Poe's Poetry

Israfel (1831)

Written while Poe was at West Point, "Israfel" is a poem in eight stanzas of varying lengths that was first published in April 1831 in Poems of Edgar A. Poe. It was re-worked and republished for the August 1836 issue of the Southern Literary Messenger. In an introduction to the poem, Poe says that Israfel is described in the Koran as an angel whose heart is a lute and who has "the sweetest voice of all God's creatures." His song quiets the stars, the poem says, while the Earth-bound poet is limited in his own "music". Poe's friend Thomas Holley Chivers said "Israfil" comes the closest to matching Poe's ideal of the art of poetry.[21]

"Israfel" varies in meter, however it contains mostly iambic feet, complemented by end rhyme in which several of the lines in each stanza rhyme together. Poe also uses frequent alliteration within each line in any given stanza.

Although the name "Israfel" does not appear in the Qur'an, mention is repeatedly made of an unnamed trumpet-angel assumed to identify this figure: "And the trumpet shall be blown, so all those that are in the heavens and all those that are in the earth shall swoon, except Allah; then it shall be blown again, then they shall stand up awaiting." —Qur'an (39.68). The poem details the beauty of the unearthly song of Israfil, as stars and other heavenly bodies stand transfixed in muted silence. Poe further alludes to Islam by referencing "Houri" as another heavenly entity entrapped amidst the majesty of Israfil's lyre. It is likely that such Islamic references were used to give the work an exotic feel. The poem concludes with the author wondering as to whether if their places traded, he could craft a bolder melody from his lyre than Israfil. The poem parallels Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" in the inspiring yet ultimately unfulfilling song of a heavenly muse.

Hervey Allen likened Poe himself to Israfil and titled his 1934 biography Israfil: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe. The poem was set to music by Oliver King in 1890[22] and by Leonard Bernstein in his Songfest of 1977.


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