Text: Thomas Ollive Mabbott (E. A. Poe), “Siope (Silence),” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. II: Tales and Sketches (1978), pp. 192-200 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 192:]


First published with the title “Siope — A Fable,” this companion piece to “Shadow” is generally regarded as another masterpiece of poetic prose. It is, however, the most cryptic of Poe’s tales, and has baffled editors of his day, and many modern commentators. But, when one compares it with “Sonnet — Silence,” and considers the clue in the early motto from “Al Aaraaf,” one need not find the meaning beyond all conjecture.

Man clings to the rock of reality, however terrible; the true silence, cessation of being, terrifies even a brave man.* “It is the Demon of the Imagination’s interpretation of the Universe. . . . The setting is a valley called Desolation, full of activity. A dignified man sadly contemplates the tumult of Life about him. Then the [page 193:] valley is called Silence, a type of death, which terrifies the man.”

The principal source is pointed out by A. H. Quinn (Poe, p. 215) as a story by Bulwer in the London New Monthly, May 1830 — a story Poe named as a good sensational magazine article in a letter of April 30, 1835 to T. W. White and later praised in a review of Bulwer’s Rienzi in the Southern Literary Messenger for February 1836. Bulwer’s tale, “Monos and Daimonos, A Legend,” is a rambling story of a youth brought up by a father who abjured all society to live on a rock in a rocky waste. The greatest luxury of the young Monos was solitude. After his father’s death, having attained his majority and his estate, he left England and went “into the enormous woods of Africa, where human step never trod” — woods peopled by “the wandering lion, or the wild ostrich, or that huge serpent.” To quote a typical passage: “There, too, as beneath the heavy and dense shade I couched in the scorching noon, I heard the trampling as of an army, and the crash and fall of the strong trees, and beheld through the matted boughs the behemoth pass on its terrible way, with its eyes burning as a sun, and its white teeth arched and glistening in the rabid jaw, as pillars of spar glitter in a cavern.”

Deciding to return home, Monos sails on a ship where, to his distress, one man persistently cleaves to him. Says Monos, “I longed . . . to strangle him when he addressed me! . . . would have . . . hurled him into the sea to the sharks, which lynx-eyed and eager-jawed, swam night and day around our ship.”

The ship sinks, all are drowned save Monos and his tormentor, who joins him in a cavern. Monos runs away, but in vain. He murders his companion, whose ghost continues to haunt him, unseen by others.

Here is much that Poe took — Africa, the rock, solitude, caverns, the demon, the wild beasts, even sentences almost verbatim, like “As the Lord liveth, I believe the tale that I shall tell you will have sufficient claim on your attention.” So much indeed — but Poe’s genius has transformed the overwrought grandiloquence of his source into something rich and strange.

The story was one of the eleven Tales of the Folio Club, as the [page 194:] single leaf of its manuscript, formerly accompanying the introduction, shows (see “The Folio Club,” below). Hence, it was probably in existence before May 4, 1833, and may have been one of the stories in which John P. Kennedy tried to interest the publishers Carey and Lea. It is clear that it was to be told by the protagonist who described the Club’s members.

On September 11, 1835, Poe wrote John P. Kennedy he could not understand why The Gift had not used “Epimanes” or “Siope.”

In 1837 plans were made for a Baltimore Book for the Christmas and New Year’s trade, on the plan of the previously issued Boston Book, New York Book, and Philadelphia Book. Poe wrote on February 28 to W. H. Carpenter, J. S. Norris, and James Brown that he would be glad to send something for their gift book, if April 1, 1837 would be in time, and suggesting “the theme should be left to my own choice.” The book, edited by Carpenter and T. S. Arthur, appeared late in 1837, containing “Siope.”

Years later in a letter cited by Woodberry, Poe’s friend N. C. Brooks claimed to have saved “Siope” from the wastebasket, but his memory was probably of a later submission, in 1838 or 1839, while he was editor of Fairfield’s North American Quarterly and its short-lived successor, the American Museum of Science, Literature and the Arts.


(A) Manuscript fragment, about 1832, facsimiled by John W. Robertson, Commentary on the Bibliography of Edgar A. Poe (1934), II, 114-115; (B) Baltimore Book (1838), pp. 79-85; (C) Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840), II, 19-24; (D) Broadway Journal, September 6, 1845 (2:135-136); (E) Works (1850), II, 295-298. PHANTASY-PIECES, title only.

Griswold’s version (E) is followed. It shows one presumably auctorial change.

The manuscript (A) was the last leaf of the codex, of which the first leaf carried the text of “The Folio Club.” I saw them both together, lent for exhibition at Richmond in 1922, by the Griswold family, but the fragment of “Silence” was not given to Harvard with its companion piece. The manuscript fragment is one of the holdings of the Poe Foundation and is housed in the State Library, at Richmond, Virginia. [page 194:]

SILENCE — A FABLE. [E]  [[v]]

‘Ενδονσιν δ’ ορεων κορνφαι τε και φαράγγες

Πρώονές τε και χάραδραι.   ALCMAN.

The mountain pinnacles slumber; valleys, crags and caves are silent.  [[v]]  [[n]]

“Listen to me,” said the Demon, as he placed his hand upon my head.{a} “The region of which I speak is a dreary region in Libya, by the borders of the river Zäire.(1) And there is no quiet there, nor silence.

“The waters of the river have a saffron and sickly hue; and they flow not onward{b} to the sea, but palpitate forever and forever beneath the red eye of the sun with a tumultuous and convulsive motion. For many miles on either side of the river’s oozy bed is a pale desert of gigantic water-lilies. They sigh one unto the other in that solitude, and stretch towards the heaven their long and{c} ghastly necks, and nod to and fro their everlasting heads.(2) And there is an indistinct murmur which cometh out from among them like the rushing of subterrene water. And they sigh one unto the other.

“But there is a boundary to their realm — the boundary of the dark, horrible, lofty forest. There, like the waves about the Hebrides, the low underwood is agitated continually. But there is no wind throughout the heaven. And the tall primeval trees rock eternally hither and thither with a crashing and mighty sound. And from their high summits, one by one, drop everlasting dews. And at the roots strange poisonous flowers lie writhing in perturbed slumber. And overhead, with a rustling and loud noise, the gray clouds rush westwardly forever, until they roll, a cataract, over [page 196:] the fiery wall of the horizon.(3) But there is no wind throughout the heaven. And by the shores of the river Zäire there is neither quiet nor silence.

“It was night, and the rain fell; and, falling, it was rain, but, having fallen, it was blood.(4) And I stood in the morass among the tall lilies, and the rain fell upon my head — and the lilies sighed one unto the other in the solemnity of their desolation.

“And, all at once, the moon arose through the thin ghastly mist, and was crimson in color. And mine eyes fell upon a huge gray rock which stood by the shore of the river, and was lighted{d} (5) by the light of the moon. And the rock was gray, and ghastly, and tall, — and the rock was gray. Upon its front were characters engraven in the stone; and I walked through the morass of water-lilies, until I came close unto the shore, that I might read the characters upon the stone. But I could not decypher them.{e} And I was going back into the morass, when the moon shone with a fuller red, and I turned and looked again upon the rock, and upon the characters; — and the characters were DESOLATION.

“And I looked upwards, and there stood a man upon the summit of the rock; and I hid myself among the water-lilies that I might discover the actions of the man. And the man was tall and stately in form, and was wrapped up from his shoulders to his feet in the toga of old Rome. And the outlines of his figure were indistinct — but his features were the features of a deity; for the mantle of the night, and of the mist, and of the moon, and of the dew, had left uncovered the features of his face. And his brow was lofty with thought, and his eye wild with care; and, in the few furrows upon his cheek I read the fables of sorrow, and weariness, and disgust with mankind, and a longing after solitude.{f} (6)

“And the man sat{g} upon the rock, and leaned his head upon his hand, and looked out upon the desolation(7) He looked down into the low unquiet shrubbery, and up into the tall primeval trees,{h} [page 197:] and up higher at the rustling heaven, and into the crimson moon. And I lay close within shelter of the lilies, and{i} observed the actions of the man. And the man trembled in the solitude; — but the night waned, and he sat upon the rock.

“And the man turned his attention from the heaven, and looked out upon the dreary river Zäire, and upon the yellow ghastly waters, and upon the pale legions of the water-lilies. And the man listened to the sighs of the water-lilies, and to{j} the murmur that came up from among them. And I lay close within my covert and{k} observed the actions of the man. And the man trembled in the solitude; — but the night waned and he sat upon the rock.

“Then I went down into the recesses of the morass, and waded afar{l} in among the wilderness of the lilies, and called unto the hippopotami which dwelt among the fens in the recesses of the morass. And the hippopotami heard my call, and came, with the behemoth,(8) unto the foot of the rock, and roared loudly and fearfully beneath the moon. And I lay close within my covert and observed the actions of the man. And the man trembled in the solitude; — but the night waned and he sat upon the rock.

“Then I cursed the {mm}elements with the curse of tumult; and,{mm} a frightful tempest gathered in the heaven{n} where, before, there had been no wind. And the heaven became livid with the violence of the tempest — and the rain beat upon the head of the man — and the floods of the river came down — and the river was tormented into foam — and the water-lilies shrieked within their beds — and the forest{o} crumbled before the wind — and the {pp}thunder rolled{pp} and the lightning{q} fell — and the rock rocked to its foundation. And I lay close within my covert and{r} observed the actions of the man. And the man trembled in{s} the solitude; — but the night waned and he sat upon the rock,

“Then I grew angry and cursed, with {tt}the curse of silence,{tt} the [page 198:] river, and the lilies, and the wind, and the forest, and the heaven, and the thunder, and the sighs of the water-lilies. And they became accursed, and were still. And the moon ceased to totter up{u} its pathway to{v} heaven(9) — and the thunder died away — and the lightning did not flash — and the clouds hung motionless — and the waters sunk to their level and remained — and the trees ceased to rock — and the water-lilies sighed no more — and the murmur was heard no longer from among them, nor any shadow of sound throughout the vast illimitable desert. And I looked upon the characters of the rock, and they were changed; — and the characters were SILENCE.(10)

“And mine eyes fell upon the countenance of the man, and his countenance was wan with terror. {ww}And, hurriedly, he{ww} raised his head from his hand, and stood forth upon the rock and listened. But there was no voice throughout the vast illimitable desert, and the characters upon the rock were SILENCE. And the man shuddered, and turned his face away, and fled afar off, {xx}in haste, so that I beheld{xx} him no more.”

  * * * * *  

Now there are fine tales in the volumes of the Magi — in the iron-bound, melancholy volumes of the Magi.(11) Therein, I say, are glorious histories of the Heaven, and of the Earth, and of the mighty sea(12) — and of the Genii(13) that overruled the sea, and the earth, and the lofty heaven. There was much lore too in the sayings which were said by the Sybils;(14) and holy, holy things were heard of old by the dim leaves that trembled around Dodona(15) — but, as Allah liveth, that fable which the demon told me as he sat by my side in the shadow of the tomb,{y} (16) I hold to be the most wonderful of all! And as the Demon made an end of his story, he fell back within the cavity of the tomb and laughed. And I{z} could not laugh with the Demon, and he cursed me because I could not laugh. And the lynx(17) which dwelleth {aa}forever in{aa} the tomb, came [page 199:] out therefrom,{b} and lay{c} down at the feet of the Demon, and{d} looked at him steadily in the face.(18)



[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 195:]

Title:  Siope. A Fable. [In the manner of the Psychological Autobiographists] Square brackets are Poe’s (B, C). The first part of the manuscript A is lost but in a letter of September 11, 1835, Poe called the tale Siope.  [[n]]


Ours is a world of words: Quiet we call

Silence — which is the merest word of all.

Al Aaraaf. (B)

The Greek words of Alcman appear first in C; the English was added in D.

a  After this B and C have: “There is a spot upon this accursed earth which thou hast never yet beheld. And if by any chance thou hast beheld it, it must have been in one of those vigorous dreams which come like the Simoom [Simoon (C)] upon the brain of the sleeper who hath lain down to sleep among the forbidden sunbeams — among the sunbeams, I say, which slide from off the solemn columns of the melancholy temples in the wilderness. [The paragraph continues with The region etc.]

b  onwards (B, C, D)

c  Omitted (B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 196:]

d  litten (B, C)

e  the characters. (B, C)

f  After this: And the moon shone upon his face, and upon the features of his face, and oh! they were more beautiful than the airy dreams which hovered about the souls of the daughters of Delos! (B)

g  sat down (B, C)

h  forest, (A) The first word of the manuscript fragment preserved

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 197:]

i  and I (A)

j  of (B)

k  and I (A)

l  far (A)

mm . . . mm  elements, and (A)

n  heaven, (E) comma deleted to follow A, B, C, D

o  trees (A)

pp . . . pp  lightning flashed (A)

q  thunder (A)

r  and I (A)

s  within (A)

tt . . . tt  a silent curse (A); the curse of silence, (B)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 198:]

u  in (A, B, C)

v  up the (A, B, C)

ww . . . ww  And he (A)

xx . . . xx  and I saw (A); and I beheld (B, C)

y  old tomb at Balbec, (A)

z  I tried, but (A)

aa . . . aa  in the cavern by (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 199:]

b  from his lair, (A)

c  lying (A)

d  Omitted (A)


[page 199, continued:]


Headnote in B and C:  The Psychological Autobiographists are Bulwer and De Quincey.

Motto:  The motto in B was from Poe’s own “Al Aaraaf,” I, 126-127. The present motto, introduced in C, is from a famous fragment of Alcman, quoted by Apollonius in his Homeric Lexicon s.v. knōdalon; see Loeb Classics Lyra Graeca, I, 76 (No. 36).

1.  Libya was used by the ancient Greeks to designate the whole continent of Africa, according to Pliny’s Natural History, V, 1. Zäire is the old Portuguese name for the Congo.

In the canceled passage (B, C), the Simoom (or simoon) is a hot wind from the Sahara, mentioned also in Poe’s “Al Aaraaf,” II, 165, in the 1831 version of “Tamerlane,” in “MS. Found in a Bottle,” and in “Berenicë.” Compare also Byron, “The Dream,” IV, 2-4,

The Boy was sprung to manhood: in the wilds

Of fiery climes he made himself a home,

And his Soul drank their sunbeams.

2.  Several of Poe’s poems contain references to waving or “lolling” lilies. See “Irenë” (1831), “The Valley of Unrest” (B, 1836), and “Dream-Land” (1844). Poe may have in mind Nelumbo lutea, the long-stemmed yellow water lily, found in profusion by early botanical explorers in rivers and lakes from New Jersey to Florida. See William Bartram, Travels (Philadelphia, 1791), p. 327 of Mark Van Doren’s edition (1928).

3.  Compare “The Valley Nis” (1831), lines 33-42,

One by one from the tree top

There the eternal dews do drop —

There the vague and dreamy trees

Do roll like seas in northern breeze

Around the stormy Hebrides —

There the gorgeous clouds do fly,

Rustling everlastingly,

Through the terror-stricken sky,

Rolling like a waterfall

O’er the horizon’s fiery wall.

Compare also Arthur Gordon Pym, Chapter XXV, “The range of vapor . . . had arisen prodigiously in the horizon . . . a limitless cataract, rolling silently into the sea from some . . . rampart in the heaven”

4.  Red rain undoubtedly occurs in nature. There is a reference to the phenomenon in “A Chapter on Science and Art” in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, April 1840, p. 194. [page 200:]

5.  With the canceled “litten” compare “red-litten windows” in early texts of “The Haunted Palace,” line 42.

6.  The reference in the canceled passage to “the dreams of the daughters of Delos” alludes to a passage in “A Manuscript Pound in a Madhouse” by Bulwer. Poe later placed his phrase in “Ligeia” and retained it there; see a fuller discussion in note 3 on that story, below.

7.  Pliny, in the chapter cited in note 1 above, says that many Romans of high rank boasted of having penetrated into Africa as far as Mount Atlas. Some readers will think of Gains Marius amidst the ruins of Carthage, a type of desolation.

8.  The behemoth is mentioned in Job 40:15-24, and is usually thought to be the hippopotamus. Poe obviously was one of those who think the animal was the elephant. Compare Bishop Reginald Heber, Poetical Works (Philadelphia, 1841), 292.

9.  Compare “Israfel,” the second stanza, “Tottering above. . . / The enamoured Moon”; and “To Helen Whitman,” lines 4-5, “A full-orbed moon . . . / Sought a precipitate pathway up through heaven.”

10.  Characters inscribed on a cliff change in Beckford’s Vathek, as do those on the cover of the Devil’s book in Poe’s “Bon-Bon.”

11.  The Magi, priests among the Persians, were famed for mystical lore.

12.  Compare Exodus 20:4, quoted in “Bon-Bon,” n. 16.

13.  Some Genii, or Jinns, fabled Eastern spirits of power, are good and some are bad.

14.  Sibyls were prophetesses among the Greeks and Romans.

15.  At Dodona in Epirus, the priest and priestess at the grove of Zeus interpreted the sounds of the leaves oracularly. Poe refers to this also in the introduction to his “Marginalia.”

16.  (See the canceled phrase.) There are references to ‘Balbec in “Al Aaraaf,” II, 37, and in “MS. Found in a Bottle.”

17.  The lynx was sacred to Apollo, hence a symbol of prophecy.

18.  Compare “I grew wearied, and . . . gazed at him steadfastly in the face,” in the last paragraph of Poe’s “Man of the Crowd.”



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 192:]

*  This interpretation is close to that of A. H. Quinn, expressed to me in conversation. The quoted words following are Professor Rae Blanchard’s, written in 1923, but now first printed.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 194:]

  See Woodberry, Poe (1885), pp. 54, 109, and Life (1909), I, 198, where the date of first publication is given incorrectly.




Although Mabbott lists the date of The Baltimore Book as 1838, it was a gift annual for 1838, actually printed late in 1837, as noted in the introduction.


[S:1 - TOM2T, 1978] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (T. O. Mabbott) (Siope (Silence))