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Posted on July 31st, 2012, by

This paper is devoted to critical analysis of the famous poem by Edgar Allan Poe The City in the Sea. The final version of the poem was published in 1845, but in 1831 appeared the initial version under the name of The Doomed City. The poem presents a story of city, where the Death stands at the head of all. Researches state, that the author was inspired by several works, including Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and was accused of plagiarizing “The City in the Sea” from a lesser-known poem (Driskell, 12). This poem is written in the usual for the author manner and gothic tone, but at the same time is a unique example of Poe’s poetry. It is composed of four stanza, each having a different rhyme scheme. There is no narrative persona per se, but the poem is related by a coherent observing intelligence who directs the reader’s attention to the sights that he places before him. (Driskell, 25).

There can be various approaches to literary criticism of the poem, traditional school of literary criticism in order to have a better idea and understanding of the poem, would consider the historical context when it was written. Poe produced this poem during the period, when America just got independence from the British Empire, having gone through years of suppression and constant struggle for its rights. To Americans remained some parts of the territories held by Mexican and to Britain countries in the pacific. However Americans were sure, that soon they would be able to hold the whole continent of North America. Based on this historical facts, we could associate time-eaten towers with metaphoric description of British cities, which were really old and they tremble not because at that moment Britain had one of the strongest armies. There was also menace of war and in the line Death looks gigantically down we could see the reflection of possible outcomes of this war. The red uniforms of the British soldiers could be associated with red waves, which as well as an army of soldier would engulf the city. A living Hell is presentation of destruction, which could bring confrontation and war.

Analyzing the tone, atmosphere and imagery of the poem we can find numerous evidences of Gothic style, pessimistic ideas about death and eternal sufferings. Some critics see the reflection of Atlantic society, which is living on some island and has to constantly struggle with huge waves and earth tremors. The only future that is waiting for this society is death on the bottom of the ocean.  Death as a ruler of the society is idolized in a way – While from a proud tower in the town, Death looks gigantically down.’ In general readers are already used to non-conventional presentation of death in the works of Poe. Death is capitalized, as it is the main hero of the poem. Death has full control of the souls of people, which found their rest under the waves.

This is hard to imagine, that death is close to god, ruling a city in the west.

The presentation of the city is fully ironical – Domes and spires and kingly halls, and fanes and Babylon like walls’ because a city in the west would normally be associated with good and east is more related to evil and death (Fisher, 111). Although the city consists of the buildings, palaces, towers and so on as a usual city, but they resemble nothing that is ours. The light to this city comes not from usual source- Heaven, but on the contrary from below, from the hellish beams Whose weathered friezes intertwine/The viol, the violet, and the vine. There is no distinction between the buildings of the city and their shadows, the whole city seems not to stand on the ground but to float on the air. The only thing, which is stable, is the tower, from which Death governs everything.

The end of the poem is as pessimistic as the general tone of it: A void within the filmy heaven.’ and the waves now have a redder glow, the hours are breathing faint and low.’ Poe is describing the end of the days for this city or society in general. Another interpretation of the red color is as a sigh of hell, because red is the color of fire or devil – And when, amid no earthly moans, Down, down the town shall settle hence, Hell rising from a thousand thrones, shall do it reverence.’

From the fourth and final stanza readers realize, that there is stir in the air and the moving waves make buildings and towers of the city shake. The result of these motions will be inevitable settling of the city downward, to the Hell.

Overall, we made a brief critical literary analysis of the poem The City in the Sea by Edgar Allan Poe. This is evident, that this poem, as well as other works of this author are rather controversial, many-sided and really profound. Thus there can be numerous approaches to critical analysis of them; in this paper we applied traditional along with stylistic types of literary critical analysis.

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