Spirits of the Dead Analysis by Edgar Allan Poe

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Last updated on August 24th, 2020 at 09:17 pm

‘Spirits of the Dead’ was first published under the name ‘Visits of the Dead’ in the 1827 collection of Poe’s poetry known as Tamerlane and Other Poems. The title was changed for re-publication in another collection entitled Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems, which was published two years later.

The rhyme scheme of each of the five stanzas of ‘Spirits of the Dead’ is different, though all are quite simple in themselves. The first stanza follows the pattern AABB. The second stanza is written in ABABCC. The format of the third stanza is AABBCCDD. The fourth stanza goes AABB. And finally, the fifth stanza follows the pattern AABBCC. Some of the end rhymes are not immediately apparent because of changes in the pronunciation of words within the English language that have taken place over the centuries. However, those end rhymes that do not sound the same are all visual rhymes nonetheless; for example, “pry” and “secrecy” in the first stanza, or “fever” and “ever” in the third stanza.

The rhetorical devices known as consonance and assonance are both found in the poem. For example, one cannot help but notice the l-sound in the line “The soul shall find itself alone” from the first stanza, or the s-, t-, and d-sounds in the line “The spirits of the dead who stood…” from the second stanza.

Alliteration is also used by Poe in lines such as “Be silent in that solitude” from the second stanza, “Now are visions ne’er to vanish” from the fourth stanza, and “The breeze – the breath of God – is still” from the fifth stanza.

Personification is also used by Poe here. He gives human qualities to the elements of nature such as the night, and the stars. The speaker says that the night frowns down on the souls of the dead, and the stars instigate them to retain their umbilical cord-like connection to the earth. Even though the souls are weary, the want to continue with the lives they had once left behind.

‘Spirits of the Dead’ was written by Poe in lamentation of the death of his child bride Virginia Clemm Poe, who died at a very young age, at twenty-five in fact. Her death affected Poe so deeply that his thoughts turned mundane ever afterwards, and he started writing meditations on death. He wrote from the point of view of mourners, but also, eerily enough, reversed the point of view, and wrote from the perspective of the departed. ‘Spirits of the Dead’ can be interpreted to be a dialogue between Virginia and Poe himself as well, though traditionally the speaker of this poem has been taken to be male.

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The movement within the lines of ‘Spirits of the Dead’ mimics the stages of grief that Poe himself must have gone through after Virginia’s death in 1847. The mood of the poem shifts from sadness to anger, and finally to resignation. This is signified by the change in imagery from “dark”, “night”, “tombstone” towards the beginning of the poem, to “red”, “fever”, “glowing”, “burning” around the middle, and “mist”, “breeze”, “breath” towards the end.

The end of this poem echoes its beginning, that is, the “mystery of mysteries” of the last stanza verbally recalls the “secrecy” of the first stanza. It is as if Poe meant ‘Spirits of the Dead’ to structurally exhibit the circle of life and death that we all must go through.

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2 thoughts on “Spirits of the Dead Analysis by Edgar Allan Poe”

  1. Very helpful. I’m new to both Poe and poetry and found your analysis similar to my instinctual feeling during and after the reading. Thank you!

  2. Majorly flawed – how could it have anything to do with Virginia’s death when she died in 1947, and it was published in 1927?

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