Monday, October 28, 2013

Israfel, fourth stanza

Notwithstanding the triumphant comparison Poe makes in the final lines, the fourth stanza remains my favorite in the poem, as it is the clearest elucidation of the poetic and intellectual principles that the author aspires to both experience and express:
But the skies that angel trod,
   Where deep thoughts are a duty,  
Where Love’s a grown-up God,
   Where the Houri glances are  
Imbued with all the beauty
   Which we worship in a star. 
Stanza four begins as a controversion to the thesis of the third stanza, which is the assertion by the choir of stars and other "listening things" that Israfel's poetic power--Poe calls it "fire"--is due to the musical quality of the angel's song. To the contrary, Poe explains in stanza four that the merits of Israfel's articulations are attributes of a realm--a "sky" as he calls it--of another sort: rather produced by the intellectual character of the angle's utterances, which are initially characterized as combining rigor of thought with the notion of "duty" (see Ray Monk's Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, passim). Then attributing an adult psychic-sensual activity to this stratospheric realm, the poem resolves upon the true object of beauty, which can be construed, first, in the image of gazing Houri--beautiful, alluring and voluptuous love nymphs of the Koranic paradise--and, second, with the purely formless attractions that we "worship in a star."

The star is a stock romantic image with (obviously) celestial associations, but, examined more closely, the word itself conveys a tangible and significant quality that might as well be called "kabbalistic depth." Unbridled by the physical laws of this universe and yet an object within it, removed physically by hundreds of millions of miles of intransversable space that separates it almost completely from the authority of hermeneutic explanation and the constructions of civil convention, yet remaining impossibly visible as a point of relatively "eternal" light--the star is the sign of a realm beyond our own, dazzling even in its minute form, a flaring pin-point shining through from some distant and, we wonder, brighter reality.

Read the poem in its entirety by clicking HERE.

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