I’m quite acquainted with Edgar Allan Poe’s work, both his short stories and his poetry. So I wanted to seek out something of his I haven’t encountered before to see it with fresh eyes. I’m quite fond of short poems because brevity is a beautiful skill that is hard to master. Imagine, saying everything you want to say in only a few words? His poem, “Deep in Earth,” is certainly that: a complete couplet. Two simple lines, but for which Poe has said everything.
Even without knowing the further context, courtesy of the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore — that this poem was written in 1847 shortly after Virginia Poe, his wife, died, and accompanied (written faintly in the margins) a rather “cheerful” poem about a happy marriage, “Eulalie” — this couplet still says everything it needs to say.
Here it is, entitled, “Deep in Earth” (presumably, as with poets who didn’t title works, in later collections, the titles would just take the name of the first few words of the poem):
Deep in earth my love is lying
And I must weep alone.
Broken love is a sorrow I’m currently going through (again, that’s for another blog post some day), but it’s hard to even contemplate the depths of how awful love besieged not by human failings, but by Death itself, would be. That sort of grief is hard to understand.
Also, the image itself of your love lying “deep in earth” is a shattering image because now they’re stripped of all romanticism: they’re dead. Just dead, lying deep within the earth, far away from you and any semblance of who they once were. And lying with her is his love, as in, a piece of him died with her, and lies in her earthly tomb. That’s my interpretation, at least. I’ve seen other interpretations, such as this one, that argues “deep in earth” suggests a barrier between two lovers, and that the only way to ever breach that barrier is for Poe himself to die.
Finally, I think it’s worth remarking upon the second line. So simple, and yet so revealing. First, that he’s weeping for what is lost. I’m always going to appreciate a man, particularly in the 1800s, being open and honest about crying. Granted, this is over something awful to contemplate, so you would expect weeping, but I still appreciate it. But secondly, that he’s all alone. He’s suffering alone.
Because Death’s cruel trick is that the one person who could most help Poe, in this case, get through the death of his wife would be … his wife. Thus, not only do we face the grief of losing the love in the first place, but then we face the insult of having to deal with it alone.
What do you think about this couplet? I appreciate its potent simplicity. Some of Poe’s other poems, which I enjoy still, are a bit longer, a bit more flowery at times, and a bit more obscure and dreamlike. But this is straight to the point. Who knows if it would have been part of a larger poem and it was just some scribbles in the margins.
But, hey, if I could have scribbles in the margins half as good, I’d be a content ginger.