Several versions of this poem have been published by Poe. It was first published in the 1831 collection of Poe’s poetry simply entitled Poems under the name ‘The Valley Nis’. In 1836, Poe revised the 1831 version of the poem, changing the last twenty lines to a large extent, but retaining the original title. In 1845 came the second revision, in the course of which more than half the lines of the poem were removed and its title changed to ‘The Valley of Unrest’. The vagueness of the final version can then confidently be said to be intentional.
The rhyme scheme of ‘The Valley of Unrest’ is fairly simple, with lines rhyming in pairs, or at times, three in a row. The entire pattern can be summed up as AABBCCDD (or even CCCC, it can be argued) EEEFFGGGHHHIIJJKKLL.
One rhetorical device that Poe uses in this poem is personification, for example, in his depiction of the lilies growing in the graveyard. Personification is said to occur when human qualities are given to an abstract or a concrete noun. Here, the flowers are said to perform actions such as bending their heads, and weeping, both of which are actions that humans perform.
‘The Valley of Unrest’ implicitly speaks about the loss of human lives in war, and the resulting sorrow. In many cultures, it is believed that the souls of those who die unnatural deaths remain restless, and therefore, cannot cross over to the afterlife. Hence, these souls are confined to the earth and, in fact, their presence can be felt by anyone who has heightened sensibilities.
That is exactly what seems to have happened to the souls of the soldiers who lie buried in the graveyard that Poe describes here. They have died fighting in battlefields, away from their homes and their families, having left even their natural surroundings behind, and so their souls have never gained peace. Moreover, they have been buried in mass graves without any kind of internment ceremony, and this too stops souls from reaching the afterlife. Their souls account for the supernatural force that makes the trees, the clouds and the lilies in the graveyard move. Visitors to the graveyard are generally the loved ones of the soldiers, who often get emotional at their gravesides, and thus it is easy for them to feel the presence of the soldiers’ souls.
Reading a bit into the background of Poe’s life provides a perspective on his ability to capture the nature of sorrow so poignantly. A child of divorce, Poe lost his mother at a young age. Then he went to live with foster parents, and that kind of life wasn’t easy for him. However, the biggest blow in Poe’s life came when he lost the companionship offered to him by his child bride Virginia after her death at the tender age of twenty-five. Thus Poe was no stranger to sorrow, and knew its fundamental nature very well. This knowledge of sorrow from close quarters helped him craft such exquisite verses as ‘The Valley of Unrest’.
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