Text: Various, “Marginalia,” Poe Studies, June 1983, Vol. XVI, No. 1, 16:p-p


[page 13:]


This column is devoted to brief notes, comments, queries. We wish to provide here an outlet for such items as source notes which do not require the extended argument and proof that customarily attends them, and for items of very special or peculiar interest which otherwise might not appear. Contributions to this column should generally be one paragraph in form and less than a page and a half of typescript, though notes of three pages with as many paragraphs are acceptable.

Poe in Clavell’s Shogun: A Novel of Japan

Poe did not originate the title phrase of his 1849 poem, “A Dream within a Dream”; as T. O. Mabbott indicates [Works, 1, 451], it had previously appeared in two works known to Poe, Margaret Fuller’s Summer on the Lakes (1844) and C. A. Washburn’s sentimental story in Graham’s Magazine (October 1848). But surely, the current of the phrase is entirely owed to Poe’s poem. And we can be certain that James Clavell was borrowing from Poe in his threefold use of the phrase in Shogun: A Novel of Japan [New York: Atheneum, 1975], a best selling work that has become a major document in popular American awareness of Japan. The phrase figures most prominently in a key scene in Book II of the novel, a flashback which presents the death of the Taiko or ruler of Japan, an event releasing all of the rival forces determining the plot. The context makes it clear that the author had Poe’s poem directly in mind, for he draws upon its title as well as upon its basic idea, particularly as expressed in the following lines: “Yet if hope has flown away / In a night, or in a day, / In a vision, or in none, / Is it therefore the less gone? / All that we see or seem / Is but a dream within a dream” (11. 6-11). The passage from Clavell follows (bk. II, ch. 20, pp. 224-225):

The dying had been easy. For months the Taiko had been sick and tonight the end was expected. A few hours ago he had opened his eyes and smiled at Ochiba and at Yodako, and had whispered, his voice like a rhread “Listen, this is my death poem:

‘Like dew I was born

Like dew I vanish

Osaka Castle and all thar I have ever done

Is but a dream

Within a dream.’

. . . And then the eyes opaqued forever. Father Alvito remembered how moved he had been by the last poem, so typical of the Taiko.

There then ensues a quarter between the widow Ochiba and Father Alvito, whose power over her late husband is now departed. He warns her to take heed of God; she replies, “What will you do, priest, if when you’re dead you discover there is no God, that there’s no hell and your eternal Salvation just a dream within a dream? ”

Clavell next uses Poe’s poem three quartets of the way through the novel in one of the crucial episodes occurring in Osaka castle. We are being informed about a key mystery involving the line of dynastic succession of the heir to whom the hero Blackthorn and his mentor Lord Toranaga owe fealty: it appears that the Taik5 had long suspected that his son Yaemon was engendered elsewhere than in his bed. Again the death of the Taiko is recalled (bk. V, ch. 56, p. 689):

. . . his eyes weren’t smiling now, just probing, wondering, pondering the never-dared-to-be-asked question that she was sure was forever in his mind: Is Yaemon really my son?

“Karma, O chan, Neh?” It was gently said but Ochiba’s fear that he would ask her directly racked her and rears glistened in her eyes. ‘No need for tears, O-chan. Life’s only a dream within a dream,” the old man said.

The final reference to the poem occurs on the last page of the narrative, thus fulfilling the germinal nature of the phrase “a dream [column 2:] within a dream,” which symbolizes so many issues in this enormous, detail-filled, yet oddly remote and artificial novel. The Shogun-to-be, Lord Toranaga, is musing over his long-maintained and always-hidden ambition to rule Japan:

I will continue to wait patiently and one day those two usurpers inside will make a mistake and then they will be gone and somehow Osaka Castle will be gone, just another dream within a dream, and the real prize of the Great Game . . . will be won: the Shogunate.

Burton R. Pollin, Bronx Community College of CUNY, Emeritus


William Wilson: Another Possible Source for the Name

In a note to the title of Poe’s “William Wilson,” Thomas O. Mabbott writes [Works, II, 448], “Poe actually knew of two men named William Wilson with whom John Allan did business [by correspondence]; one was a Quaker living at Kendal, the other an agent for Washington College (now Washington and Lee) at Lexington, Virginia. See Killis Campbell’s Mind of Poe, p 146 [where Campbell identifies them as merchants].” Another William Wilson exists, however, the name or even person of whom Poe could have encountered as a boy in Richmond during the period following the Allan family’s return from England on 2 August 1820. This third William Wilson, a Richmond schoolteacher, notified the public in the Richmond Compiler fat 31 August 1820 (and in subsequent issues) that because of poor health he was retiring and leaving his school to a David Pancoast. Whether Poe had any contact with or memory of this William Wilson is, of course, a matter of speculation, but the summer of 1820 would be an appropriate period for the eleven-year-old boy and his family to be aware of Richmond schoolteachers: Edgar was between schools at this point and would shortly enroll in Joseph H. Clarke’s Richmond Academy.

David K. Jackson, Durham, North Carolina


The Masque of the Red Death”: Yet Another Source

Critics propose multiple sources for Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.” A quick review of the key studies suggests both their number and diversity. In “Hawthorne’s ‘Plagiary’; Poe’s Duplicity” [Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 25 (1970), 281-198], to Robert Regan examines the influence of four of Hawthorne’s “Tales of the Province House” on Poe’s story, while Walter Evans looks to another Hawthorne tale in “Poe’s ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ and Hawthorne’s ‘The Wedding Knell’ ” [Poe Studies 10 (1977) 42-43]. T. O. Mabbott [Works, II, 667-670; this edition is cited in the text by page] mentions the influence of Boccaccio’s Decameron, Campbell’s The Life of Petrarch, and, probably, the description in N. P. Willis’ “Pencillings by the Way” of a masked ball in Paris with a figure dressed as “The Personification of the Cholera.” Harry Levin [The Power of Blackness (New York: Vintage 1960), p. 150] links Pope’s The Dunciad to the end of the Poe tale, and Burton Pollin [Discoveries in Poe (Notre Dame: Univ. Of Notre Dame Press, 1970), pp. 75-90] traces the possible influences of both Shelley’s The Last Man and Byron’s poem, “Darkness.” These studies are persuasive, yet one can never be sure one has tapped all of the sources of a given tale. As Pollin writes, “Almost every masterpiece of literature reflects a variety of sources, recent and remote, major and minor, all absorbed and held by the creative spirit in a state of dynamic but subliminal flux, until the moment of conception” (p. 75).

Within this context, I would like to suggest yet another possible influence upon Poe’s tale. In Byron’s Childe Harold, Canto III, (1817) [in The Works of Lord Byron, ed. Ernest Hartley Coleridge [page 14:] (London: John Murtay, 1922), II; hereafter cited in the text by stanza.] when Harold comes upon Waterloo, he describes the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball in Brussels the night before the engagement at Quatre Bras. The participants, the atmosphere, and the inevitable outcome of the ball, as well as the diction used to describe it, foreshadow Poe’s tale. The generally accepted influence of Byron upon Poe [for an overview, see George H. Soule, Jr., “Byronism in Poe’s ‘Metzengerstein’ and ‘William Wilson, ’ ESQ, 24 (1978), 152-162] suggests the possibility of a relationship between this scene in Childe Harold and “The Masque of the Red Death,” which the following parallel passages dramatize. The quotations are grouped so as to move from description of the setting and atmosphere, to the repeated intrusion of and reaction to a disconcerting sound, then to the efforts of the hero, and finally to the general collapse of gaiety and concomitant death.

Childe Harold   “The Masque of the Red Death”

“A thousand hearts” (xxi)


“a thousand . . . friends.” (670)

“that high hall” (xxiii)


“his castellated abbeys.” (670)

“Beauty and . . . Chivalry . . . fair women and / brave men” (xxi)


“the knights and dames of his court” (670)

“with its voluptuous swell” (xxi)


“A voluptuous scene” (671)

“in Beauty’s circle proudly gay” (xxviii)


“the whole gay company” (672)

“a gay and magnificent revel” (673)

“A thousand hearts beat happily” (xxi)

“full of lusty life” (xxviii)


“beat feverishly with the heart of life.” (674)

“a deep sound . . . like a rising knell!” (xxi)


“a dull heavy monotonous clang,” (672)

“that heavy sound” (xxii)


“chiming” (673)

“nearer — clearer — deadlier than / before!” (xxii)

“a deep thunder peal on peal” (xxv)


“clear and loud and deep” (672)

“Did ye not hear it? — No — ’twas but the Wind, / or the car . . . On with the dance! let joy be unconfined” (xxii)


“harken to the sound and there was a brief disconcert . . . but when the echoes had fully ceased a light laughter at once pervaded the assembly” (672-673)

“the noon of night” (xxvi)

“The midnight brought the signal-sound of strife” (xxviii)


“the sounding of midnight . . . twelve strokes . . . more of thought” (674)

“Brunswick’s fated chieftain . . . roused the vengeance” (xxiii)


“Prince Prospero maddening with rage” (676)

“rush’d into the field,” (xxiii)


“rushed hurriedly rhrough the chambers” (676)

“foremost fighting fell.” (xxiii)


“fell prostrate in death.” (676)

“there was hurrying to and fro” (xxiv)


“threw themselves” (676)

“with terror / dumb” (xxv)


“a certain nameless awe” (676)

“And cheeks all pale,” (xxiv)


“grew pale” (672)

“gasped” (676)

“And gatheting tears and tremblings of / distress” (xxiv)


“the wild courage of despair” (676)

“Rider and horse, friend, foe, in one red burial blent!” (xxviii)


“Darkness and Decay and the Red Death . . . dominion over all.” (677)

An extravagant atmosphere, disturbing reminders of time and transience, a singular hero who challenges fate and loses, the frenzied despair with which those who remain meet their fate, as well as the descriptive language, all recommend Byron’s ball scene as a source for Poe. Thematic similarity is located in the ironic discrepancy between the gay revelry and the imminence of a black and irrevocable fate. With each writer, the sound which marks the end of day also signals the end of gaiety and, with Poe and to a lesser extent Byron, the end of life itself. The transformation from happiness and life to terror and death comes quickly, surreptitiously, “like a thief in the night” (Poe, Works, II, 676). In the larger context of Childe Harold, the ball scene reflects upon a well-known Byronic theme — sic transit gloria mundi (“And this is much, and all which will not pass away” — Byron, xxxv). Consequently, one will expect new glories in the Byronic scheme, though they must all come to an end, as does the Duchess’ ball. In contrast, Poe’s vision, at its most expanded depicts a more permanent state, a universal death, which brings us back to Byron’s “Darkness” and the death of the universe. The bleakness in “The Masque of the Red Death” is unrelieved by any sense of the cyclical, whereas in Childe Harold, though “the heart will break, yet brokenly it will live on” (Byron, xxxii).

Michael Tritt, Marianapolis College


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[S:0 - PSDR, 1980]