23 pages 46 minutes read

Edgar Allan Poe

The Conqueror Worm

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1843

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Symbols & Motifs

The Mimes

The theatrical piece Poe describes here centers on mimes who move about the stage restlessly, “hither and thither” (Line 11), their apparent lack of clear direction suggesting nothing less than how our lives unfold in chaos, without logic or purpose. The stage description is vague, of course: the mimes are “in the form of God on high” (Line 9). That draws on the theological premise of Judeo-Christianity itself, that we are each made in God’s image. There we are, Poe says, adorable little godlings, running about the world like anxious puppets uncertain of where we go and where these distant and unapproachable gods move us.

Although the figure of the mime has become something of a pop culture punchline, the art of mime dates back to the spectacle theater of Antiquity. Given the sense of theater as symbolic, even as religious ritual, the function of the mimes, whose elaborate dancing on stage created an atmosphere of rich suggestion, was to present in their elaborate and artful movements symbols of life’s own complex dynamics. They presented difficult-to-understand abstracts right there on stage, physically creating the idea of, for instance, love, or courage, or pride, or even death.