23 pages 46 minutes read

Edgar Allan Poe

The Conqueror Worm

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1843

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Poem Analysis

Analysis: “The Conqueror Worm”

This is the way the world will end: not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with— wait for it—a huge worm that swallows everything in sight.

Even in a contemporary culture conditioned by the visual audacities of graphic novelists and routinely amazed by the wizards of CGI, Poe’s closing moments of his projected tragedy about humanity’s “hopes and fears” (Line 6) are ambitious. First, he conceives of a giant writhing worm that will invade the stage space, a stage already awhirl with robed actors running about wordlessly in crazy confusion all being watched by a faux-audience, rows of silent witnesses dressed as angels there on stage. And then to give the play an appropriately dramatic closure, he has this worm eats its way across the stage. Ambitious, perhaps; hallucinatory, certainty. The poem itself has fun with the spectacle effects of the stage gala with its gruesome, albeit Barnumesque, touches of hyperbolic drama. You can imagine Poe at his writing desk, yes, this is surely how the world will end, at once pointlessly dramatic and hopelessly ironic. No one would take seriously the conceptual of a giant red worm eating people—this is entertaining, over-the-top fun. And if they take it seriously, a snarky, smirking Poe might argue echoing Barnum himself, well, you know there is a sucker born every minute.