Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “The City in the Sea” (Text-02), Poems (1831), pp. 49-51


[page 49:]



Lo! Death hath rear’d himself a throne

In a strange city, all alone,

Far down within the dim west —

And the good, and the bad, and the worst, and the best,

Have gone to their eternal rest.

There shrines, and palaces, and towers

Are — not like any thing of ours —

O! no — O! no — ours never loom

To heaven with that ungodly gloom!

Time-eaten towers that tremble not!

Around, by lifting winds forgot,

Resignedly beneath the sky

The melancholy waters lie.

A heaven that God doth not contemn

With stars is like a diadem —

We liken our ladies’ eyes to them — [page 50:]

But there! that everlasting pall!

It would be mockery to call

Such dreariness a heaven at all.

Yet tho’ no holy rays come down

On the long night-time of that town,

Light from the lurid, deep sea

Streams up the turrets silently —

Up thrones — up long-forgotten bowers

Of sculptur’d ivy and stone flowers —

Up domes — up spires — up kingly halls —

Up fanes — up Babylon-like walls —

Up many a melancholy shrine

Whose entablatures intertwine

The mask the — the viol — and the vine.

There open temples — open graves

Are on a level with the waves —

But not the riches there that lie

In each idol’s diamond eye.

Not the gaily-jewell’d dead

Tempt the waters from their bed:

For no ripples curl,  alas!

Along that wilderness of glass — [page 51:]

No swellings hint that winds may be

Upon a far-off happier sea:

So blend the turrets and shadows there

That all seem pendulous in air,

While from the high towers of the town

Death looks gigantically down.

But lo! a stir is in the air!

The wave! there is a ripple there!

As if the towers had thrown aside,

In slightly sinking, the dull tide —

As if the turret-tops had given

A vacuum in the filmy heaven:

The waves have now a redder glow —

The very hours are breathing low —

And when, amid no earthly moans,

Down, down that town shall settle hence,

Hell rising from a thousand thrones

Shall do it reverence,

And Death to some more happy clime

Shall give his undivided time.



In reading this poem, the modern mind tends immediately to think of Atlantis, the fabled paradise that has long usurped any recollection of other submerged cities. As has often been suggested, the more likely source for Poe was the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, both still visible beneath the Dead Sea. In his poem “Al Aaraaf,” Poe includes the following note: “There were, undoubtedly, more than two cities engluphed in the ‘dead sea.’ In the valley of Siddim were five — Adrah, Zeboin, Zoar, Sodom, and Gomorrah. Stephen, of Byzantium, mentions eight, and Strabo, thirteeen, (engulphed) — but the last is out of all reason. It is said, (Tacitus, Strabo, Josephus, Daniel, of St. Saba, Nau, Maundrell, Troilo, D’Arvieux) that, after an excessive drought, the vestiges of columns, walls, &c. are seen above the surface. At any season, such remains may be discoverd by looking down into the transparent lake, and at such distances as would argue the existence of many settlements in the space now usurped by the ‘Asphaltites.’ ”


[S:1 - POEMS, 1831 (fac, 1936)] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Poems - The City in the Sea (Text-02)