archaic diction as well as his references to Greek mythology strengthens his credibility as an “educated” poet, although he only attended university for a year before dropping out due to increasing debt. While Poe was often criticized for being too “poetical,” or simple, in his rhyming, the simplicity he utilizes in “Serenade” adds to the dreamlike quality of the poem. The AABB rhyme scheme and iambic tetrameter both work to mimic the rhythm of a lullaby, performing a “Serenade,” as the title suggests, that lulls the reader as if into a dream with the gentle cadence he has written. With the combination of his mystical references, antiquated speech, and unbroken meter, Poe illuminates ‘the beauty of nature unmarred ‘e’in with lute’ showing the true beauty of night inherent in its silence; a beauty that can be explored through the possibilities present in dreams.