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The Beginning and the End of Life in Poe’s “Ligeia”
In the beginning of the story, Poe’s narrator increases his agency as the storyteller by erasing that of Ligeia. He accomplishes this by describing her as still, unmoving, and at times virtually nonexistent. For instance, he recalls how she placed her “marble hand” on his shoulder, and of her movement he says, “she came and departed as a shadow” (27). Furthermore, the narrator refers to her as the “outwardly calm…ever-placid Ligeia” and especially to the “placidity” of her voice (29). In his Elizabethan-like cataloguing of her characteristics, there is no evidence of movement or even life. The way in which the narrator isolates and meditates on each and every of her attributes achieves a chilling effect that suggests that he is describing her dead physique. He tells of her forehead that is “lofty and pale,” her skin that rivals “purest ivory,” the “soft, voluptuous slumber” of her lip, and her “serene and placid” smile (27). The adjectives pale, serene, and placid, as effectively as the nouns ivory and slumber suggest an absence of movement or life, and could effortlessly be used to describe a corpse.
The subtle way in which the narrator manipulates the reader by describing Ligeia as if she is dead is proof of his energy to dictate what is told in the story. He calls the reader’s consideration to his power of shaping the narrative by producing the story about himself. Very first, the story is entitled “Ligeia,” but the reader never ever really knows a lot at all about her the particular person about which the reader is offered the most information is the narrator himself. This tactic appears in several of Poe’s poems about dead females. The implication is that the narrators care a lot more about themselves than they do about the ladies. Second, the story acts as a sort of confession – that is, an unburdening of his soul. There is extremely slight but noticeable evidence of confession in the ambiguous deaths of Ligeia and Rowena. Right after he reads the poem that Ligeia has composed, she repeats the epigraph about the nature of the will, and dies, mysteriously. Because we are by no means told what brings about Ligeia’s illness, the reader is left somewhat suspicious as to the exact lead to of her death, and also, maybe, suspicious of the narrator’s agency in bringing it about. We are not provided any direct clues as to the narrator’s motivation for wanting to murder her, but he does say, “…in death only, was I completely impressed with the strength of her affection” (31). The impact of this statement is to arouse the slightest amount of suspicion in the reader that the narrator may possibly have been unsatisfied with Ligeia’s outward affection for him, and was moved to finish her life. Nonetheless, there is not practically adequate evidence to make the reader draw any hard and fast conclusions. In essence, the narrator workout routines his power in constructing the narrative. He strings the reader along, including selective details and deliberately arousing the reader’s suspicions anytime he pleases. The lead to of Rowena’s death, also, is uncertain we are only told that “she was attacked with a sudden illness” (35). Right away prior to her death, the narrator says that he “saw, fall inside the goblet, as if from some invisible spring in the atmosphere of the room, 3 or 4 massive drops of a brilliant and ruby colored fluid,” which causes a “rapid alter for the worse” (36). This, as well, arouses the reader’s suspicion. The narrator would have the reader think that he witnesses a person or some thing else drop the liquid into her goblet. Nonetheless, the reader could suspect that in reality, the narrator placed some poisonous liquid in her goblet, and in his retroactive recollection of the incident, imagined that he witnessed it from an outdoors source. The only thing the reader knows for certain is that the narrator was “wild with the excitement of an immoderate dose of opium” (36). Consequently, the reader is left to workout judgement in evaluating the narrator’s story, which is precisely what Poe wants. The narrator calls focus to himself, arousing suspicion that he may well have been accountable for the deaths of Ligeia and Rowena. Even so, this is carried out so in a careful way, and the story is at ideal a covert confession. Nonetheless, the arousal of suspicion as to his guilt is evidence of the narrator’s power in relating the story. He draws focus to himself – the storyteller – in order to contact into query his personal validity, and to draw a connection in between death and creation.
The other key instance in which the narrator calls focus to himself is in his description of Ligeia’s eyes. Her magnificent “orbs,” which are “far larger than the ordinary eyes of our race” (28), are the continual subjects of his musings. 1 may well imagine that when he gazes into her huge black eyes, he is able to see himself. In fact, this is not far from the truth the narrator’s obsession with her eyes is analogous to his obsession with his self – actually, the I. The contemplation of particular objects arouses a strangeness felt in gazing in her eyes: “a moth, a butterfly, a chrysalis, a stream of running water” (29). He also mentions that that specific sentiment is aroused “not unfrequently by passages from books.” Here, the narrator is drawing distinct interest to himself by being self-referential. Passages from books – for example, the one he is writing – arouse the sentiment he feels in hunting at Ligeia’s eyes, which are mere analogies for himself. After again, he calls interest to himself and his narrative agency. The most telling detail, even so, is the passage supposedly by Joseph Glanvill, which, according to the narrator, “never failed to inspire [him] with the sentiment” (29). This particular quotation, which Ligeia utters just before her death, and which appears as the epigraph to the story, is the important to understanding the narrator’s energy in drawing the connection amongst death and creation.
The idea that “Man doth not yield him to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will” suggests that by harnessing the power of the will, man can accomplish a fantastic deal, and even combat death itself. The quotation also mentions that God is “but a great will pervading all factors,” adding to the suggestion that the will is all-powerful. In the finish of the story, the narrator – by means of his powers of narration – brings Ligeia back to life out of the physique of Lady Rowena. The logic is as follows: Glanvill’s quotation about the power of the will reminds the narrator of Ligeia’s eyes, which (actually and metaphorically) reflect his self-obsession. By syllogism, then, Glanvill’s quotation about the power of will reminds him of himself. What he does at the finish of the story is indeed an ultimate act of the will. The narrator equates himself with God (who is “but a wonderful will”) who has the energy to manipulate life and death. Making use of his powers of narration, he enacts the process of “revivification” (38), literally bringing forth life from death. The account of the corpse returning to life parallels the narrator’s bringing the “dead” story to life, and the narrator serves as a vehicle to bridge the gap in between death and creation. Just as life emerges from the dead body of lady Rowena, out of the deaths of the two lovely females comes the creation of the narrator’s story.
In “The Philosophy of Composition,” Poe also writes, “That pleasure which is at when the most intense, the most elevating, and the most pure is, I believe, found in the contemplation of the lovely.” In taking into consideration this statement, the reader should believe like Poe, and think about the implications of writing about an individual who is beautiful. If a lady, for example, whose beauty is the topic of one’s writings, is alive, then the chance for disappointment is fantastic, because the writing could not do justice to the woman’s accurate beauty. If, even so, that lady is dead, then the reader has no indicates for comparison, and the writer have to be taken at his word. Furthermore, the narrator has the liberty to describe her any way he chooses, and develop the context as properly. The narrator utilizes the death of the lovely Ligeia as poetic inspiration in contemplating her death, he creates a new story. In the finish, equating his energy of will with that of God, he brings about a revivification, which serves as an analogy for the connection amongst death and creation.
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